How to manage high-performing salespeople

Organisations worry much about the attrition of sales and business development people because it costs more when you lose a high-performing salesperson than almost any other position in your enterprise. My observation is that the turnover rates of sales and business development personnel are significantly higher (perhaps practically twice more) than the overall labour force. Losing poor performers in any area of an organisation isn’t a threat, or even weakness, in fact, it’s a bonus. Losing high performers (in any department) can be critical.

Coaching rugby union in Australia, Ireland, Korea, Japan, and New Zealand, taught me some valuable management techniques for understanding high achievers, identifying unspoken issues, enabling candour and honesty in dialogue, assessing solutions available, and negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement for retention.

High performers are not just those who make the most sales, but who drive profit. Making deals with little or no margin is not superior performance.

  1. People are individuals. High performers cannot be treated like lemmings. Learn as much as you can about each person, so you can treat them as the unique individuals they are. You are not the same as every other leader. Your top salespeople are not the same as other top salespeople.
  2. What goes unsaid is usually more critical. Look for signs (behavioural, attitudinal, etc.,) that contradict what you’re being told. This is a trigger that you must immediately engage with that person. Something is not as it seems.
  3. Develop a culture of honesty and candour with all your people. Promote respectful debate. Allow people to have tough conversations with the freedom to disagree. The caveats are that everyone must focus on the:
    1. facts, evidence, and observed behaviours
    2. always respectful
    3. always honest
    4. never personal
    5. always solution-focused not blame-focused.
  4. Always provide options for reaching solution and agreement. If you only have one solution, it becomes a binary decision, and there’s a 50-50 chance of success (and failure). Better to have a choice of solutions from which to choose. You have now changed the dynamic from a binary decision (yes or no) to a multiple decision (which one best suits our needs?).
  5. Find the other person’s Zone of Possible Agreement (ZOPA) and determine where that overlaps with yours. Now you both know what is going to be possible to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution.