The Real Reason Your Best Sales Reps Leave


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An event occurs: the top sales rep resigned. You get on the phone and try to ‘save’ him.  Discussions around career, tenure, experience and longevity ensue. He tells you “he loves this place, but got a better opportunity.” You get your boss on the phone with him.  You get the CEO on the phone with him. Nothing works: he leaves for greener grass.

Why did this happen? How did this happen? And what should you do about it?

This is a common problem in sales teams today. Too often sales leaders don’t change anything when the top rep leaves. They don’t recognize when these critical events happen. Don’t think the top sales rep leaves because someone offered a better opportunity. A better career, job or more money doesn’t make people leave.

The sales culture does.

Sales culture pulls top sales people into a company. And it drives them out. We have seen companies whose culture hasn’t evolved.  What made you successful in past years will not keep you there. Connecting the dots on small events will lead to the state of your culture. This will allow you to continuously improve the culture. And keep attracting and retaining top talent

Most people’s first thought is to conduct an exit interview with the top rep. But exit interviews don’t always lead to conclusions. We have analyzed over 1500+ sales rep exit interviews. 77% state the reason why the top rep left was lack of career development. The second most popular reason: more money. And the trigger event that prompted them to starting looking? It was a management change that eventually resulted in account and a compensation change.

What are the real reasons they left?

We used the Sales Force Culture Assessment on a recent client. Here is what we found:

  • Structure: The Company just restructured their account management sales force. Reps and Managers were frustrated with the reasons for the change.  There was no explanation. 
  • Account Assignments: Current customers were reassigned due to the new structure and territories. People were giving up established relationships.  Managers had to tell their long standing clients there was someone new.
  • Compensation: Comp plans were revised from HR and Finance. A limit (cap) on commissions was implemented. Someone in finance thought sales people were making too much.
  • New Product Quota Assigned: A new product just released is not selling well, putting pressure on sales. There was no sales enablement. Content was product centric. There was no new product leads. No explanation how the buyer purchases the product. They just got more quota assigned.
  • Support: 75% of all Sales Support functions (admin) were eliminated. Internal administration time doubled.
  • Subject Matter Experts: Sales Specialists positions were not replaced once someone left. Sales often had to give their own demonstrations.

The findings above didn’t happen all at once. We studied 9 months of actions. They gradually add up over time to this complete list. And next thing you know:  your top rep quits.

3 Ideas to Consider

  1. Talk to their peers. Understand the story behind the story. These are not formal interviews. They need to be casual conversations. The best way is to go on a customer call with the sales rep. The highway and/or elevator conversations are where you get the real story. Be prepared to listen when they say  “Just between us…..”
  2. Investigate any major changes. Did the compensation plan change? Did you reorganize the structure? Reassign accounts? These all make your best people quit. Remember, a top sales rep spends most of their time with customers. 
  3. Assess his direct manager. How is the manager performing? Have you noticed the team quota slipping? Heard complaints from team members? More than 25% of the team left in the last year? The problem might be here. Most top talent leaves because their manager. But is the manager the root problem? Is the manager enabled?

What’s Next?

  • Identify the top problems. What is the true state of your sales force? What is actually causing your top reps to leave?
  • Sequence your solutions. Changing the sales culture takes time. But begin fixing the problems in the right order. This will cut the change time in half.
  • Involve your Top Reps. Your best players don’t want to leave. Over 90% indicated to us they don’t want to move to a new company. Using them to create the solution provides support for the change. 

Don’t wait until the top rep actually quits. Your responsibility as a sales leader is to look around the corner. Gauge the culture of the sales force and look for opportunities to improve. You control the culture in your group. Don’t shift responsibility to someone else.  Instead, subscribe to the SBI Magazine. We’ll bring you the latest sales insights on sales culture, every quarter of the year.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dan Perry
Dan is an industry thought leader with more than 25 years of experience in b-to-b field sales, sales management, and sales operations. Dan has delivered domestic and international results for companies such as Hewlett Packard, Terremark Worldwide, Dow Jones, Activant Solutions, Kronos, CDS Global, Microsemi.


  1. When an organization experiences high turnover of seasoned, effective sales reps, it has to look at the key root causes identified in this blog. Principally, reps recoil, retreat, and leave when there is poor management support and direction, when they are overwhelmed by admin, and poorly recognized and/or compensated for excellent performance. Though the approaches described in this piece are more anecdotal than institutional, the methods for diagnosing performance and improving loyalty can be made a consistent part of optimizing the sales function.


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