Young and Growing? How to Hire, Retain and Train Sales Stars

It always happens — the economy recovers from recession, and then what was a very loose labor market all of a sudden becomes very tight. Whether yours is a services or technology firm, you’ll likely encounter obstacles in finding, retaining and training top talent. As the industry emerges from the economic doldrums of recent years, these issues confront managers in many functional areas.

For young or rapidly growing (or trying to) firms, obstacles to hiring and retaining top talent begin with a lack of emphasis on some very fundamental building blocks. Often, as these firms look to gain traction during the “all hands on deck” exigencies of day-to-day business, a firm foundation for future growth and stability is an early casualty.

The crucial foundation starts with definitions around expectations. Many salespeople — especially the stars — leave over unclear goals, conflicts about territory or compensation, and miscommunication in general. These problems are easily rectified, but only if the requisite time is spent up front on job descriptions and compensation plans, and then communication through performance reviews (both formal and informal) continues throughout the year.

To many hiring managers, hiring is just a “gut feel” and much more “art” than “science.” The hiring process then reflects this casual attitude, and even if the candidate does come aboard, too much has been left to chance. Conducting rigorous interviewing and reference checking are important pieces. “Science” can be brought into the process by using behavior style assessment tools such as DISC to align the candidate’s behavior style with the style required by the job, and to indicate areas of mismatch that should be further investigated. No part of this process is perfunctory, and while it takes more upfront time, the payoff is longer-tenured and happier employees.

Another foundational element in motivating sales stars is showing them that key functions supporting them, such as marketing, client service and sales support have been implemented — or that at least there’s outsourced support until the firm can build these functions internally. While management may desire to have sales execs closing business out in the market, organizational reality often precludes this. Time and again we see sales execs spending much of their time — more than what they signed up for — supporting clients, writing marketing copy and doing other non-sales activities that are at odds with their job description, compensation plan and skill set (not to mention their behavior style!). Outside resources can provide many of these support functions when there are no funds to hire for these roles.

You’ve now done the hard work to bring in top talent and to remove obstacles that keep them from doing what they love, and everyone’s making money. But the best salespeople want to learn and grow, and you need to build the backbench for firm growth. This means that training and other forms of learning must be offered to retain and build your team.

If training funds are limited, one low-cost way is call upon internal experts. One software firm did this by starting a “university” and bringing in “professors” in teaching sales and industry fundamentals. A combination of recognition and monetary rewards usually motivates budding