Between April and August of 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an alarming trend for businesses: The number of resignations, or the “quits rate” as they call it, began to climb to record monthly highs. In August, 2.9% of the labor force resigned, which is up from a “normal” run rate of around 2% per month (it trends down when the economy struggles and up when times are good). More American workers are voluntarily resigning from their jobs than in any month since the statistic was first tracked, beginning at the end of the year 2000. There are varied and even conflicting reasons proposed for what’s being called “The Great Resignation,” including pandemic-driven burnout, childcare expenses, fear for personal health and safety, and the realization that a worker’s contribution may be worth more on the open market than the salary currently offered.
The Great Resignation is a real phenomenon. The data shows that both blue- and white-collar workers are opting for “something else,” but what does that have to do with B2B sales enablement? According to LinkedIn data, resignations are even higher for sales professionals, up as much as 39% over the past three months. If your sales enablement function is responsible for managing the sales talent lifecycle, then the Great Resignation has a direct and immediate impact on your role. Even when there is not a measurable drought of talent, there is an ongoing struggle to attract high-performing sellers. The current labor trend impacts the hiring, onboarding, and retention of sellers, and enablement professionals must act quickly to minimize the impact of vacant sales seats and the opportunity cost of uncovered quota caused by sales resignations. Here are three ideas to keep enablement ahead of the curve:
• Attract and appeal to great sellers. In our coverage of the future of sales, Forrester analysts have written extensively about the changing expectations of the new generations of sellers (check out: The Glengarry Glen Ross Effect: Why Sales Isn’t Attractive To Recent College Grads). Millennial and Gen Z sellers (now the majority of the workforce) expect more career path development and purpose-driven employment experiences than their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts. The need for inspirational employment may be beyond the remit of enablement teams — commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion, social justice, environmental issues, and other social stances must come from the top levels of a company – but the career development expectation is squarely within the purview of enablement. What opportunities is sales enablement providing for sellers to develop into leaders, or even to develop skills unrelated to core job functions? What is sales enablement doing to establish the organization as the employer of choice for purpose-minded sellers? Enablement will need a plan to address this question — not in three to five years, but now. To attract new sellers with high upside, there must be a development plan in place and a clear, flexible career path available that emphasizes making a difference.
• Onboard and focus new sellers efficiently. Onboarding is the process of preparing and certifying newly hired sellers with the competencies they need to succeed and maximize buyer interactions. It’s never fast enough for sales leadership. If sellers are truly resigning their positions at the same rate as the workforce at large, then the pressure to hire and swiftly onboard sellers will increase. The counterargument to speedy sales onboarding is the reality that high-performing B2B sales teams take longer to onboard sellers, and they require more in-field observations. Slow and steady wins the onboarding race, so how do we reconcile this with the need to get quota covered quickly? Think about which buyer/seller interactions happen in chronological order, and prepare sellers as the need arises. This “activity-based” onboarding approach will enable sellers to get in front of buyers quickly and prepare them in real time for success. The challenge for enablement teams is to atomize onboarding content such that they can provide foundational learning in classic “onboarding” and then deliver enablement content in real time, as sellers are preparing for their first interactions. Sellers must be enabled with preengagement, during, and post-engagement content and exercises to maximize the odds of success.
• Develop and empower sellers over time. It’s important to provide a path for personal and professional development of sellers over time, and there is nothing more impactful to seller development than a strong sales coach. Investing in sales manager coaching skills improves both retention of valued employees and the ability to attract top performers. Sellers are less likely to leave if they have a strong ally and mentor in their direct manager, and top candidates are more likely to join your sales team if they believe there is someone who is invested in their development. Some B2B sales teams leverage field sales coaches who are not in the reporting hierarchy to assist in the development of sellers. If sales coaching development programs are not built into your enablement efforts, prioritize building them. Frontline sales managers are the most effective lever for driving change and developing high-performing sellers; they will make or break the stability and success of the sales team.
While enablement teams may not be positioned to curb macro social trends such as the Great Resignation, they can take steps to minimize the impact and even set their sales teams up to thrive in the uncertainty. Do these things now to attract, onboard, and retain high-performing sellers.