Attrition occurs when a salesperson fails to appreciate the scarcity of time–especially with medium to high value clients. As a result he may take a client’s time for granted, haphazardly plan his meetings, and succumb to complacency’s assurance: “Relax, you’re no worse than the competition.”
A salesperson is assigned to a medium or high value client (growth-oriented, inquisitive, open to change). The salesperson decides to meet with the account twice per month for roughly one hour per meeting. Assuming that the client can attend every single meeting then the salesperson has 48 hours of face-to-face interaction. If the salesperson spends 10 to 15 minutes per meeting chatting about “icebreaker” topics then the meeting is shortened to 45 minutes and total effective time is reduced to 42 hours annually–if everything works perfectly. Without a sense of urgency a salesperson may forget that client’s who give you their time are volunteers–they’re not getting paid to sit with you. Every meeting should be over-planned and demand-side focused.
In The Score Takes Care of Itself Bill Walsh writes, “Hearing someone described as being able to ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ always suggested to me a leader who hasn’t prepared properly and whose pants may soon fall down.” It is disrespectful to arrive unprepared for a meeting. It’s an insult to the customer and it erodes your personal brand. A salesperson has less than two days to persuade an account to increase their purchases and loyalty. Less than two days to demonstrate why the competition is the wrong choice. Less than two days to earn the loyalty of all of the decision makers. Less than two days to inculcate the staff with product benefits. Customers will tolerate a few badly planned meetings–but not for long. Walsh notes, “Your lukewarm presentation becomes their lukewarm interest in what you’re offering.” Mediocre content that is unenthusiastically delivered causes attrition.
On a broader scale, salespeople need contingency plans for unexpected changes in their territory. For example:
- A talented retail salesperson and loyal advocate for your product decides to quit one of your best accounts and sell a competitive product.
- You lose your largest customer to the competition.
- Your product has a serious technical or availability problem.
- New business forecasts turn out to be significantly off track.
Attrition happens if salespeople are caught unawares while a sudden, sometimes volatile change happens in their territory. Once in a reactive mode they have no choice but to use what little time remains attempting to recover, determining the next course of action, implementing a new plan, and course correcting. Depending on the significance of the occurrence it can take months to start moving forward again.
Attrition happens when a salesperson’s acumen and ability fail to keep pace with client needs. Attrition also happens when salespeople don’t act with purpose and urgency. Badly planned meetings that waste a client’s time are tacitly insulting. On a broader level, attrition happens when salespeople sluggishly respond to sudden changes in their territory, allowing nimbler competitors to capture emerging opportunities.