EPISODE 548: Retaining and Motivating Top Tier Sales Talent with Amy Kelly

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured an interview with Leadership, Team, and Organizational Development expert Amy P. Kelly. She’s the author of “Glue.”]

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AMY’S TIP: “Sales leader, you must listen to people. Spend the time at least once a month and say, “What’s important to you?” Focus on the sales most. But are you buying a house? Are you having a baby? What do you want to learn about our industry? Being a manager at any level, again, you engage people by showing them that they’re important. When I look at the word talent, I often go through, the top thing people need is to spend time.”


Fred Diamond: Amy, you’ve been at some places that have been involved with the Institute. Of course, DLT. We originally met you and you were at immixGroup, and you’ve helped us honor some amazing sales leaders along the way like Art Richer and Steve. You and I have been following each other’s progress along the way. I read Glue, and it’s a real timely book. Today our focus is on mindset. Let’s talk about that. Again, the book, the truth about talent, people are struggling with finding people. I don’t know if people still use The Great Resignation like we were over the last period of time but it’s always hard. As a matter of fact, the mission of the Institute for Excellence in Sales is to help sales leaders attract, retain, motivate, and elevate top tier sales talent, because that has always been the biggest challenge for sales leaders is to get great people on their team. You’re an expert on that. You’re going around the country now speaking on this and helping people.

First of all, it’s great to see you. I applaud you again for the book, I really enjoyed reading it. It goes deep and it really deals with honest conversations, and really saying what you need to say to people that you work with. In the book you talk about two business owners who came across a crossroads and how they needed to get past that and how they eventually did. Give us a little update on how you’re doing, and then we want to start talking about how companies who are listening can get great salespeople to come back to their companies and to thrive.

Amy Kelly: Thank you very much, Fred. Yes, I’ve really been enjoying working with so many different types of businesses and so many different industries, leaders, and I have yet to work with a company that didn’t have a sales organization. It’s a big piece of every business owner’s priorities is getting the right people to take their product and services to market and to have that great environment where everyone’s excelling and meeting business objectives.

You mentioned Glue, yes. That book is definitely something that deals with relationships in business. You mentioned Gina Stracuzzi and the great Women in Sales program. In the book, there are all different real life elements that I bring to the story, but it’s a fiction short story and it is to women in business and they have a breakdown in their business relationship and how they work through that.

To the point of today, I’ve seen that in sales teams, I’ve seen that in executive teams, I’ve seen that in organizations and how you work through that definitely plays into how you attract, engage, empower, retain your talent. How do you manage through the inevitable difficulty of disagreement, whether it’s on your compensation plan, whether it’s on the way that you do things. Where you work, whether you work at home or in the office. That’s going to be a situation where your mindset plays into it and the culture and how you deal with it.

The other thing that I wanted to mention since we are talking about mindset as it relates to sales talent, as it relates to successful businesses, I was able to write, it was a field guide called the Energy Bus Field Guide. That’s my other work and it’s about bringing positive energy to your life work and organization. In those two endeavors, it’s been my focus for over 25 years.

It’s crazy, Fred, because I was just doing an event and I pulled a picture which I am going to send to you because I think a lot of people can identify with this. I was standing in the mall in Orlando next to what was a big deal at the time. It was this Adecco job kiosk. I was so proud to be a part of this company. We were attracting talent for Disney, for Universal, for lighting companies, for Frito-Lay. We actually placed chip pickers at Frito-Lay. They needed to get their talent. They would pick the bird chips off the conveyor belt, and Frito-Lay had great compensation, great benefits and treated their people really well. So anyway, I’m standing in the mall, I’m standing by these technological advancements of these job kiosks, and when I was looking, I said, “That was 1997.”

My point is, I’ve been working for 25 plus years, looking at how do you get the right people to help achieve your business objectives and how do you create a great place for them to do their best work? At the time that I was in that picture, I was in sales, and I was out selling our services to do that. It’s a real passion of mine, and telling talent truths, and how they can bring value to organizations and help you with your people. Giving people what they need to do their best work, it’s at the heart of every aspect of what I do.

Fred Diamond: Let’s get to some basic questions here. Why do people join organizations? We know especially in sales, compensation obviously is important but there’s other reasons that may be more important, especially as younger people are getting into companies. We really can’t forget about some of the dynamics of the world right now and how people want to work and how people want to be compensated, how they want to be appreciated. Tell us why from your history and your experience, Amy Kelly, the employees join organizations, and then tell us why they leave.

Amy Kelly: Well, I am at a minimum on a quarterly basis, looking at the research that comes out. I’m mentioning that because I’ll look at ADP’s research from the Research Institute, I’ll look at Gallup, I’ll look at things that come out from Forbes Research Institute, and many others. The reason I’m bringing that up is in February, when I updated things, and then I updated them again recently, the things that came up were number one, competitive pay and benefits. I’ll tell you what I think about all this in just a second. Now hybrid work environment was at the top of the list. I’ll give you the top five. Work life balance and personal wellbeing, which I think the hybrid work is connected to that element. Then companies whose values match theirs. That was in the top five too. Then finally, stability and security. A couple of things came to mind, because I don’t disagree with any of those.

I like that they’re so straightforward, because sometimes people say, “Oh, it’s not compensation that caused.” It is. People care what they get paid. They do care what they get paid. It’s not the only thing, but it matters. Thinking back to that 25 year span I’m talking about, what I thought was not much of that has changed. Those priorities, the truth about what matters to people, fair compensation and benefits, a company whose values they can believe in. Flexibility so that their life isn’t horrible, and then some level of security and stability, I think that one certainly magnified based on what we’ve gone through over the last few years. But what I also have seen over time is, does my company tell me the truth about what’s happening and what’s going on? That goes back to my talent truths.

I agree with those top things. I do think people come for those things. I think the leadership really matters at the organization and that goes to companies whose values and the things that they have match that employee. I would agree with those top five. There are so many different facets of why people join, but what I call that is, it’s your employment brand. Of those things, what do you have to offer and what’s your truth? What is your talent promise? People join companies because of the totality of that talent promise that’s inclusive of compensation and benefits, the values. Those would be the things that I continue to see as priorities.

Fred Diamond: When you think about sales, because we’re the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we work with some people who have worked at the same company for 30 years. Two of our past Women in Sales leader award recipients, Tamar Greenspan has been in Oracle for over 30 years, and Courtney Bromley has been at IBM for over 30 years. She actually just left, but she was there. It’s interesting, and I’ve worked for some big brands. I worked for Apple and Compaq and a large software company called Compuware. Then you see people in sales, a lot of times, they’ll chase the best opportunity. If you’re a good sales professional, you could go to a place that’s having, let’s say challenges, because of the market or product, whatever it could be and if you perform, you can get very, very well compensated.

Sales is interesting, unlike if you’re in accounting or finance, you probably want to be stable for as long as possible. Get your increases, especially if the company continues to thrive. Then there’s a lot of people in sales maybe who move into a startup environment. Maybe take a shot to hit something big. Conversely, let’s talk about some of the things that companies should be doing right now to engage and retain. Again, the mission of the IES, attract, retain, motivate, and elevate top tier talent. It really is a buyers’ market. A great sales professional can almost go anywhere and can pick and choose.

You see bigger, more traditional companies struggling with getting newer people into their workforce because someone wants something different. They want something more vibrant, and theory dynamic. Talk about that a little bit. Once we get you on board, and of course, it costs so much money to find new people, and to get them up to speed, what do you need to be doing to retain and engage top tier talent?

Amy Kelly: There’s an incredible link, as you already have been stating, between what you do to attract and what you do and retain. What I mean by that is it starts with the foundation of truth. I mentioned the talent promise. If you’re telling the market what you do and who you are, then be who you say you are when someone joins your organization. Also to retain talent, it’s coming into congruence with what you said, your talent promise. This is what you’re going to experience here, this is what you’re going to get and being able to articulate it before someone joins and then once they’re there, reminding them, this is what you said was important to you, and these are the things that we do, and doing it.

Within the talent promise, there are things like, what’s exciting about our industry in our market space? Why is this a great opportunity for you? Every leader and manager should be able to say with confidence, and unapologetically and humbly, but why is it great to work for me? What am I going to be doing to help you with your career? How are you growing and you learning?

With all of those things, companies, I really advocate. I do have clients that they’re not having talent challenges right now because they’re really clear on their truth. What I mean there is maybe some organizations feel like they need to have, for example, pet benefits, or some kind of special benefit or a special room to do yoga. Any of those things are not negative things, but are they necessary in all organizations? No.

You need to decide what is your talent promise and just be confident of why you decided in those investments, and also be knowledgeable about what is happening, what is trending, and then making your investments based on who you are, what you stand for, what you want to be known for, not trying to be everything to everyone. Just tell your story and tell the truth, because then you will have attracted people who have alignment with what you offer. Then when you deliver on it when they’re there, they will be getting what they said was important to them, and they will be able to be engaged and retained. Then it makes everything much more synchronized. I call that calibrating your talent and employer alignment. You need to do that on a regular basis because the intersection of those two is your talent truth and your talent promise.

To retain, you deliver on that talent promise, and then as many people say, a big priority is ask what’s important to people and really listen. Notice that I just said really listen. I didn’t say you have to give everybody everything they ask for because that’s not realistic and it’s also not possible. It’s just being able to say we regularly ask, we really mean it, we really listen, and then every so often we calibrate our alignment with what you said was important, what’s important to us, what’s going on with the industry, and maybe we invest in a new benefit, maybe we adjust a certain policy, maybe it’s parental leave.

Maybe we look at our compensation. But being able to speak to what your promise is, what your truth is, that’s very compelling to people. They want to hear the truth, and then they can decide, is this the right place for me? Then once they’re in, they’re going to be asking all the time, “Are you guys telling me the truth about what you said you had to offer, and are you really delivering on that? Are you even asking me how are my priorities changing?”

Fred Diamond: I want to ask you a slightly different question there. My first job after college was with McGraw Hill Publishing, I was an editor, and then I went to Apple Computer. I was in marketing with Apple. One thing I noticed was everybody was smart. One of the reasons why Apple was so great besides the innovation of the Mac, and all those things, of course, but everybody was smart, and everybody was talented and everybody went to a good college and everybody had Stanford and MIT and all those things.

Then I went to Compaq, and most people were smart. Then I went to another company, and it was okay. A lot of people were smart. My question for you is this. Why would a great sales professional go to an average company? Does it make sense that if you’re a great sales professional, you’ll go to a great company? I get a lot of people who reach out to me all the time, they say, I’m looking for salespeople. In my mind, the company is maybe average. Let’s say they have decent benefits, probably competitive salary, but maybe in a not very interesting industry. Maybe the reputation is… Why would a great salesperson go to an average company, or does it not happen?

Amy Kelly: No, I think it happens all the time. I actually talked to someone who’s in this situation right now. A couple of reasons come to mind, two primarily. One is, it’s a challenge. They can create that environment where all of a sudden there’s excellence that wasn’t there before and with everything that they know about the sales discipline, taking products and services to market, they can be the leader that changes that kind of mediocrity into excellence.

I think there are many sales leaders who would like to be a part of that, maybe as an individual contributor, but maybe also as that’s a way to grow into a sales leader. Someone who builds sales teams. That could be a challenge that someone wants to embrace. Then these two things could be linked. Another reason is, there’s a really big opportunity financially and looking at, hey, they’re the market opportunity, the addressable market, they see that the product or service does have a huge addressable market opportunity. On their side, they get the chance to have a big upside for driving that opportunity into reality.

They say, “Well, I’m going to take a chance on this.” Also realizing they’re going to learn new skills, they’re going to have a completely different trajectory. How fast can that happen? To your point, it’s fun to architect things. As people who are excellent at their craft, it’s like, how fast can I do this? What are the variables that I have available to me? And I’m going to embrace this challenge. Sometimes salespeople may be more and they may realize with their business acumen. You know what? I’ve got a great book of business, and while I’m still trying to add net new clients, I am farming the opportunities and the results that I’ve gotten, and I want to stay and see those results come to fruition while I’m still contributing to new business.

They’re going to stay put and maybe at a point that they need a new challenge, or they maybe aren’t able to elevate into an executive level role, and that’s their goal, it’s not everyone’s goal, they could look at, okay, this seemingly mediocre company, I’m going to help make an impact here, grow my skill set, grow my finances and use that as a season that looks a little different in my sales career.

Fred Diamond: That’s a great answer. I remember when I was at Apple, I was with one of our seasoned sales leaders. I was on a sales call with him. He said to me, and he came from I think either IBM or Xerox, which, again, this was the mid-80s and if you were at Xerox or IBM at that time, you were making at least a half a million dollars. I remember he said to me, “Apple’s paying us more because it’s a harder sale.” Now, when people think of Apple you think it’s very common and big brand, but into certain markets like government and corporate, it was a very, very difficult sale as compared to what it was for education. The other thing too, you raise a really good point. Let’s say you go to a company that’s average but they’ve been around for a while. They have an installed base most likely. For a tech company specifically to be around for 20, 30, 40 years, there are people who are using the technology, and it can definitely be grown and that’d be a nice opportunity to take a leap.

One of the common thoughts is that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. You’re an expert on how managers can be talent asset. Talk about that a little bit. I don’t think every manager understands that. With the last two years of the pandemic, one thing we’ve acknowledged, Amy Kelly, is that first-line managers is the hardest job in almost any sales organization. A lot of people were thrown into that role in their garage or their basement, and they weren’t with their people. They were looking at everybody through this type of a screen.  Give some insights into if I’m a sales leader, manager, director, maybe even like an RVP or something, talk about how you can truly become a talent retention asset, because the reality is you’re only going to make your number if your team is good.

Amy Kelly: Yes. A huge accelerant to that is what I was already talking about, being fluent in your talent promise and weaving that into your conversations and how you align the individuals’ goals and the organization goals and the sales goals that you’re working on. Understand and be able to tell your team, what is exciting about what we’re doing? Why are we relevant in the market space? Be fluent in that. Don’t wait for the battle cards and all the assets to be produced by marketing. You need to know why it’s a great thing to be involved in at your organization because your team needs to hear that. That’s motivating. I’m with an organization that has relevance, I’m learning, I’m growing, understand your benefits. Be fluent in why they’re in a great place and help make that a reality for people. Being truthful about those things, and then delivering on them, that is a huge way to gain a relationship where you can coach and develop people as a manager at any level in an organization.

Then another thing is, really embrace the fact that if you’re in a management position at any level, a portion of your compensation is to help everyone else be successful. Really embrace that and make sure, I know this is a simple fundamental, but a way to retain people is to spend some time with them. Make sure you meet one on one with everyone you’re paid to manage. One on one at least once a month. When you sit down, you listen to them. You don’t tell them what they’ve done or what they need to do. You need to know that, but you need to listen.

We used to hear pre-pandemic, this is business, it’s not personal. I’ve always been a fan of people being professional. I don’t think we need to be unprofessional, and people may have different definitions of that. But business is personal. We all are leaving our families, everything that matters to us to focus our time on something that most people want to be great in what they do. They want to be rewarded and recognized and in some way they want to make an impact and make a difference.

Listen to people. Spend the time once a month and say, “What’s important to you?” Focus on the sales most. But are you buying a house? Are you having a baby? What do you want to learn about our industry? Being a manager at any level, again, you engage people by showing them that they’re important. When I look at the word talent, I often go through, the top thing people need is to spend time. The T stands for time.

I won’t go through the whole acronym, but a lot of times I will go into organizations and they’ll say we have a retention problem and it could be in the sales organization. What will happen is I’ll talk to the sales leaders, and I’ll say, “When are you meeting with your team? Well, how do you communicate with them?” They’ll say, “We have a sales meeting every Monday and I send out a message and there’s this place.”

But how often do you meet one on one with the people that report to you? “Well, I have a one on one like every other month, but sometimes it gets pushed, sometimes I have to cancel it, sometimes I’m out of town,” and the simple message to engage and retain people is that you’re sending a message that you don’t care if you don’t fulfill that commitment. Commitment isn’t always convenient. If you manage someone, to retain them and engage them, you need to spend the time with them and not de-prioritize that.

Fred Diamond: Amy Kelly, we have time for one more question before I ask you for your final action step. Amy, today again, it’s Thursday. We’re recording this as part of the Optimal Sales Mindset episodes of the Sales Game Changers podcast. What role does mindset play in organizational development and employment branding for that matter?

Amy Kelly: Mindset plays an enormous role. It is the top thing that McKenzie said is related to success in individual and organizational transformation. You want an actionable item here. The best thing that people can do to help others is to help them get better at change. Salespeople already hear no all the time. They are dealing with reorganizations, restructures, integration, the macro market space and all the things, the prevailing pressures and helping people get better at change. One of the things is to develop mindset and work on mindset activities.

I’ll even give you a resource. Go to ryangottfredson.com. He does a lot of work on vertical development of mindsets. He has a free mindset assessment. But my point is, if you don’t have the ability to manage your mindset through change and rejection and the realities of difficult numbers to hit and teamwork, then you’re going to be at a disadvantage to deal with the things that come up every day in business. You can train your brain, it’s proven. There are strategies to do so. I talk about NSR all the time, notice, shift, rewire. So look that up people who are looking for actionable strategies, but mindset plays a big role in your individual success, your organizational success, and getting better at change, being adaptable, and being agile in that adaptability. That is one of the things that is maximally productive for working with your employees successfully.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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