EPISODE 414: Sales Expert Bob Greene Tells How to Prevent the Great Sales Resignation

Subscribe to the Podcast now on Apple Podcasts!

Become a member of the elite Institute for Excellence in Sales and take your sales career to the next level!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on September 29, 2021. It featured sales expert Bob Greene.]

Register for the IES Women in Sales Leadership Forum here.

Find Bob on LinkedIn here.

BOB’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: You need to care. You need to care about your salespeople, you need to care about your clients and that’s an active engagement. It’s more than just lip service. You have to roll up your sleeves and understand where their pain points are, what’s impacting them from their customer’s perspective, from their perspective and then from their personal lives too. Fred, the word is care.


Fred Diamond: Bob, it’s great to see you. You were a guest last year right about five months into the pandemic. You and the great Gary Milwit, I believe, were on the show together and we’ve kept in touch with each other, we follow each other’s post. You’re a very astute sales leader, you keep your pulse on what’s going on with various organizations to help them transform their sales organizations and take their business to the next level. Interestingly, we’re going to be talking about something that is definitely in the news and we’re going to apply it to the sales organization.

The Great Resignation. I read an article today that Microsoft estimates that 41% of people out there will have a new job, you have a stat that you shared with me that a recent Gallup poll found that 48% of employees are actively searching for new opportunities. Bob, the mission of the Institute for Excellence in Sales is to help sales leaders acquire, retain, motivate and elevate top tier sales talent. Let’s talk about how sales leaders need to respond to this. It’s hard enough getting good enough sales performers as it is, and now we have this added burden.

It’s great to see you, let’s get started. First off, why did you pick this topic? I reached out to you because you know so much, you’re on the pulse of what’s going on in sales and you said, “Fred, I want to talk about The Great Resignation and how that impacts sales leaders.”

Bob Greene: First of all, thank you, Fred, for having me back. It’s always good to be here and hello, everybody. I wanted to pick a topic that wasn’t something that people were talking about readily. As sales leaders, we focus a lot on revenue generation and we talk about the sales pipeline and things of that regard, but keeping talent is just as important. If you lose your talent, that’s going to impact your bottom line as well. There are some important statistics there also that we’re going to delve into.

The main thing I want to talk about is things changed during the pandemic by force, businesses had to shut down. Now that businesses are reopening, management has an expectation in a lot of cases that things are going to be as they were, but employees are having a different conversation. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Fred Diamond: You’re the owner of RCG Workgroup, you’re a management consulting and outsourcing company. We’ve been friends for a while, you’re a member of the Institute for Excellence in Sales and you helped us get a lot of our programs together. You just made an interesting point, you said employees are thinking one thing but leaders are thinking the other way. First of all, do you think leaders are oblivious to what’s going on? It’s going on all over the place.

There’ve been so many things that have happened because of the pandemic and one of the big things is people are rethinking their lives. People are rethinking where they want to live, people are rethinking their relationship status, people are rethinking obviously career and what’s dearly important to them and how we hold onto this. Where’s the disconnect with sales leaders? Why aren’t they grasping this huge shift in the workforce?

Bob Greene: They’re starting to, that’s the good news. But what happened was during the pandemic, it was an aberration, it was a disruption and people figured it would be a temporary thing. Once the pandemic allowed for offices to reopen, people would be willing to come back to work as they had before. But being in a work-from-home or work-remote environment for a lot of employees gave them a different insight into their work-life balance and what they want out of a career, and what they want out of a job. When companies are reopening and they’re not taking those changes, in many cases fundamental changes in terms of an employee mindset into focus, into consideration, that’s where the disconnect occurs.

Fred Diamond: Prior to the pandemic, I was doing the Sales Game Changers webinar and I would interview sales VPs face to face. I would go to their offices and before the pandemic, we had a different type of show. I would talk about, “Tell us about your greatest win, give us some tips, tell us about a mentor.” When the pandemic started, all of our shows were about, “What are you doing right now?” We used to do #rightnow. In the Mindset show and the Sales Game Changers Live show, prior to the pandemic I would say, what are the biggest challenges that you face as sales leaders? It got to the point where everybody was saying, hiring and retaining top tier talent.

One of our guests, the great Frank Passanante with Hilton said, hiring and retaining is table stakes if you’re a sales leader. Everybody needs to face that. So, I stopped asking the question. I would say, “Besides hiring and retaining, what are the biggest challenges you would face?” It’s always been, especially for good sales talent, like a seller’s game. I would always say this, if you’re good at sales, you can find gigs. If you’re average, you can find gigs. Has that changed? Besides The Great Resignation, the sales professional, is he or she still in charge of dictating their career and what they can do?

Bob Greene: It’s very much the salesperson’s market, so to speak, but the dynamic has changed. They’re not necessarily looking for jobs, they’re looking for gigs. What’s happening is in the past, you’ve had top sales performers and they would look for jobs in the corporate structure. But more and more you’re seeing people do what I do which is become independent consultants and offer themselves up for specific projects rather than having one particular employer.

One of my clients is a national call center, and I’m responsible for their recruiting, hiring and onboarding. During the pandemic, we went virtual. We closed down the physical office, it was so successful that we’ve permanently closed the physical office and our call center is 100% virtual. It gives people that flexibility of workspace, they don’t have to commute to work and they can make $50,000 in their pajamas.

Fred Diamond: Is this just a sales problem? I don’t want to ask that question ignorantly, but is this an organizational problem where HR, leadership, the C-suite, sales leadership, they’re all recognizing this and getting together? Or have you seen sales having to do different things because of the nature of the sales profession?

Bob Greene: I think what it is, is the nature of benefits have changed and the nature of what the totems of the successful career have changed. Whereas in the past, a totem might be a corner office, a designated parking space, a dedicated administrative assistant, those things have changed. Now people want flexibility of work, they want flexibility of schedule, they want to have empowerment for educational opportunities. Organizations that don’t take those things into consideration are stagnated and much like when businesses evolved in 1960s to the 1970s to the 1980s, here we’re going to have to evolve from 2020 to 2022. Those companies that are not making this change – and it has to be quick, fast, and change is a hard thing. The word change itself has negative implications, but organizations that don’t see that and are thinking they can go back to what was before are going to be losing talent in a rapid manner.

Fred Diamond: Bob, I’ve got a bit of a different question here. Let’s talk about sales today. Forgetting about The Great Resignation for a second, what does sales look like today? Again, you’re on the leading edge, you’re talking to sales organizations, you’re helping them transform. What are the challenges of sales today? A lot of people are still in their home doing work. Some people have begun to go back and then unfortunately, this Delta variant kicks in. Some people that were bringing people back have now said, stay home for the foreseeable future. From your perspective, what does sales look like today?

Bob Greene: I think it’s the same, Fred. I think that sales is a process, it doesn’t change, but the distractions are great and you have to take those into consideration. You have to recognize that one of the most important things about being successful in sales is building a relationship with your prospective client. That relationship is now predicated on caring about their wellbeing, caring about their mental health, caring about their physical health, asking questions that in the past might have seemed very personal and maybe even intrusive. Now, it shows that you’re recognizing the environment in which we live and you’re transcending the relationship beyond just business to one of personal caring, and I think that is primarily the difference. Again, the sales process is universal, it doesn’t change but how we approach it does.

Fred Diamond: We do webinars every single day and one of the most seminal impactful moments for me, I believe it was early June. I was interviewing a sales leader named Tim Solms and Tim is the head guy for Dun & Bradstreet Public Sector. The first question I asked him was, what’s the main priority for you right now as a sales leader? He said, managing the fatigue of our sales organization, and he also said the rest of the company as well. We had heard words like languish, but this is the first time we’d heard fatigue and he said it’s a critical thing. Especially in markets like public sector where the markets were active and you had to continue to work, your customer didn’t go away.

If you were selling into markets like entertainment or the movie theater industry, restaurants, you had to adjust differently because they weren’t buying for obvious reasons. Public sector, they didn’t miss a beat. Actually, they had to increase to get everybody into the cloud. From March of 2020 all the way through to early June and now because the federal system kicked back in at the end of the buying year. He said fatigue, those are some real things. Words like empathy we talk about all the time, personal care. Bob, one of every four shows we do is focused on some level of personal care. Let’s get down to some specifics. What’s the most important thing an employer can do to retain top tier sales talent right now?

Bob Greene: The most important thing is to demonstrate that you care. To do that, you have to actively listen, you have to change the dynamic in terms of how you manage. Poor management as much as fatigue is one of the reasons why people leave an organization, and you really have to look at the benefit structure that you’re offering and what the work life is providing. More importantly, hearing what the employee expects and setting up a new social contract with your employees so that they see value in staying with your organization. Instead of just building your brand externally, build it internally as well.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about flexibility. We have a question here that comes in from Lou, “Talk a little more about what flexible work looks like, Bob.” It’s interesting, back in January/February I had some conversations with some young sales professionals, and they were struggling because their companies said, you can’t go anywhere because we have to be socially distant, and bars are closed. You’re in your apartment by yourself, you might as well work around the clock. There are a lot of young sales professionals SDRs and early account execs who were reaching out to me saying, “Mr. Diamond, this is a struggle. What do you suggest we do?” Talk to Lou’s question here. What is flexible work like from a sales perspective in order to be able to give your company value?

Bob Greene: There’s two different types of flexibility. There’s flexibility of workspace and there’s flexibility of schedule. Let’s talk about flexibility of schedule. There’s an interesting statistic here, 76% of millennials say that they would be willing to take a pay cut for flexible working hours. According to FlexJobs, 80% of respondents said they would be more loyal to their employer if they had flexible schedules. What does that look like?

Well, you can look at telecommuting options, flexible work hours, childcare centers. One of the things that you might want to look at is, is a five-day, nine-to-five work week still something that employees want? Maybe some employees would rather work four 10-hour days and take a day off either at the end, at the beginning of the week or in the middle. You need to ask those questions, you need to unpack where the value proposition is because nine-to-five workdays sitting behind a desk Monday through Friday is no longer going to be the norm.

Fred Diamond: Most people who listen to the Sales Game Changers webcast and podcast are in business-to-business enterprise complex type sales. Does that make sense? A four-day work week, 10 hours? Talk a little bit about that. In a lot of cases, it’s really not a sit-behind-a-desk. I know you do a lot of work with call centers, and of course, the SDR profession is something like that but let’s get a little more specific on how that would work best for sales. You work with sales organizations around the globe, give us some of your thoughts on what would ideally a flexible schedule like that work like for a sales organization.

Bob Greene: I’ve been involved in global sales and for that, you could be on the phone at midnight talking to Asia. What I think is most meaningful is how I used to work and how I still work. The clock is there as a guideline. When you have work to do, you do the work, but you’re not locked into a clock. For instance, if the business hours, let’s say, are nine to five, that’s when you’re making a lot of your calls. But if you have international clients, you’re going to be working all sorts of hours. I think the most meaningful thing if you’re really, truly a professional and you own your business. Even if you’re not a self-employed individual, you’re an entrepreneur within your organization, if you own your business, you’re going to take care of the work that needs to be done when it needs to be done and you’re not going to be micromanaged in terms of your time when you’re not working.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about what some of the metrics should be used to measure performance to encourage the retention of talent.

Bob Greene: There’s two things that are current right now which need to change. One is metrics in terms of measurement of call volume, number of meetings, those types of things. The other is outcome-based performance. Both of those need to change because what’s happening is you’re looking at artificial metrics, you’re not looking at the reality of what the workday looks like. If you want to measure productivity, you have to measure not just a number of calls, how many meaningful calls? Not just a number of meetings, but how many engagements moved forward? Not just volume of closing, but where’s the profitability? These are the things that you need to look at with more scrutiny, and that takes more understanding of your business. Managers have to become more hands-on, and they have to have a more intimate relationship with their sales teams.

Fred Diamond: We talked before about exhaustion, we talked about fatigue. I’m just curious, from your perspective, as you talk to sales leaders, you coach sales leaders, what are some of the things that you would recommend to them? It’s interesting, we do a Women in Sales show every Tuesday and one thing that we noticed is a lot of the burden of managing the family before the pandemic was on the woman in the relationship, the mother. It’s gotten even more so during the pandemic, you had to be a teacher, you had to be a camp counsellor and you had to figure out how to keep the kids busy, homeschool and all those kinds of things.

I’m curious, what would be some advice you would have for sales leaders to be more attuned? You and I talked about in the beginning of the call how they might be out of touch. What are some things that they can do to break through and really understand, where are my employees from an exhaustion perspective?

Bob Greene: I think fatigue is something, as you said, very real. These Zoom screens most people are having their meetings through or whichever platform they’re using, you don’t have the intimacy, you don’t have the face-to-face. I know the Institute for Excellence in Sales is going back to in-person meetings, I think that’s going to be of high value. But I think the most important thing that a manager can do is listen. Listen to what the employee needs, offer benefits, maybe mental health counseling is a benefit that was never offered before. Maybe there’s things of that regard, maybe childcare is a benefit that you can offer to an employee. Looking at where the employee is and meeting them there and seeing what they need in order to be more productive, more comfortable and less stress, I think is really going to be the rule of management going forward.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here that comes in from Rich, “Can a sales organization be successful with freelance or outsourced sales professionals?” Interesting question. You talked about flexibility, and I know you’ve done some outsource work where you’ve been the sales team in certain parts of your career with your company. A lot of companies are looking to hire W2 full-time employees and we’re talking about some ways to treat them differently. Is one way to have a team of temporary freelance contract people in sales? I did that for 14 years as a marketing leader, I was an outsource Chief Marketing Officer and it worked really well for my customers. They got someone with my talent, but I didn’t have a quota, I just had tasks and responsibilities. Is that something that they should be thinking about or is that something that you don’t think is going to work in the sales organization?

Bob Greene: It really depends on the organization, what they want to do in terms of control. When you start seeding to a 1099 contractor, you no longer can control the process or the hours, all you’re measuring is the outcome and the performance. I come from the consumer package industry, consumer products industry where I was a manufacturer’s representative for years and we earned commission from the manufacturers we represented. We were not employees, but we were representatives of that organization. We were trained by them how to represent their products, we went to market on their behalf but they didn’t control our work days.

If organizations can let go of the management of time, what I’d call the micromanagement of time, then outsource employees could be a beneficial way to maybe even cut overhead but increase employee productivity and work-life balance.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here from Tony, and Tony is a sales recruiter. He works for a relatively large organization, a billion-dollar company, he recruits salespeople. His question is, “Can Bob give me some ideas on how to promote sales as a profession right now to college grads?” That’s an interesting question. We’ve had a guest that we’ve brough on a couple of times, she’s going to be on in November. Her name is Lisa Earle McLeod and she wrote a book called Selling With Noble Purpose. Talk about sales right now, Bob. Give a pep talk to Tony here about why people should come into sales.

Before the pandemic, sales was a hard profession. You have to have courage, you have to learn skills, you have to learn how to communicate, now you have to learn how to speak into the Zoom, you have to understand your customer, you have to ask the right questions. Sales is hard as it is, now with The Great Resignation, give a little bit of a pep talk here about why you would tell people to go into sales.

Bob Greene: I’ll give a personal experience as a pep talk because Tony, I hear you and you’re preaching to the choir. When I first got out of college, I graduated from Virginia Tech, I was on a fast track to go into the secret service. I was going to go to law school and that was my course of action. I was at a family function and one of my uncles came to me and he said, “Bob, I know you’re going into the secret service but I look at you and I see a salesman.” He was one of the most successful salespeople, I don’t know if you guys remember Electrolux, the vacuum cleaner company, he was their #1 salesperson.

I looked at him and I just wanted to punch him in the face. I thought it was the most insulting thing anybody could have said to me, but it was something that was for me, eye-opening. Sales as a career for me has been professional, has been an ability to help amazing organizations, to travel internationally. The most important thing I think Tony needs to do is change the perception of what people have in terms of what a sales profession is, and then talk about all the really amazing things that sales can offer.

Fred Diamond: You raise a really good point, we talk about that all the time. Sales is about service, it’s about value. A lot of times, we get into the nuts and bolts and how many calls, you talked about some metrics before, how to shift the view on metrics. Sales still is a noble profession, it still is about bringing value to your customer. One thing we talk about every single day is that customers need for salespeople to bring them value, and the value isn’t, here’s why my product is great. The value is, I understand your problem, Mr. Customer, and I understand your customer’s problem and I’m going to help you figure out how to get through this pandemic and get your business to the next level.

We actually have a couple other questions coming in here. The question is from Judy, Judy is a sales manager and she manages an inside sales team at a relatively large company as well. She says, “What’s Bob’s advice for managing my people right now when I don’t see them in the office every day?” One of the things that we’ve noticed – and Bob, it’s been 18 months, it’s literally unbelievable if we think about it.

When you’re managing a team in the office or if they come in once in a while, you can take someone into a conference room, sit in front of the white board, map something out and then say, let’s go for lunch and keep the conversation going. We all know the challenges with Zoom and one of the big challenges has been with first-time sales managers, especially those that were promoted in January of 2020. You and I talked about this, the hardest job in sales is probably the first-line sales manager. They don’t get a whole lot of training, the new people get the onboarding, etc.

To Judy’s question, what is your advice? And this goes back to the topic here. What should sales managers be physically doing? You talked about listening before, but what should they be doing knowing that people are remote and they don’t have those usual sales management and leadership tools available to them with people being remote?

Bob Greene: A couple things come to mind. Judy, it’s a great question. First thing you can do as a sales manager is reach out to your employees personally with some sort of a care package of hot chocolate, socks, the comfort package, whatever it might be. Maybe some company bling thrown in there too. The other thing that comes to mind is when I was doing onboarding for this call center, I would do the training through Google Meet and we’d have three or four people at a time going through these trainings.

When the training was over, they didn’t want to leave the Google Meet. They wanted to stay engaged and attached to each other as their class. What was great is I had these Google meets of these three or four individuals here, three or four individuals there that I could drop in on and I could measure their productivity without them even realizing I was measuring their productivity by seeing what their activity was while they were sitting there facing each other on the screen. For them, it was fun but for me, it was a really invaluable tool that allowed me to see how they were doing, how they were adjusting, how they were managing remotely.

I’ll just bring up as an example something from my daughter when she was in high school. The gym coach wanted them to run a mile and the kids were all moaning and groaning about running a mile. The next day, he came into the gym class and he gave them all pool noodles and he told them to chase themselves around the gym with the pool noodles. After 15 minutes, he stopped and they had run a mile and a half.

It’s the same type of thought process, if you make it fun, if you make it engaging, if you don’t make being on the Zoom call mandatory, if you make it something that, hey, we’re going to leave this open like the water cooler, drop in and say hello if you feel like it. Don’t let it interfere with your workday, but we’re going to give you all these different resources for communication, those are things that you can do right now.

Fred Diamond: Bob Greene, thank you so much. This is the second time you’ve been on the Sales Game Changers podcast. I want to acknowledge you, you’ve been a great friend to the Institute for Excellence in Sales over the years. A couple years ago you helped me rethink how we go about getting sponsors and that was a huge transformation in the business of the IES. You’ve helped so many sales leaders and sales professionals along the way. I just want to acknowledge you for the great work that you’ve done helping sales leaders and their teams take not just their careers to the next level, but I like to say, if your career’s going to the next level, your life is going to the next level as well. Bob, give us one final action step. You’ve given us so many ideas, give us one more specific action step that sales leaders or sales professionals should be taking today to take their sales career to the next level.

Bob Greene: Let’s end where we started, you need to care. You need to care about your salespeople, you need to care about your clients and that’s an active engagement. It’s more than just lip service. You have to roll up your sleeves and understand where their pain points are, what’s impacting them from their customer’s perspective, from their perspective and then from their personal lives too. Fred, the word is care.

Fred Diamond: Once again, the great Bob Greene. For everybody who watched today’s webinar, thank you, and thank you for being a listener of the Sales Game Changers podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *