Can average Sales Leaders retain and develop A players?

When my client, the head of commercial banking for a regional bank, posed this question I knew he had already formulated an answer. Bill had lost some high performing Relationship Managers recently to community banks. His real question was whether there was any way to prevent that going forward.

First, let’s be clear. There are some offers that are impossible to refuse. Your HPs get calls from recruiters all the time. If somebody puts together an incredible package for one of your superstars, there may not be much you can do other than extend your congratulations and move on. [Note: This should not be a total fire drill. In much the same way that football coaches have to think about who is going to go in if a running back twists an ankle, Sales Leaders have to be thinking about their bench strength. They also have to have a short list of candidates who they have been courting in the event that an opening occurs.]

Second, my client’s question may have more to do with the fact that he has weak Sales Leaders in several key markets.   Some of the Sales Leaders are probably in the wrong slots. They were effective as Relationship Managers—in some cases, legitimate A players—but have struggled in leading others. Some continue to manage significant commercial relationships, which usually means that they spend more time worrying about their own personal production than coaching their team members. (I’ll spare you my sermon on “Why Producing Sales Leaders Don’t Work” but you can check it out here.)

Commercial Team leaders often devote more time to running interference with credit requests than they do coaching sales. While this is obviously important it may not help their teams develop the necessary skills and strategies to build relationships with key prospects and COIs.

Many Sales Leaders (and not just Producing Sales Leaders) believe that A players should be left alone, that they don’t want or need coaching, and that the best thing to do is spend all their time with their B and C players.

This is where the word “micromanagement” usually crops up. Sometimes the high performers are even allowed to opt out of a bank’s sales process—“Andy doesn’t need to (fill in the blank—Use the CRM system; update relationship plans on key clients and prospects; participate in regular sales meetings or 1 on 1 coaching sessions; etc.)

There are at least three flaws with this approach:

1. What got the A players there won’t keep them there forever. Things are changing too fast. If they’re not getting better, they will have problems staying on top.

2. Your B and C players will start rebelling: “If the A players are given a pass on core elements of process, why do I have to follow the process?”

3. Without a consistent process throughout the bank, Sales Leaders can never understand what they did right or wrong. They have no way of making needed adjustments.
If your goal is to retain high performers, you have to commit to spend time with them. That means that your strategy has to include the following:
Block out time to make more calls with them. Not just one call. Spend a full day calling with them at least once a quarter. You’ll learn a lot.
Keep coaching them. 1 on 1 coaching sessions are still critical for HPs. They think they don’t need you. They will tell you that everything is great. Don’t fall for it. All ‘A’ players crave attention. Strategize with them. Help them get the internal support they need. Open your network to them.

Have a development plan in place for your HPs. This is something you and your top performers need to develop together and review regularly. Find ways to make them better. (And keep your boss (and your boss’s boss) apprised of what you’re doing.)

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