Sales Rep Turnover

Leveraging its Economic Graph, LinkedIn noted that sales rep turnover is up 39% over the past three months (overall global turnover is up 28%).  Sales is the second most in-demand position globally.

“Companies need to recognize that the power dynamic has changed — workers are going to demand more from them on multiple fronts,” said LinkedIn Chief Economist Karin Kimbrough.  “Candidates are being much more selective about where they work, and workers are more vocal about what they want.”

Replacing sales reps is an expensive proposition, according to a 2015-2016 DePaul University study.  When factoring in the opportunity cost of an open sales seat and the hiring and training expenses, replacing a sales rep costs $115,000.

Further complicating matters, buying team turnover spiked over the past year, up 31% in Q3.  Thus, demand units are more difficult to navigate, and deals are more likely to be delayed due to key decision-maker departures.  According to LinkedIn State of Sales 2021, 80% of sales reps said a deal was delayed or derailed due to buyer role changes over the past year.

Unfortunately, employee burnout rose 9% between April and July, just as employees were readying to return to the office, but Delta delayed such plans.  Over the same period, employee happiness dropped three points.

“This simultaneous dip in employee happiness and spike in burnout is a warning signal: very few people want to return to pre-pandemic work life, said LinkedIn Head of People Science Strategic Development Amy Lavoie.  “Part of the issue here is that the communications around organizations’ return-to-office plans can carry a dangerous subtext.  It may look to employees that, while their leaders had prioritized their well-being and safety in the pandemic’s first stretch, they’re now focusing on business and advancing their own agenda at all costs, leaving employees’ concerns in the wake.”

“Employee well-being is not a fad; it is a fundamental human need,” continued Lavoie.  “It’s not going to take care of itself as businesses start asking employees to return to the office. Employees are looking to their organizations to value their needs as full human beings and trust them to make decisions about how, when, and where they work. Until that happens, we will continue to see this deadlock between employees and organizations on happiness and burnout.” Employee priorities are shifting, with a greater emphasis on flexible work arrangements, inclusive workplaces, and work-life balance than just a few months ago. As a result, work-life balance is ranked as the top priority among job seekers.

Glint (LinkedIn) Employee Well Being Report (Sept 2021)

Flexibility is key.  Three out of five employees feel they are equally productive working from home and that their overall well-being is equal to or better than working in an office.

A Fortune Analytics survey of over 10,000 knowledge workers found that 76% of knowledge workers want flexibility in where they work, and 93% want flexibility in when they work.  Additionally, 57% of knowledge workers are “open to looking for a new job in 2022.”  However, among knowledge workers who are dissatisfied with the level of flexibility, the open to looking rate rises to 71%.

“Just last year, joblessness in the US was at its highest level since the Great Depression,” wrote Fortune Editorial Director Lance Lambert.  “Scrambling to hold onto their jobs, workers started taking on extra responsibilities—something many of them hold onto today even though the economy has shifted into one of its strongest periods in recent memory. That explains why 19% of workers say their work-related stress is ‘poor,’ and another 33% say it’s ‘fair.’”

Fortune Analytics also found that workers with inflexible work schedules are 6.6 times more likely to report work-related stress.

LinkedIn Senior Content Manager Paul Petrone suggested three areas of investment to retain sales talent:

  1. “Career conversations and career development for your employees.
  2. Providing work-life balance, which should ideally include flex work.
  3. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”

Workers find it difficult to maintain a work/life balance, with 35% of workers telling GlassDoor that balance isn’t possible in their current role.

“Very few people both see a path forward and feel support for an internal career move,” observed LinkedIn People Science Senior Researcher Eric Knudsen.  “Luckily, there’s a clear solution.  While it’s natural for managers to worry about losing a team member, employees want learning and growth opportunities.  So, whenever someone starts looking for their next opportunity, a lack of manager support could inspire an external move.”

Knudsen recommends that managers frame internal mobility as an opportunity and not a loss as they place an advocate and partner in another part of the organization.  Furthermore, the organization retains talent, and cross-team collaboration is likely to rise. 

“Work-life policies which are rigid or offer little flexibility are proving problematic for UK employees,” said Glassdoor Economist Lauren Thomas.  “Our research has indicated that workers want autonomy over how they juggle their home and work lives and need employers to offer a range of options to support this. There also needs to be trust between the two parties — avoid micromanaging teams who are working from home.”

What’s more, Glint (a LinkedIn subsidiary) found that only one in five employees feel they can meet their career goals in their current organization, increasing the likelihood of departures.


I also recently wrote about The Great Reshuffle.

The Great Reshuffle

According to LinkedIn, “The Great Reshuffle” has increased turnover amongst buyers and sellers, leading to greater deal risk.  Over the past three months, executive departures (Director and above) have increased by 31% globally.  Among sales reps, the rate is up 39%.  Thus, the likelihood of a deal being delayed due to a key member of the demand unit or sales team leaving has grown sharply.

Before the pandemic, the standard decay rate of contact records was between 25 and 30%.  If the rate has jumped by one-third, then the likelihood of a specific member of the buying committee departing over a three-month sales cycle is approaching ten percent.  Thus, a demand unit with six members will likely have one departure every three months, increasing the need for executive change alerts, multithreading of deals, and a deeper understanding of the demand unit.

If the deal is more complex, the odds of delays and stalled deals due to executive changes increase rapidly.  A six-month deal cycle with a dozen members of the demand unit (financial, technical, and functional decision-makers, purchasers, influencers, lawyers, compliance, etc.) could lose two or three members.  And that doesn’t even factor in the risk of churn on the vendor side.  What’s worse, single-threaded sales reps have close to a 20% risk that their champion leaves the company or assumes a different role over the deal lifecycle.

The renewal math becomes scary as well.  If the customer success team regularly interfaces with four individuals on the customer side, one or two of them may depart over the year, increasing churn risk.  Furthermore, a higher churn rate among customers necessitates greater administrative and training tasks.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that 80% of sales reps have had a deal delayed or lost due to departures.

LinkedIn Senior Director of Global Sales James Burnette argued that multithreading is key to managing deal risk.  “Multithreading – i.e., forming relationships with multiple people on the buying committee at an account – is always a best practice.”  Burnette noted that sellers with at least four connections at an account are “16% more likely to close a deal with that company, compared to sellers who have less than four connections.”

“The most beneficial thing you can do right now is to learn how to master multithreading,” JB Sales Training Director Morgan Ingram said. “Gathering champions, influencers, and talking directly to the decision-makers is the key to success when it comes to closing deals faster in a difficult environment.”

Conversely, departures can foster relationships at new accounts, so knowing that a key demand unit member has departed is important for both risk mitigation at current opportunities and accounts and building relationships at new organizations.  LinkedIn can both flag executive departures and maintain an open line of communications with a champion after he or she has settled into a new position.

“Resources are scant with so many people exiting key roles, so there are opportunities where they might not have been opportunities in the past,” Assist You CEO Robert Knop said. “Look through your connections – there are uncovered sales there.”

Lori Wizdo, Principal Analyst at Forrester, predicts that the Great Resignation will also impact marketing teams, with CMOs assembling more virtual teams consisting of freelance talent, fractional executives, and agency partners.

“We’re seeing clients in places like the Midwest having trouble keeping the talent they’ve built because their team members can get 25% more by working remotely for a New York agency. The distance and untethering from our geographies give people a lot more options, and they will minimize their pain and maximize their gain.  So, there will be some stress on those internal competencies.”

Job turnover is likely to continue in the near term. The labor market remains out of balance with 100 open jobs for every 75 unemployed professionals, driving the quit rate to 4.4 million in September, a record high.

“You’re essentially seeing demand continuing to increase without an offsetting increase in talent,” Ryan Sutton, a district director at staffing company Robert Half International. “Until some new talent comes in, until we get employees who are on the sidelines back into the market, it’s very likely this is going to continue.”

Post-Pandemic Business Travel

There does not appear to be a big rush back to business travel after the pandemic, with demand remaining below the $1.4 trillion commercial spend through 2025, according to the Global Business Travelers Association (GBTA).  Only 27% of US companies expect to be spending money on travel over the next six months.

A Fortune Analytics survey found that only 67% of business professionals that traveled for work pre-pandemic plan to resume previous levels.

These results line up with the stated trend towards Work from Anywhere (WFH), with companies no longer looking to maintain traditional five-day-a-week office settings.  A January Deloitte survey found that 75% of CEOs are considering reducing their commercial space requirements.  

Companies have learned how to coordinate activities internally and with customers and partners digitally.  The need to press the flesh doesn’t seem as vital as it did pre-pandemic.

“The outcomes of meetings held on Zoom vs. those held in person are not that much different, but the costs are night-and-day different,” said Richard Curtin, director of the University of Michigan Survey of Consumers. “It will be hard to justify the costs that were once supported.”

Management Consultancy Oliver Wyman contends that business professionals have found video conferencing and other digital communications tools to be sufficient in maintaining commercial relationships.

The GBTA noted that the pandemic’s impact was ten-times that of 9-11 and the 2008 financial crisis.  After those events, there were also concerns that commercial travel wouldn’t bounce back, but digital channels are much more mature now, and the extended WFH time has normalized video conferencing.

It’s “our expectation that business travel will lag consumer travel,” said Jeff Campbell, CFO of American Express Co., on an earnings call.  

Amazon, which spent $1 billion on travel annually, commented that its “sales teams found new ways to reach customers.”

Forrester Principal Analyst Peter Ostrow suggests that initially, there will be pent-up demand for business travel as individuals yearn to get out of the house. Still, he cautions that this should be a temporary burst, not a return to pre-pandemic travel volume.  Companies should ask three questions for determining the appropriate volume and rationales for travel:

  1. What do Buyers and Customers Prefer?  Not every meeting, particularly those involving disparate buying team members, should be face-to-face.  B2B Sales should recognize that B2B purchasing has adapted over the past year as well.
  2. How Have We Made Things Work Remotely? “Sales leaders must determine what adaptations have supported more productive sales motions, rep productivity, adoption of top-down initiatives, and desired changes in seller behavior.” Being remote has allowed reps to develop new remote selling skills (e.g., prospecting, presentation) that should be retained.  Likewise, CROs should consider whether SDRs should be centralized, or are they better off not commuting each day?  Be careful not to let the voices of those underperformed during WFH drown out those reps who have excelled in the new environment.
  3. What Does the Data Say? Review the data and determine which personas were more or less accessible during WFH, which pipeline stages were faster or slower during WFH, and which product lines suffered due to the loss of in-person pitches.

Failing to address these questions could result in the loss of many of the digital efficiency gains that have sustained B2B sales over the past year.

In short, Ostrow suggests that research and data guide travel decision-making.  Just as companies are re-evaluating the need for centralized offices vs. hybrid models or fully remote staffing, travel decisions should be re-evaluated as well.  Field Sales and weekly exhibitions in different cities have always been expensive propositions.  The focus should be on adopting the most effective interactions, whether remote or face-to-face, for driving long-term revenue growth.     

Remote work also has a demographic impact, with professionals decamping from New York, Seattle, San Jose, and San Francisco for Miami, Austin, Charlotte, Nashville, and Denver.  There are even a set of “Zoom Towns” such as Boulder, CO, Tulsa, OK, and the Hudson Valley (NY) benefiting from in-migration.

“The rise of remote work changes that equation [between work and home locations]—not in all sectors of the economy but in more than ever before. Skilled techies and knowledge workers, in particular, can enjoy the kind of freedom and flexibility that used to be available only to successful novelists, artists and inventors—the ability to work when and where they want to.  They can increasingly “vote with their feet,” selecting the kinds of places that best meet their needs without worrying about what they can earn in the local labor market.  Families may gravitate to smaller cities, updated suburbs or rural areas with outdoor amenities, while ambitious young professionals fresh out of college or graduate school are likely to continue flocking to urban centers for entry-level jobs and social life.”

Richard Florida and Adam Ozimek, “How Remote Work Is Reshaping America’s Urban Geography,” Wall Street Journal (March 5, 2011)

And WFH has not been a productivity loss, but a net positive as workers are no longer saddled with long commutes and water cooler chitchat.  Stanford University economist Nick Bloom found as much as a 2.5% productivity lift from remote work.

According to Outreach CEO Manny Medina, 70 to 80% of buyers want a digital experience.

From a sales and marketing perspective, many of the digital practices that boosted SalesTech and MarTech industry revenues over the past year are likely to continue.  There will still be field sales reps calling on top prospects, but there will be more video conferencing and fewer face-to-face meetings than before.  Likewise, tradeshows and user conferences are likely to be smaller or operate more as roadshows rather than large events.  Tent pole events, such as Dreamforce, will return, but less popular events may downsize or remain virtual.  And even the tent-poles are likely to be hybrid events.  For example, Dreamforce has always recorded and posted its sessions for virtual viewing, so will likely combine live and digital best practices at future events.