Sales Events Get Makeovers

The issue of salesforce turnover is never too far from top of mind for corporate America. But right now, the issue is front and center. Why? Because the U.S. Labor Department reports that 308,000 new jobs were created in March, the biggest gain since April 2000 and well above the 103,000 rise expected by Wall Street. And in such a climate, many reps who have endured a difficult few years in their current positions are likely to decide that it's time to try an opportunity with another organization.

"The companies that should be most concerned are those that were drastic in the number of people they cut during the downturn," says Dave Lakhani, president of Bold Approach, a business acceleration strategies firm based in Boise, ID. "Lingering resentment by reps, combined with new jobs coming along, will be enough to create significant turnover."

For meeting planners, though, such a situation has an upside: Planners are among the best people in their firms to preempt a wave of defections. Lakhani says that holding onto reps requires that firms "communicate a somewhat detailed plan on how it will move forward in the changing climate"—something for which planners are ideally suited—so as to maintain the trust and confidence of reps.

Bobby Butler, president of Sales Mentoring Solutions in Sterling, VA, and author of The Sales Mentor, says that if planners can encourage training leaders to shift the focus of their firms' sales training programs—emphasizing the development of salespeople as complete professionals who build and foster relationships, not simply transactional agents pushing a product—"reps will improve the retention of customers, who view them as confidants, consultants, and enduring resources. Not only that, but reps themselves will feel better about their own company, in that the company cares about their long-term career development." The result, he says, is increased loyalty and fewer defections among the ranks.

Experts say that firms that have had to make such adjustments to their training programs because of changes in their industries are better off for it. "People stay with companies when they are comfortable with what they're doing, which means that they feel truly able to perform at their best because they have been prepared and equipped to do so," states Butler. "Why would they go to work for someone else when they are getting everything they need?"