Why Do Top Performing Sales People Jump Ship?

People often ask me why a sales person who has worked so hard to build up their book of business would then leave the company. Are they Lazy? Greedy? Crazy? Fickle? All of the above?

The answer is... so many things!

In truth, top performers are often given no choice but to leave their company, and it pains them as much as it pains the employer and clients who have to watch them leave. Here are a few of the scenarios that may explain what can happen after a sales person works hard for years to successfully conquer their territory.

  1. There is nowhere else for them to go.

"Malarkey" says the corporate management team. "No territory is 100% saturated". While that is true, no territory is 100% open for business either. A good sales person has knocked on every door, 3, 4 and then 15 more times, all the while that the are put under immense pressure to close, close, close new business. So what happens if/when you do close new business and actually hit your number? See #2, and #3, oh and #4.

2. They are both the hunters and the gatherers:

So after years of work, you just closed a historically large account last month? Great. But what about your pipeline this month? And so it goes in the life of a sales person. But before you start feeling too sorry for them, do they make great money? The good ones absolutely do, yes. But keep in mind that most companies pay on new business, for a period of a year, for example. However, the sales person still has to maintain all of the old accounts that they closed that are no longer considered new. So the more successful they get, the more challenging it becomes to keep everyone happy. And this bothers the good sales people. The ones who promised the account that they had their back before they closed them, and meant it. Only now they have 25 of those and have little time to continue to nurture those relationships, because they have to hunt for new business. (What about the old adage about it being far less expensive to keep a customer than gain a new one? Sometimes it can seem to a sales person like corporate has never heard that one. Until the sales person loses an account, that is...).

3. The more successful they are, the less time they are given to be successful:

Besides having to close new accounts while maintaining old ones, do you know what else happens to a sales person who is a top producer? Everyone wants to meet with them. That VP, the one you normally struggle to get on the phone, suddenly has a flight booked to visit that huge new account that they have never met but are now intimately familiar with. The new hires two states over, what better way to train them then to send them out with the top producer in the field? The head of that department in corporate? It would be great if you could meet with them to collaborate on a new initiative they want to roll out.

Are any of those things bad things? No, not at all! It's great to want to be that involved in the field. In theory. But not when it is distracting the sales people from doing their actual sales jobs. To a top producer who has a lot of clients he has to keep happy, it is good to keep in mind that these non-revenue producing visits and meetings can be counter productive when piled high on his already very full plate.

4. A great year this year, almost always means a not so great one next year.

Why? The dreaded quota! So you worked your butt off to hit that impossibly high number you were given. You promised your wife that it would calm down once you did so, and that you wouldn't have to travel so much afterward. And in the last quarter of the year, that was probably true. And you undoubtedly really enjoyed that great year-end bonus as a result. But then the fiscal flipped over and the new quotas came out...

Hey, if you could do it this year, it stands to reason that you can do twice as much next year, right? After all, you are a rock star. And guess what? Really good sales people can hit those numbers again this year, and maybe even next year too. But that level of growth is not sustainable year after year after year. (And remember, the base that they have to maintain is getting bigger every year too).

The good news is that managers usually go out of their way to show sales people appreciation for hitting their numbers through bonuses and recognition ceremonies. (Those glass awards that they give out at the national sales meeting are really nice)! But what a truly GOOD sales person really wants is for someone to respond when disaster strikes at a client's site. There is nothing more disappointing than not being able to help someone that you promised you would. At the end of the day, those big bonus checks are not enough to make a top producer stay if they feel like they are unable to do their job well anymore.

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