Looking at the Research from an International Perspective
Are we giving all to the job but getting little in return? Chapter 2 deals with the local research compared with research from overseas and the importance of research findings. You will learn to view your role and your corporate workplace from a different corporate perspective.
A recent study published in New Scientist 2018, studying workplace stress in Denmark, suggests that throwing yourself into your work you love but not receiving appropriate rewards is a toxic cocktail for biological stress.
What do they mean by the term “biological stress”? The study had two control groups; in one, half the workers did nine to five jobs, and in the other, participants worked longer hours as well as studied a course such as Master of Business Administration (MBA).
The team analyzed cortisol levels in the hair of 100 and 72 salesperson volunteers. Study of the sample cortisol levels shows that this hormone is released in times of stress, helping the body prepare for “fight or flight” by increasing blood sugar levels and slowing down digestion. The study reports chronic stress was found to lead to major health problems. This also leads to other medical problems such as infections and diabetes.
Of all the research that has been done on this very important subject, this particular study serves as the cornerstone of future sales employment staff health and well-being policy.
The research results showed that effort versus reward is a determinant of workplace stress levels. It also showed that levels of cortisol increase if any reward is not forthcoming. Shorter working hours in sales around Scandinavia, such as Sweden, are addressing this very problem.
Research from the Australian Perspective—Is Working in Australia Any Different Than in the United States or Europe?
Getting back to where we started, presenting all this information without supporting my thoughts would be seen as self-indulgent and unrealistic, leaving me open to criticism; besides I would have to defend myself for my Australian research. I set about interviewing people from 40 medical, pharmaceutical, device and critical care companies based in Australia.
The interview and data entry process took approximately 18 months. The questionnaire had about 87 questions, encompassing 10 key elements and a 10-point rating scale. Bias was my concern, but I do believe it was only 2 percent.
Results of Australian Research
The following 10 categories were used for each research interview.
Element 1—Personal: do you believe your company provides care and a safe working place?
Element 2—Relationships: how valued and respected are salespeople in our company?
Element 3—Sales Force: describe your overall work happiness score for your current sales position?
Element 4—Management: do you think your company could do more to keep good sales staff?
Element 5—Recruiting: do you think your company has been fully honest when recruiting you?
Element 6—Training: could your company do better in product, customer, and sales training?
Element 7—Incentives and salary: has your company been honest when paying commission payments?
Element 9—OHS: does your company take every opportunity to secure your health and safety?
Element 10—General: does your company provide all the tools you need for effective selling?
I am not sure why, but every time I approached each global pharmaceutical company, I was hurriedly referred to the Legal Department. Yes, they did send me, within a few days, a “no thank you” and “have a great day” response.
For obvious reasons, I have omitted company and individual names; however, being with only a small number of global companies in this industry, an astute individual could short-list and figure out which company I am referring to.
Out of the 10 Category Elements Set Up, No Company Met All the Minimum Criteria That Were Defined
Perhaps only one company in the research field was close, but I was restricted to the national marketing manager for the response. I did back up their responses with relationships within this organization, and, to all intents and purposes, I believe they were close to accurate.
Overall Research Results
Areas of concern found in the research:
- Lying and deception regarding commissions/bonus payments
- Lack of clear understanding and transparency for commission payments
- Lack of personal safety for working after 5 pm and after hours work safety
- Lack of concern for driving long distances and late into the night
- Disconnect between salesperson and management on many levels
- Lack of care and concern for health and welfare
- Distinct lack of strategic sales training and field coaching
- Lack of appropriate product training backed up with product sales training
- Being pulled off own territory to service another territory without recognition
- Management’s lack of understanding that sales and field training is paramount
- Recruiters show disregard for openness and transparency of the full job description
- Poor crisis management
- Poor conflict management through human resources
- Working from home and the out of pocket costs
- Salespeople being late for appointments
- Being able to fully trust your representative
- High turnover of representatives
- Lack of respect
- Lack of product knowledge and being too pushy
Research from the Recruitment Point of View
Many companies utilize their own methods of recruitment in-house now. Warranty return of payment for recruiter’s services at 3 months is considered too short. Feedback that recruiters do not know enough about the area of expertise is a regular criticism, and the need to place a head as soon as possible is primarily driven by economic reasons.
Pulling Apart the More Concerning Areas of Research, the Following Topics Seem to Show Up More Frequently
Lying and deception from sales managers, lack of care for general safety, significant pressure to meet targets, and the psychological stress ramifications cause salesperson burnout, trust issues, and a high turnover of sales jobs. Other concerning issues that perpetuate continual problems are long working hours, lack of appropriate product and sales training, limited opportunity for advancement above sales level, and conflict resolution within the sales team.
A close review of the short list of job issues shows a more personal undercurrent of trust and how the salesperson is treated. Some companies appear to disconnect at this point, assuming that the salesperson is expendable and can be easily replaced—the “nice knowing you attitude” is what I call it. If you rock the boat, you are tagged and carefully watched, including your communication with other sales colleagues. Please note: your phone call records are scrutinized on a regular basis.
Let me escort you out of the building.
One of the most upsetting events that came up in the study is this: You are dismissed, “sacked” from your sales position, and marched out of the premises immediately without being given the opportunity to say goodbye to your colleagues. This behavior has permeated corporate life primarily for “paranoid security” reasons.
Are we becoming insensitive and crass in the way we deal with people? Have we crossed the line of being reasonable to each other? The question should be asked: Have global corporations lost the art of being human?
Global companies have a dismissal policy to follow. The protocol follows the proviso of getting rid of the offending person as quickly and as quietly as possible. I find this policy insensitive and abhorrent. As other employees watch this sacking scenario, trust issues are created and uneasy feelings generated among the remaining staff.
There is a definite need to address this behavior and come up with a more dignified and respectful way of dismissing a sales-person.
Unfair dismissal has been a bone of contention in every workplace. We are not talking about why, but about how it is carried out. Sheer embarrassment, demoralization, and many other psychological fears arise from this practice. I myself have endured this twice and found this method abhorrent.
I take issue with this process and suggest companies practice a far more respectful method of dismissal. Perhaps allow the person to say goodbye or find some mindful way of saying “thank you for your efforts.” It is time to clean up this disgraceful form of behavior.
Use this as a learning exercise and move on. Companies that practice this removal process are afraid of damage to software processes and loss of intellectual property and security, but very few dismissed employees will go to this length to exact revenge.
What of the Future
At the completion of each individual survey, the respondents were asked one final question:
What threats does the sales industry face, and what improvements does the sales industry need for the future?
Ninety-five percent of the respondents said sales and product training needs greater attention and greater access to personal development and promotional opportunities while going up the corporate ladder for both male and female sales professionals. Concern was expressed over the lack of state and federal health funding along with the currently shrinking industry and the rapid exit of smaller players. Disappearance of the rapport between company management and sales staff and a lack of sales management leadership were also seen as key threats.
Future Individual Needs Uncovered by the Research
- Greater attention to sales and product training
- Improved esteem of the salesperson in the eyes of the customer
- Improved long-term job security
- Applying less stress on sales staff
- Greater appreciation/respect for their sales staff
- Industry to allow companies to compete on a level playing field
- Greater control over unethical behavior and appropriate application of penalties
- Greater honesty and support from the sales manager and the coach
- Sales managers who coach should do a basic training course first (Cert 4 in training and assessment) so they are better trained to teach
- Salespeople should have a business degree or related basic qualification
Positives from the Research
Despite the disappointing results of the study, some positive results did come out of it. Many reported a reasonable satisfaction score with their employer, citing good working conditions, sales managers that did show care and a greater degree of honesty, and a feeling that they belonged to the company.
Please note that saying you’re happy in a sales position could be perceived as correct; however, if you know nothing other than this position, your perception could be clouded.
Conclusion from the Research
The list gets very interesting as you drill down. The future is more about personal support for the employees and respect and appreciation than the more business-related needs. Stress played an important part in the future, and lifestyle quality was a very close second.
My question is this: Are we equipped to provide what are seen as very basic needs for salespeople?
Are We a Commodity in Sales Now, and Are We Expendable Too?
My immediate reaction is to say “absolutely,” but on second thoughts, many responses are ambiguous. I say yes to the commodity element. Having closely observed management function in global companies, I have noted a syndrome that I describe as “cut the infected section off and grow it again.” This is why recruitment companies are always waiting in the wings to fill another sales position. They too well understand that the turnaround in professional sales is about one and a half years, which is great business for them.
The time required to replace the “infected section” is at least around 6 to 12 months, during which the new recruit enters induction and at a significant cost, with only 3-6 months’ guarantee back-up support from the recruiting company. Many studies have been published on this recurring problem, but it seems we have fallen into this syndrome of management since the 1970s. I experienced this problem just as it was developing and have noted its progression over the decades. We now see the average retention of salespeople in high-end selling shrinking to 1.8 years or less, with the long-term stints of 10 years or more no longer being the norm.
Professionals working in sales can earn incomes that are well into six figures and are one of the most popular positions companies seek to fill. But retention tends to be low, in view of the pressure to meet sales targets and KPIs, lack of adequate training, and inevitable rejection. Seventy-one percent of companies take 6 months or longer to bring new sales reps on board, and a third of all companies take 9-12 months or more to rescue the position.
Companies have accepted this shorter year turnover as the standard to measure by. This benchmark is built into cost of sales and the price of doing business. Very few global companies look toward a longer retention rate of, for example, 4 years. It is nice to see 5-year service awards being handed out. These longer stints seem to fall into a specialized and rare group, such as:
Survivors in Professional Selling
- Family men needing a regular job and income
- Single women needing security with children
- Older single salespersons wanting regular job security with a home loan
- Salespersons hanging on for promotion
- Salespersons liking their customer base and putting up with internal company politics
- Salespersons who have decided “not” to get involved with internal politics
New salespeople, especially in a technical industry, need strong coaches and mentors to find long-term success.
Known but not talked about much is the salesperson that deliberately seeks another position on a regular basis. There is a specific group that thinks that the more positions they have, the better the curriculum vitae looks. They have recruiters on tap, are continually looking at LinkedIn, and constantly talking to their colleagues about what’s going on out there. Is this the “grass is greener over the hill” syndrome, or are they never satisfied with what they have. Salespeople who follow this path will never concentrate fully on their sales job.
I believe this person is primarily seeking attention, feeling they are a precious commodity, and maneuvering themselves into a better paid job position. Perhaps it is ego that drives this personality.
Is it good to do this? No. You get named the “Rep that moves on too soon”; companies steer clear of you when your name continually comes up.
Additional research findings suggest that dissatisfaction with work and promotion aspects of the job as well as thinking of quitting and intending to quit are stages in the turnover process of the salespeople studied. Conversely, variables representing attitude toward searching for another job, attitude toward quitting, and comparison of a perceived alternative job with the present job did not contribute significantly to explaining turnover for the salespeople studied.
Unfortunately, sales managers and leaders also come under criticism for failing to address clear lines of support for their sales team and not being qualified to train their team members. They need to know when and where to apply pressure on the team, including shielding the top-down problem from higher management. The overall outcome of all of these employment issues is that sales management should bear the responsibility of short staff turnover. If sales managers were under less pressure, had the budget for appropriate training and coaching, and spent 2 days inside and 3 days in the field, the figures would change dramatically.1
1 Psychosocial work environment and mental health among traveling salespeople Article: 26 Oct 2010—The study followed 1306 salespeople and their health-related issues caused by stress, long hours, short times with companies, and lack of security. The study does reflect the notes discussed in this text. It concludes that if sales managers were less stressed and gave more time to their sales staff, the outcome would be very different, and the problem of shorter turnover would ultimately improve.