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Ensuring Good Sales Personnel Stay Put

Tips to keep your sales staff productive and happy.

You can lose business to a good competitor in any number of ways"?price, product diversity, quality, turnaround time, and there are many others. One of the fastest ways to lose business, however, is when one of your top salespersons leaves for another company. Let's face it, business is all about relationships, and your relationships with your customers are established and maintained through your sales personnel.

Of course, it's always wise as managers to create opportunities to associate with your clients, so that your sales reps are not the only link to your customers. You need to be in the picture. Hence, in the event that a salesperson does leave, you have a much better chance of retaining your client. But better to avoid that problem in the first place"?to set up a plan enabling you to keep your top sale reps.

Rewarding success, penalizing failure

Your first step in retaining your top salespeople should be to provide them with a compensation package that allows them to make good money. Sales people are a unique breed: Essentially, they are willing to begin each month with nothing in their pocket except the hope that by the end of the month they will have earned a large commission from their efforts.

Don't fall into the trap of creating a situation that will stifle a salesperson from earning big dollars. If, at the end of the month, one of your sales reps has earned a huge commission check, you should be thrilled"?that means you have lots of sales. Too many owners and managers believe that their sales reps should not make more money than them, but that thinking is wrong. They are building equity in your business.

To this end, you should set up a compensation plan that creates the right mixture of salary and commissions to reward them for high sales. Don't neglect the extra benefits they'll need to succeed. This can include cell phones, car and expense allowances, computers, health-care benefits, retirement plans, and any other fringe benefits (within reason) that may help keep them happy.

Just as important, however, is ensuring that your compensation structure does not inadvertently reward poor performers. If they don't sell enough, they should be penalized financially to the point that they can't afford to stay with your company"? basically forcing them to move on to somewhere else. One warning here: Provide yourself plenty of time to judge a new sales rep properly and thoroughly. This is a difficult industry to learn, and it takes a while before a new sales rep gets comfortable and reaches his or her stride. A colleague of mine believes it takes two years for sales people in our industry to really learn our business. A heavier salary with less commission-base initially will usually allow you time to determine whether a particular salesperson will make it or not.

Product mix and TLC

Another way to keep your sales personnel happy is by providing an excellent product offering that they can sell at the right price. If your shop is a one-trick pony, you might be able to keep a top sales rep for a time. But as soon as they begin to lose significant jobs to competitors offering more and better options, you'll soon lose them, too.

Also entering into the mix is how you treat your sales staff. As I indicated earlier, sales people are a special breed"?they need your constant attention. Work closely with them on quotes and projects; spend the time to teach them the business, and visit their customers with them. Provide them with capable customerservice support so their clients can be taken care of.

Nor should you neglect the importance of internal camaraderie. It's a good idea to hold sales seminars and outings, particularly if your business has multiple locations. In our company, for instance, we have sales reps in four different locations in the western US. At least twice a year we get everyone together in one place, where we spend time training, having open forum discussions to solicit feedback on how management is doing (yes, these can be painful at times), and having some fun together. Although these events can be expensive, the sales seminars are extremely beneficial. Our sales reps always go away invigorated, and are ready to try something new as a result.

These are just a few of a great many ways to ensure your sales force's stability. If sales are, in fact, the lifeblood of our companies, you can avoid "company cardiac arrest" by spending time to properly care for your sales personnel.

Marty McGhie [marty@ferraricolor.com] is VP finance/operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations.

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