Over the past decade, sales organizations have recognized why conducting an exit interview with a sales rep that is resigning is of high value. Unfortunately, most have standardized exit interviews and made them generic so they can be an easy to adminster template. These sales forces have committed a huge mistake and need to redirect some sales training for the sales leadership team The exit interview of an ‘A’ player should not be a check box in a separation. It should be a robust, authentic opportunity for improvement.
Typical Exit Interview Process
• Conducted by the 1 person (usually HR)
• 6-8 standard questions where an opportunity for robust, critical feedback is not offered
• Sometimes the Sales Manager has coached the rep to “say good things on your way out; let’s leave on a good note”
• Interview is put it in the file, final pay check is processed and the resigned employee leaves
• Sales Manager gets a copy and looks for anything that may reflect personally on them
• Breathes a sigh of relief when sees comments like “ Rep is leaving for a better opportunity” or “ Rep has outgrown the position but would highly recommend ABC company to their friends”
• The Sales Manager tells their boss that “Sally wasn’t a real culture fit” and everybody nods and says “ok, time to get staffed”. (last time I checked, people that perform in the top 10% unless they lie, cheat or steal are always culture fits or perhaps your culture needs a shake-up)
You are committing a critical mistake.
If you don’t take it personally when an ‘A’ player resigns you are not an ‘A’ player. If you want to know the difference between a sales manager and a sales leader, this is one of them. The best sales forces are staffed with leaders that take it incredibly personally. Because it is. People leave people. You, the leader, have failed. It happens. Now, you can recover and fail forward, but it depends how you react. Talent Management starts with sourcing and ends with departure. Be exhaustive.
Solution–Implement Loss Analysis
If you lost a 1MM deal, there would be (or should be) a loss analysis. It is no different when you lose an ‘A’ player. The difference is you need to use multiple view points. There are 4 key stakeholders that should conduct a Loss Analysis of an ‘A’ player:
1. Peer- Have another ‘A’ player conduct an interview. They will be able to give feedback to you that is unique and truly spoken as a sales person. Secondly, the symbolism of having an existing sales person participate shows you truly care about why this person left. The peer review should focus on three things: 1. Job Design 2. Your Management style 3. When and why they decided to start looking
2. VP of Sales– The sales leader needs to hear directly why this ‘A’ person is leaving. Ideally, it is in person. And the VP of Sales should get on a plane and fly to the rep, not the other way around. If you are a VP of Sales and you lose an ‘A’ player at any level, stop what you are doing and go find out. The VP Loss Analysis should be focused on three things: 1. Job Design 2. Sales Management 3. Company Concerns
3. HR–They have a neutral viewpoint and can offer valuable feedback to all stakeholders. The HR review should focus on the same three things as the VP of Sales
4. Sales Manager– The ‘A’ player’s boss has to conduct a loss review. But they can only do so if they enter the discussion with enough maturity to ask questions and listen. Too many sales managers want to defend. In order to mitigate this, use a format that forces robust feedback from the ‘A’ player. The Sales Manager should focus on their Management style of the ‘A’ player.
Final step—Share the results.
This sounds counterintuitive. Too many organizations think “if we keep it quiet and say Sally left for a better opportunity, we can avoid any collateral damage in the sales force”. Wrong. The sales force will respect you for coming out and saying “this is why Sally left and we want to share the results, including anything we may change”. If you don’t do this, the sales force will get their own answers. Everybody stays in touch with ‘A’ players. Sales managers need to focus on not only selecting ‘A’ players but learning how to react and fail forward when one leaves.