Organizations that are serious about preventing such losses employ a disciplined approach to identifying root causes. For
starters, they do not trust the data from exit interviews. Most departing employees play it safe during exit interviews—better
not to burn a bridge or risk a bad reference. Rarely do they cite bad supervisors, skill gaps, stress, product problems, or
lack of recognition. Not surprisingly, 50 percent of the data from exit interviews turns out to be invalid.
To probe the real reasons for departure, it's often better to wait until former employees have settled into new jobs, and
have an objective third party interview them. They're more likely to express greater candor and sharper insights. The interviewer
may also discover that what the employee got was less than was promised. Many good reps have revealed that while the pay or
benefits are better in the new job, they lost something else of importance—such as great technical support, a values-driven
culture, or access to training. This is critical information that allows employers to place special emphasis on factors that
may be undervalued and underpromoted, but are core strengths of a company.
6. Be Proactive
Smart organizations don't wait until their high performers are weighing a better deal. They take a proactive approach to retaining
talent, identifying their best and assessing the risk of losing them. The most effective tool to carry out this proactive
analysis is a "Sales-Force Productivity and Retention Survey," coupled with in-depth interviews or focus groups. These instruments
allow management to identify the factors that are driving sale reps away, as well as the ones that cause them to stay with
When coupled with the findings from former employees and analyzed by performance levels, this process can identify retention
(and productivity) risk factors. Finally, by pairing this data with a cost-benefit analysis, it is possible to make decisions
on where and how to invest in staff.
After conducting such an analysis, one global pharmaceutical company discovered that neither of these factors had a significant
impact on its staff; rather, departures were being fueled by a regional leadership problem, a product-breadth issue, and a
By integrating hiring and training costs, productivity, and customer impact into a cost model, the company averted a $2.3
million revenue loss. Approximately $250,000 was invested in fixes to training and product-knowledge issues, increasing the
likelihood that both current employees and future hires would remain on board.
7. Rehire Top Performers
One of the practices seen among leaders in the healthcare arena is tracking their former stars' careers and, in many cases,
enticing them to come back to the company. It may take some pride-swallowing, but smart sales executives recognize that reps
often learn by doing—including doing something for someone else.
With little to lose and lots to gain, it may prove worthwhile to initiate a conversation. Former employees sometimes confess
that they've found the grass not greener across the street, and may miss aspects of their former job. By opening that door,
a company can reclaim reps who are already trained and knowledgeable, and who can contribute from day one.
William A. Schiemann is CEO and founder of Metrus Group (
http://www.metrus.com/), and co-author of Bullseye! Hitting Your Strategic Targets Through High Impact Measurement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org