Wish to Extinguish the Burnout? Start By Knowing Why Sellers Have Historically Left for Another Gig

November 1, 2022
Wish to Extinguish the Burnout? Start By Knowing Why Sellers Have Historically Left for Another Gig

Seamus Devine

Seamus Devine
Wish to Extinguish the Burnout? Start By Knowing Why Sellers Have Historically Left for Another Gig

Burnout. The great resignation. Quiet quitting. No matter what you call it, it’s rampant across most industries and functions. In other words, we could all stand to abide by the “work smarter, not harder” mentality a bit more these days.

It’s certainly true in the sales world. According to a recent Gartner article, nearly 90% of us are feeling burned out.

Why is this happening? People.ai has a perspective on this, including how you can spot the early warning signs of burnout, and what you can do about it before reps ultimately leave for another gig or just simply “check out.”

We’ll be unveiling these insights over a three-part blog series. But here’s the thing – in order to understand the present, we must ground this with learnings from the past.

Having an extensive sales background myself, my contention is that reps are leaving for the same reasons they always have – they’re just doing so at a higher clip right now.

So, the entries in this series will go as follows:

  1. Historical reasons why reps have (and will continue) to leave
  2. The “here and now” – is digital selling contributing to burnout?
  3. A deeper dive into how you can address these issues

Let’s dive in!

First, a little background on my sales career

I started my career in technology sales many moons ago. More specifically, at BEA Systems in 1999 selling BEA WebLogic application server technology. It was a hot company with the best enterprise Java infrastructure software in the market. The list of sales colleagues who routinely earned seven-figure commissions was long.

As far as I can recall, very few people quit. When there was turnover, it was mostly due to lack of achievement or “something else.” (I won’t get into the specifics of that “something else,” but let’s just say there are some good stories.)

As my career evolved, I was promoted to sales manager, then VP of sales, and eventually became a CRO. The higher on the “sales ladder” I got, the more I realized that one of the most important aspects of my job was not only hiring great sellers, but continually coaching, retaining, and empowering them.  

A close second? Maintaining visibility into what they are doing. What accounts are they penetrating? How many meetings are they having? Who are they meeting with? Is that level of activity trending up or down compared to prior weeks or quarters?

Having been on the quitting end as a rep and having conducted many exit interviews as a sales leader, I’ve identified a few common reasons why sellers decide to leave.

1. Sellers realize they are not going to make enough money

This can be for a number of reasons, but it most commonly comes down to a bad patch, bad product, bad comp plan, or bad market. More recently, COVID-19 and the financial downturn have impacted sellers’ ability to earn.

In this situation, sellers typically wait around a bit to see if things will change. Will market conditions improve? Will we get a better comp plan? Will I get some better accounts?  

But if things don’t change, eventually sellers “check out” and start looking for a new job. Spotting when your best sellers have “checked out” is hard. Because you trust them. They would never leave, right?

The good news is you have most of what you need to spot this. And spot it early. I will touch on that later.

2. No professional growth opportunities

While less common than the first reason, I have experienced this and it’s not fun. One example? At a previous company, I was consistently exceeding my targets, growing revenue and market share in the Central and Eastern European markets (not easy for an ex-pat from San Francisco). The challenge was my boss had been there longer than anyone could remember (and his boss even longer). They were not going anywhere, and my promotion was not going to happen.

As time went on, nothing changed. It was like Groundhog Day. My frustration grew and I became disenfranchised with the company and the job. I eventually reached my tipping point, mentally “checked out,” and began a slow search for a new gig.

Some top sales performers don’t want to be stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario. Using data to help advance careers can keep them (and you) out of the hole.

In situations like this, sales leaders and employers face two consequences: 1) the loss of a top performer and 2) a pipeline windfall that can take six months or more to recover. Now, compound this with the time, effort, and costs to hire, onboard, and train new reps, and the impact is even bigger.

For what it’s worth: In my case, the company had a $3 million (USD) licensed deal fall through, which equated to a 10% revenue gap.

3. Things just don’t work out

This one is a bit harder to pin down. But sometimes, no matter the track record or how good “on paper” a seller seems to be, they just might not be a good fit for your organization.

Chalk that up to any number of factors – some of these I called attention to in the first reason. But on top of those, sprinkle in setbacks to one’s personal life – a family or health issue, for instance. Or heck, even a motivational change of heart.

The reality is there are always about 20-30% of people who are not good enough to deliver or are the wrong fit and should be let go. It’s sad, but true. But like most other matters in life, nothing in sales is guaranteed.

Back in 2011, I hired a former colleague who had a long track record of sales success. Plus, he was the type of guy you’d want to be with at the airport when your plane gets delayed for four hours. But, for some reason or another, he had no intention of doing what it took to generate revenue. After three months on the job, I figured something was wrong. So, as a boss, I started asking questions. He fed me a song and dance for about six months until it became clear that he was “going to work to eat his lunch.”

So, as you can imagine, we had to part ways. Unfortunately, it took me two months to find a replacement and it cost our company about 12-18 months of lost pipeline and revenue. After evaluating the cost of that situation, the figure was about $4M USD.

Spot the early warning signs of sales burnout with activity data  

With more remote selling, fewer customer dinners, less facetime, and fewer golf outings, it is even more difficult to spot burnout today. Hence, it’s hyper-critical to identify the early warning signs of quiet quitting.

The good news? There are ways to pinpoint this before a seller definitively “checks out.”

Why is the “before” important? Because once sellers “check out,” forget it. It’s too late. You may get them back on the rails but that decision somehow becomes etched in their psyche and they will leave (they almost always do).

So, how do you know? Data, that’s how.

Over time, every seller develops a pattern for how they do business. And likewise, every company, over time, has a way of doing business. We sometimes ask the question, “what does good look like?” What does “good look like” for your all-star reps? What does “good look like” in terms of rep ramp time?

Answering these questions can help you develop benchmarks, from which you can more easily evaluate performance on a rep-by-rep basis, across teams, and across accounts and opportunities.

In the case of quiet quitting or burnout, we’re primarily talking about seller activities, including how they’re spending their time, who they’re spending it with, etc.  

More specifically, you should track the following:

  • How many outbound emails?
  • How many inbounds?
  • How many calls?
  • How many meetings?
  • What personas are your sellers meeting with?
  • What is the level of account engagement?
  • What is the level of contact engagement?

Being able to spot anomalies or dips in this data will inform sales leadership before sellers reach that “point of no return.” Or, alternatively, such deviations could help you identify that a new hire is not in-line with “good” – i.e., the sales behaviors that usually drive the most success.

Spotting this early will allow companies to figure out what the issue is and attempt to correct it (more specifically, correct it before it has a drastic and negative impact on revenue and your bottom line).

Use automation to capture the right data and surface the right insights

There is one truth we can all align on: There are always going to be winners and losers in the area of enterprise sales. Those who understand that data is their biggest asset (aside from people and products) will pave their way to the successful outcomes they so desire.

Being able to aggregate sales activity and engagement data, correlate it with historical behaviors, and recognize patterns that drive success (or signify burnout) is critical. But that can be a heavy, manual lift using traditional means. Those who can do this analysis and quick decision-making using automation and AI will have a competitive advantage that will further separate them from lower-performing organizations.

People.ai has a solution for enterprise sales organizations to help capture, analyze, and spot the early warning signs of burnout AND pinpoint the right accounts, contacts, and opportunities to focus upon, to maximize a seller’s time while optimizing revenue.

Ask us for a demo and let us show you how People.ai can help you extinguish the burnout effect, manage your salesforce more effectively, and make it easier to reach your company’s sales targets.

Learn all of the ways People.ai can  drive revenue growth for your business