5 Practical Employee Retention Strategies that Work


5 Practical Employee Retention Strategies that Work

The Great Resignation that characterized the COVID-19 pandemic – the timing unfortunately coincided with the retirement of Baby Boomers that the outbreak accelerated – changed the job market in a significant and seemingly permanent way.

A September 2022 PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, for example, found that 38% of American adults changed jobs during the past two years. That’s up from 32% in 2018.

While better pay was the top reason for changing jobs (32% of respondents), nearly one quarter (23%) said they joined another company for a better career opportunity. Many experts believe job switching will remain elevated for the foreseeable future.

Moreover, sales rep turnover: counter, floor, inside sales, and field sales turnover has long been a thorn in the side of most businesses. According to the 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics report (via Apollo Technical) the voluntary turnover rate in the U.S. is 25%. At B2B sales departments, it’s even worse. One study by SiriusDecisions (now part of Forrester), cited by Xactly in its blog, calculated that about half (45%) of B2B sales teams have turnover rates around 30%.

In nearly every instance, there are specific reasons why employees are leaving, and one of the biggest is that workers are not engaged.

Thus, employee retention initiatives will continue to be doubly important for sales leaders. Their most productive sales reps may start looking for better compensation to offset surging inflation that is likely to affect the economy for the rest of this year.

How Employee Retention Rates Affect Companies

Each employee exit is costing your company. Some of the costs are direct (recruiting fees, relocation reimbursements), while some are less obvious (employee morale).

Here are just a few ways that losing a salesperson can negatively affect your business:

Lost sales productivity. No newly hired sales rep hits the ground running and starts generating revenue. Bridge Group, a B2B sales strategy consultancy, estimates that it takes a new sales rep 3.2 months from the hire date to reach full productivity.

On top of that, it takes about two months to fill a sales position, according to a survey by Sciolytix and SellingPower. Thus, your company is missing out on five months of sales when a sales rep walks out the door.

Risk of not meeting company goals. A high employee turnover rate does not occur in a vacuum. In nearly every instance, there are specific reasons why employees are leaving, and one of the biggest is that workers are not engaged.

When talented sales reps leave, the company faces the likelihood of missing key performance metrics. Conversely, highly engaged reps tend to stay with their employer and help them thrive. Gallup found that companies scoring in the top quartile of employee engagement levels had 18% higher sales, 23% higher profitability, 10% higher customer loyalty scores, and 43% lower employee turnover.

Losing productive sales reps to the competition. Sales reps know that competitors are always searching for talent. Businesses that fail to invest in professional development and training and foster a positive company culture risk losing valuable employees to the competition.

5 Practical Employee Retention Strategies that Work

The above statistics are enough to frustrate any sales leader, but here’s the real eye-opener: many employees may not have wanted to leave. Researchers at Gallup also found that 52% of employees who voluntarily left their jobs said their “manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving.”

Supervisors must be proactive in retaining their best employees or risk losing them to the competition. Here are five employee retention strategies I find impactful to keep your best employees from jumping ship:

1. Demonstrate that you trust your team

Trust is the foundation of employee retention and is critical for managing in-person and remote sales teams. When employees trust their supervisors, they will stick around longer, deliver better customer service and help management solve business problems.

A study in the Harvard Business Review found that employees working at high-trust companies reported “74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives and 40% less burnout than people at low-trust companies.”

To demonstrate that trust, I find it’s imperative to move away from micromanaging styles of leadership, and instead, empower people.

Trust is the foundation of employee retention and is critical for managing in-person and remote sales teams.

With my team, I focus on creating open lines of communication, giving these professionals the tools they need to do their jobs and then rewarding that talent. This has created an evolution in the culture and employees have naturally become more engaged and more fulfilled in their jobs.

Remember, you hired the right talent, so give them the opportunity to share their opinions and concerns and empower them so they can grow in their jobs.

2. Communicate how their role impacts the bigger picture

As part of empowering your team, it is also critical to help employees to not only understand the bigger picture, but to feel like they’re a part of designing that vision.

It’s a win-win for the company and employees when workers recognize how their roles and responsibilities contribute to the success of the organization. It fosters a positive company culture as employees rally around – and are aligned with – achieving the business’s mission, values, goals, and milestones.

Personally, I find articulating the “why” to my team is integral to painting the full picture. As part of a two-way communication channel, I believe it is extremely important for all my employees to be aware of why we’re doing what we’re doing, and how they play an important role in that process.

If you don’t take the time to connect the dots, employees will create their own narrative: and not necessarily a positive one.

I also make great efforts to communicate the “why” and actively listen to feedback. I hold small groups with team members to discuss what our plan is, why it is, and how their role plays a part. This way, employees can actively see how they helped shape that “why” and how their respective positions will help us achieve that goal.

It is important that individual contributors actively participate to ensure their voice is heard when leaders determine what the bigger picture looks like. Therefore, they are shaping change, versus the change happening to them, thereby driving better adoption and engagement.

3. Implement regularly scheduled employee engagement surveys

Every effective worker retention program includes regularly scheduled employee engagement surveys. This is an efficient and simple way to improve that two-way communication that is so critical. Showing employees that you are truly listening: taking their feedback and putting it into action speaks volumes to your team.

I hold quarterly town halls for my customer success team and then issue a survey after each one. These surveys are more than just a snapshot into how happy employees are at the moment: they also measure the wants and needs of team members and what they find most valuable.

For example, my team communicated that they wanted extra product training, so now we’re offering specialized product training that’s tailored to their needs. This reinforces that I am listening, and their opinions are valuable.

Showing employees that you are truly
listening…speaks volumes to your team.

If you don’t have a survey system in place, start now. Suggestion boxes are another way to increase feedback and ensure anonymity, which can open communication lines even further.

Your business doesn’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to afford and conduct the survey. There are a wide range of cost-effective apps and cloud-based platforms that can be easily implemented to start and manage the process.

4. Conduct stay interviews

If your company is only conducting exit interviews when an employee leaves, then you are missing out on incredibly insightful conversations and data.

Stay interviews, as the name suggests, are conducted while the employee is still with the company. They are complementary to engagement surveys and a crucial element of a comprehensive engagement program. They allow sales leaders to understand how reps are feeling about their day-to-day work, what their career aspirations are, and to share other vital information about the company and department.

Transparency in leadership is key to building trust and empowering team members.

Remember the Gallup stat about 52% of workers saying their manager could have done something to keep them from leaving? Well, Gallup also found that only about one-third of employees said they had a conversation with their supervisor before leaving the company. Stay interviews can help sales leaders assess the likelihood of a rep leaving so they are better prepared if that happens.

On my team, I take that stay interview concept and turn it into bi-weekly one-on-ones with immediate supervisors within the customer success team. This time allows both of us to express our expectations from one another and deliver on our follow through.

Transparency in leadership is key to building trust and empowering team members. It also helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Both employee and supervisor can then take that feedback and turn it into action.

5. Follow up stay interviews with action plans

Conducting a stay interview is just the beginning. The more productive work is done after the interview. Working with the employee, a sales leader or supervisor must follow up by developing an action plan that is based on the items discussed during the interview.

Employees want to feel like their voice is heard and that supervisors are supporting them: and the action plan helps ensure that is happening.

Gallup found that “employees whose manager is always willing to listen to their work-related problems are 62% less likely to be burned out.” And Qualtrics, a leader in providing online surveys, found that engagement increased to 61% for companies with a feedback loop, compared to 45% that do not.

Whether it is helping to reduce workload, determining priorities, or identifying areas for growth and development, it is important to get complete buy-in from sales team members when setting goals. Buy-in creates accountability and provides employees with a roadmap to success.

Designing, implementing, and managing an effective employee retention program is not easy. It requires constant attention and regular tune ups to make sure it is achieving the desired goals of the organization.

Each point listed above is dependent on the other, like building blocks. You cannot do one thing and expect results, you must build and implement a complete plan to be successful.

I find that when you focus on the employee first that will inevitably lead to your customers being treated better and improving overall customer experience. This will pay dividends for years as the company retains valued, productive and engaged employees who will be instrumental in helping the business grow and thrive.

Sara Wakefield

Sara Wakefield serves as vice president of global contact sales at Infinite Electronics, a leading global supplier of electronic components. She oversees nearly 150 employees and credits the above practices as reasons Infinite’s turnover has remained low, even during tremendous growth in recent years.