The Coming Sales Talent Crisis, Part 2

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I wrote The Coming Sales Talent Crisis, focusing on the struggles our customers face in their buying journey. We are all painfully aware of the struggles they face in solving problems and buying. We know that less than 50% result in a buying decision.

We know our customers need help-less in understanding our products and solutions, but in helping them navigate their buying process. This process is complex. Helping our customers requires new sales skills. The traditional solutions and consultative selling skills become table stakes. But new skills, including, curiosity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, facilitation, project management, and resource orchestration become significant in helping our customers navigate their buying journeys.

As I discuss these scenarios with sales leaders, I’m often confronted with the argument, “How can we afford to invest in developing these skills in our people, if they are only going to stay with our company 15-22 months?”



They are referring to the data that we see about the revolving door of sales talent we see in too many organizations.

Since I’ve been writing this blog, we’ve seen a downward trend in sales and sales manager tenure. Several years ago, the average tenure of a sales person was 29 months, now the data shows it in the 15-22 month range. Other research shows that we are turning over our sales organizations every 3-4 years!

Recently, I spoke to a senior executive of a multi-billion enterprise. He cited voluntary/involuntary sales attrition of 42%!

Many people I speak with claim, “This is the current reality, after all we all know that millennials will not stay in any job very long….. Why should we continue to invest if they are just going to leave?”

The data is disturbing, if we accept it as the way things must be, one clearly would begin to despair about the future of our sales organizations and question the investments we must make to engage our customers in helping them solve their problems.

But, clearly, this problem starts with sales management and leadership. It’s a problem we and our companies have created, and it’s one we continue to aggravate—not maliciously, but in our lack of attention to the critical role of people–talent–in executing our strategies with our customers.

Some thoughts:

We fail to recognize each sales person, regardless of level, is a multi-million dollar investment. If we were purchasing a million dollar capital asset or making a million dollar investment in software tools, we would study, analyze, and evaluate the investment, the risk, the ROI, and the alternatives critically. We would involve others in that assessment.



Yet, too often, we treat our sales hiring very cavalierly. We hire based on the basis of chemistry. We interview casually, without deep competency models to assess fit, we don’t assess, test, and understand what we need. We take the best of those we have interviewed rather than matching them to what we need. Too often, I hear managers say, “If this person doesn’t work out, I can just replace him with someone else!”

Yet, these people investments are multimillion investments. It’s not the hiring, onboarding, and sunk compensation costs that kill us; it’s the opportunity cost. It is the lost opportunity that we have through open positions, through inexperienced or hiring the wrong person. It’s the opportunity we lose because we don’t continue to invest in developing the capabilities of our people. It’s our customers choosing to buy from someone else because of the inability of our sales people to engage them in meaningful ways.

High turnover, failure to recruit, develop, and retain the right people results in millions in lost opportunity.

In past decades, too many leaders, not just sales, have a tremendously cavalier attitudes toward people. People have become widgets, much like inventory, or other items. We ramp them up or down, based on projected business needs. Too often, there is little loyalty to our people, yet we expect their loyalty–but are surprised when we fail to get it.

The high churn, voluntary or involuntary, is, largely, a result of what we as managers and leaders have created. We’ve created an unhealthy dynamic where we don’t value people, they don’t value working with us–all costing millions in opportunity costs!

The challenge for leaders is that we have to create work environments where people want to work. We need workplaces that attract and retain the best people, we need to invest in training, developing, coaching them. We need to create work that is meaningful. We need to create work environments that challenge, develop, allow people to grow and contribute, and which make them want to stay.

This problem is not just limited to our people, it extends throughout management, as top leaders, we have to start to recognize the tremendous cost and lost opportunity our organizations face in not recognizing talent—people–as the ultimate differentiators in our success.



I don’t mean to condemn managers and leaders in this, I don’t mean to imply any maliciousness in behaviors. I think this is more a crisis created by inattention, lack of understanding, or lack of experience. It’s created by the focus on the day to day, never taking the opportunity to step back, think and reflect on those things that are critical to growth and sustained performance excellence.

There are many organizations that recognize the importance of talent, that are investing in their people and leaders. They are creating workplaces where people seen their contributions are valued, where they continue to learn, develop, and grow. These organizations will far outpace their competition and differentiated themselves, less because of their products, but more because of their people.

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