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In the inaugural edition of our recent Great Canadian Sales Survey, salespeople across Canada were asked: “Would you ever go to work for your company’s biggest competitor?” The results showed that 58% of sales people would do just that.

This raises three important questions: What are the effects of losing a top performer to the competition? How do you identify which of your reps is most vulnerable to be wooed away? And, most importantly, how do you ensure your best people stay loyal to your company?

Remember why you can’t afford to lose your best reps

Top sales performers are your organization’s most prized possessions (and your competition’s biggest threat). Losing a top performer means losing profits, market share, proprietary business intelligence and competitive edge. However, before you start to get anxious, know that your highest performers are the least likely to leave. Their top accounts, long tenure and hefty paycheques are not something your competition can easily outmatch. But note: they can be vulnerable to leaving for increased responsibility, so be sure to have a career path worked out with them.

Read: How Much Should You Pay Your Sales Reps

Figure out who’s feeling itchy

There are many factors that influence an employee’s decision to work for the competition: a better boss, a better product to sell, more sales support, a step up in career level, and, most importantly, money. Your poorest performers are certainly vulnerable (they tend to get passed from company to company every 18 months), but aside from some treasured internal secrets, the only thing they can take to your competition is a poor work ethic and a future problem. Let them go and be grateful for the open headcount.

That leaves us with those salespeople in the middle. These individuals may have the top skills, but not the best opportunity for financial or professional growth within your organization. The sales profession should be a meritocracy in its purest form: those who perform deserve (and demand) to advance. If an opportunity for a better territory/account portfolio or increased responsibility is well deserved but isn’t available, that salesperson will begin to look for greener grass. Keep a close eye on these reps.

Remind them why they love working for you

Keeping your top performers loyal is all about making them feel properly rewarded and appreciated. By recognizing achievement and having a competitive compensation structure, salespeople are motivated to give their all. When it comes to career advancement, not all sales reps aspire to become a manager. Oftentimes, they prefer becoming a lone ranger with prestigious accounts. The only way to know your employees’ aspirations is to simply ask them. It’s also your duty to know what your competitors are paying their salespeople; be proactive to make adjustments as your compensation model becomes outdated.

Another strategic way of maintaining loyalty is by breeding contempt for the competition. A person would not begin to support the Habs after years of Maple Leafs support. It’s the same premise.

Non-compete agreements are the most obvious prevention method. These can prevent your salespeople for working for the competition; it is highly advisable to pay a lawyer to draft one. You must also consider how that agreement will affect an employee’s career potential; remember, too many stipulations may deter new sales employees altogether.

Read: The 4 Employment-Law Pitfalls You Must Avoid

Ultimately, your sales employees are your organization’s soul; they bring energy and enthusiasm to the work environment. Although they’ll always be coveted by your major competitors, treating them like partners and not revenue lifelines will motivate them to stay loyal to you.

Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough are the co-founders of Sales Talent Agency, which has offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary and helps companies find, choose and equip salespeople. Meloff was on the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs in 2010, 2011 and 2013. Scarborough’s background as a sales leader includes having managed Monster Worldwide’s Canadian sales team.

More columns by Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough

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