The Sales Industry is Navigating Rocky Terrain: Here’s A Compass to Guide Your Journey Through Burnout, Turnover and Changing Roles


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The economy is having profound effects on the sales industry. Research presents a sobering snapshot of the current US work landscape, revealing employed Americans face various professional challenges, including burnout, quiet promotions, layoffs, stagnant pay and general dissatisfaction in current roles. When you consider the fact that organizations are simultaneously struggling with tightening budgets and limited resources, sales and HR leaders have their work cut out for them.

The pressure is on.

Organizations rely on an ecosystem of different talent, but sales representatives and their leaders play a crucial role in sustaining their company’s revenue stream. These employees face additional pressure during these tough economic times, and are being expected to perform well while constantly adapting to workplace changes. For example, among sales team respondents to our recent study1, more than 80% reported changes in their roles due to increased competition in the field and reduced budgets. Sales leaders also reported struggling with the institutional costs associated with substantial rep turnover, compounding their already extensive list of challenges.

What research has found.

Skilled talent is hard to find and retain. Sales and HR leaders report a 70% increase in rep turnover and attrition, with 82% stating that the talent market negatively impacts sales rep recruitment and retention efforts. This leads to costly consequences, as rep attrition creates increased workloads for remaining employees, more expensive hiring costs, elevated training costs and even decreased sales performance.

Sales reps prioritize recognition. The study confirms that recognition is important to 9/10 of sales reps, with 83% reporting that rewards and recognition positively impact their productivity and loyalty. More than a third of respondents express a desire to work for companies that provide better rewards and recognition. Sales reps particularly appreciate rewards for achieving goals, hitting specific targets within designated time frames, and surpassing goals.

Reward offerings are misaligned. Monetary rewards are the most preferred reward among sales reps in various situations. However, sales and HR leaders do not consistently provide them. For instance, when specific targets are met within specified time periods, 81% of sales reps want a monetary incentive but only 72% receive one. Similarly, 80% seek monetary rewards for exceeding goals, but only 67% receive them.

Incentives impact results. HR and sales leaders report the following positive outcomes resulting from incentives: increased motivation and productivity among team members (49%), improved customer relationships and increased sales (43%), higher team/company profit or revenue (43%), increased employee retention (40%), focused efforts by team members (38%), and improved customer satisfaction/net promoter score (NPS) (32%).

How to navigate the rocky terrain.

1. Offer incentives—particularly monetary ones that help offset inflation. Research found a measurable gap between what reps want and what they actually get—particularly monetary rewards that offer employees the flexibility to choose what they want or need (e.g., prepaid or gift cards for gas or groceries). Also consider that research respondents also reported positive company culture motivates them via clear goals and targets, a positive work environment and opportunities for advancement.

2. Reward reps more often. Sales cycles vary in length and annual rewards aren’t necessarily memorable. Checking in regularly can keep sales reps motivated because you’re recognizing and ensuring progress, providing ongoing support and troubleshooting, hearing concerns, helping adjust strategy and KPIs, and optimizing the end results. A hands-on recognition program can also help you know your people better, nurture relationships with those who contribute mightily to your bottom line and keep your collective team focused on achieving its goals.

3. Reward and recognize numerous behaviors and accomplishments. While meeting quotas, KPIs and other accomplishments are more traditional activities to acknowledge, don’t overlook the value of rewarding team members for taking steps toward personal development such as learning new software programs, contributing to new product or service launches, and attending trainings.

4. Think digital. Many businesses and consumers have adapted to digital lifestyles that allow rewards to fit into their everyday lives. No matter where your team is located, digital rewards can be easily distributed, cost less to deliver than physical rewards and can be redeemed quickly. Recognition technology is available through resources like Microsoft Teams, and enables leaders to distribute rewards in real-time using existing software—preventing the need to add software to your tech stack while reaching people within their everyday workflows.

Nine in 10 sales reps report that recognition is important to them and more than eight in 10 report that receiving recognition and rewards positively impacts their productivity and loyalty. Good talent is hard to come by—particularly in the sales industry—and now more than ever sales and HR leaders need to consider these insights and express thanks to those grinding through tough sales cycles.

Bill Warshauer
Bill is a B2B industry veteran and a respected authority in developing and managing impactful incentive and reward solutions that lead to fruitful, long-lasting relationships. His expertise in how to drive and deliver results translates across industries such as retail, loyalty, travel, employee wellness, and more. With more than 25 years of experience—19 at Blackhawk Network—Bill has amassed a deep understanding of how companies can leverage rewards and incentives programs to achieve market differentiation, drive operational efficiency, create heightened engagement, and generate revenue.


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