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Sales Rep Tenure – Is There Such a Thing as Too Much?

This is part 2 on the topic of sales rep tenure. Last week we covered the topic of job hoppers. This week, we turn to the dangers of hiring reps that have been with their current employer for too long. Once a sales rep has been at a company for longer than 7-8 years, warning bells go off for me. This is especially true if they have been in a similar role for the entire time. There are two types of sales reps at this point in their career. Example 1 – The performer who’s had a good thing, rode it and has seen a consistent rise in their income and challenge during that time. It makes sense that they might be open to making a move if they just experienced a negative trigger event. Examples would be gaining a new, inexperienced manager that’s micromanaging them to death or a dramatic change in their comp plan. Just as likely though, you’re interviewing Example 2. These are sales reps that stayed as long as they have because the job got easier, their contacts grew and it didn’t require a big effort to maintain what they had. You’re probably interviewing them because of a different kind of negative trigger event such as: the loss of a big client or a slow erosion of their overall sales numbers (and income). Like every other sales candidate you meet, figuring out the difference between a true performer and a has-been is critical.

I started getting suspicious of sales reps with long tenures when I started noticing a consistent trend. Time and time again you’ll see reps with 7-10 years at one stop and then 1, 2 or even 3 quick stints right after that. These reps have a decade + of sales experience and can tell a fantastic story. Sincerely, they flat know how to sell. The problem is that they lost the fire that initially drove them to success a decade ago. Each year sales got a bit easier until they really weren’t working that hard and they certainly weren’t pounding the phones looking for new business. When that first position ended and they joined the next company, they brought with them a very solid grasp of sales but very little in the way of drive and hunger. Sales had gotten easy and they were expecting this next gig to be just as easy. What they found was hard.  So, they left or the company left them. Rather than owning up to not having put in an honest effort, they blame the company, the product, the whatever… Don’t hire these sales reps unless you have a posh account management position lined up for them.

So the question becomes, how do you tell the difference between the sales rep who’s close to being burnt out from the one that still have the fire before they leave that first 7-10 year run? First things first, place way more weight on their recent sales accomplishments than their early accomplishments. If their #s are on the decline, they’ll probably have the story that they’re at a lower % of quota recently because their quotas have been raised every year. That may be true. You’ll have to dig deeper. If this is a hunter role dig into how many new clients they brought on each year and look for trends.  Find out where these new clients originated from. Has the percentage of new clients from cold-calling consistently declined but the overall number of new clients acquired stayed the same or decreased? Sometimes reps will flat tell you that they’re burnt out. I really want to know why. If the company went through back-to-back bankruptcies and you can verify that fact you still might have a solid performer in front of you. Going through that would burn me out too. Maybe they’re burnt out because they’re done with starting over at zero every month for 7 straight years. That’s going to be a problem if they’ll have to start over at zero with you as well.

On the other side of the coin are reps that are consistent top performers who just underwent a major change in their role, comp, leadership, etc. Is there a mass exodus from this company? Can they document a clear change in their situation? Employees that stay for long runs are usually loathe to make a change (which is part of why they stuck for so long). Does it make sense why they would be changing now?

Finally, vetting their story isn’t going to be enough. Make them prove their #s. Look at their w-2s. If they work at a large company they probably have employee reviews. Can they show them to you? Can they show you ranking reports? I discuss the topic of vetting in more depth in our White Paper – “7 Things You Should Know About Hiring Top Performers

Question, vet, then verify. Or take your chances…

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. We post a new blog once a quarter on the 3rd Thursday of every January, April, July and Oct. These posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

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