There’s Strength in Teams

Succession planning can be the bane of many a sales director’s life, but building a strong team of substitutes is a great way to ensure continuity.


People are our greatest asset’. How many times have you heard it said? Yet when it comes to succession planning, having the right people in place and ready to step up to the plate is often a challenge for the organisation.

Effective succession planning includes maintaining and growing the organisation’s talent pipeline and building internal strength. It is about leveraging the talent that the organisation already possesses by developing it to full potential.

Where to begin

The best place to start is with a SWOT analysis of your existing team of sales people, with a view to developing a comprehensive succession plan before you may actually need one. This will enable you to understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and where there are opportunities for development.

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Once that has been conducted, perform the same exercise with your sales management team. In a small business it will be the owner who manages this exercise. In larger organisations, the sales director or MD will be responsible.

Assess retention initiatives

When it comes to retaining sales employees, there are some basics that need to be in place. These include market-related salaries, sufficient training to grow individuals, and attractive incentives. Losing good sales people can be a real drag on the business.

If you have all of these basics in place, yet are still experiencing churn, there are most likely other problems in the organisation which need to be addressed pronto.

Job suitability

Next, take what has been learned, and ensure there are no mismatches in the sales team. If people are matched to the right job, there should be minimal staff turnover. Essentially, there are two reasons why sales people leave.

First, there are the capable, talented people who feel unfulfilled. You can increase their commitment to the organisation by giving them added responsibilities and ensuing they receive any training that may be required to help them succeed in their bigger roles.

Second, there are people who may have aspirations that are ill-founded. These situations are delicate and difficult to handle.

Rather than lose someone who is performing well in a particular position but wants to move to another, more elevated role, find ways to help them grow through training, and introducing additional responsibilities slowly.

Look for natural leaders

In any sales team, there will be people with natural leadership ability, which should be encouraged and formalised. Send these sales people on sales management courses while they are still selling, so that they can continue to learn, while you continue to assess who the real stars are.

The reality is that you have to assume your sales manager or director will move on or be poached at some point in time. That is the nature of this business. With that in mind, having potential candidates ready and waiting in the wings is non-negotiable. Grooming future leaders is the best way to avoid a leadership vacuum.

Structure your sales team so that it consists of different levels of staff, starting with the position of service consultant. This will give you the opportunity to move people around, and to give them different work experiences.

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Pair a potential sales manager with a junior sales person and see how they cope with mentoring the junior person, and how much time and effort they are prepared to put in. Treat this exercise like a mini sales management test.

Send your people on sales training and management courses before any vacancies arise. Some people are sceptical of this approach because it can raise false hope, but the truth is that any worthwhile employee will appreciate the opportunity to learn new skills – and you can start by sending them on the most basic courses.

Let members of the team handle some additional sales management functions, like helping to hire new sales people. Expose them to higher level sales meetings with key clients and give them related tasks.

Where you have managers of vertical teams, test their ability at sales management level to see how they perform.

If you have a big enough sales team, rotate team managers, exposing them to different team members and different customers to see how they handle changes.

Of course, there is always the risk that as you develop your employees, they may decide to move on and seek out other opportunities. However, that is always a danger where talented people are concerned, and the focus should be on ways to retain people built on loyalty, rather than on ways to prevent them from leaving based on fear.

The reality is also that high achievers will always invest in the development of their own skills and expertise anyway.

Finally, you can minimise the impact of staff turnover by having multiple levels of contact with your clients. If your sales manager leaves, the impact on the customer is less dramatic, and you’ll have people ready to step in for the interim while you decide on the new appointment (having already developed internal bench strength.)