It’s every sales manager’s worst nightmare: Facing a resignation from your top sales performer when you least expect it. When a top sales performer resigns, you’re not only losing the expert knowledge and expertise they have developed, you’re also likely to encounter vacant territories, lost sales, and potentially disruption within your team and with your sales person’s customers. The price of replacing a skilled sales person can run into the tens of thousands – with the cost of a bad hire said to be more than £50,000 – and while you may feel compelled to hold out until you’ve found the ‘perfect’ sales candidate, the longer you wait to replace a sales person, the longer you leave their patch uncovered and losing sales.

The new year will likely see many of your team reassessing their career goals, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you see resignations – after all, our BMS Index shows that 51% of sales people look to move on from a role after just two years of starting. Rather than panicking when a top sales performer resigns, think about the positives. A resignation provides a perfect opportunity for you to reassess your sales team and business needs, sourcing a good quality candidate to help you move towards your 2018 sales target. Here’s where to start when you hear that resignation:

Find out why

While it may come as a surprise to you that your best sales person is looking to move on, industry reports suggest an upward trend in the number of employees actively looking for new jobs. With nearly one in three people unhappy in their current roles, and an increased confidence in the job market, you should enter the new year with the expectation that one or more of your sales people may resign. With that in mind, it’s important to find out why people leave your business, and how you can prevent this from happening in the future.

Maximise your exit interview to delve deeper into your sales person’s reasons for leaving. This is a key opportunity to find out what you can do differently to retain your sales talent, and whether their reason for leaving is personal and out of your control – for example, wanting a change of career or taking time out for family reasons – or something that may be impacting the rest of your team. Whether your sales person is moving on for progression, a better bonus system or a more manageable commute, take their feedback on board and learn from it. Your learnings should feed into your employer brand and future recruitment process.

Sales people leave their roles for many different reasons, from insufficient and inadequate coaching and mentoring (sales leaders spend just 20% of their time helping their team close deals, according to CSO Insights) to low compensation and unrealistic KPIs and targets. Once you understand what motivates your team and what they might look for in another role, you can put steps in place to ensure your remaining sales people don’t leave for the same reasons.

Create a plan

The resignation of a top performing sales person can create confusion and disruption within the team, and it’s your job as sales manager to mitigate this. The key to a smooth transition lies in how well you plan for the vacant role. A strong HR policy should outline the expectations around their notice period, but it’s up to you to consider how, where and to whom you will delegate the workload. While this can create additional work for some of your sales people, it also presents an opportunity for members of your team to grow and develop – there could be an opportunity for a rising sales star to take over new accounts. You’ll need to plan on how best to communicate the departure and resulting structural/workload change with your team in order to minimise disruption and negativity.

Support your team

If the departing sales person was a long-standing team member, particularly popular or very successful in terms of supporting the team target, it’s likely that some fellow sales people may feel upset by the resignation. Productivity and morale can suffer when an integral part of the team moves on, especially in highly social teams like sales. With 86% of employees saying their colleagues are one of the top motivators in improving their health and wellbeing at work, and 55% putting off job hunting because they don’t want to leave their co-workers, it’s clear that your team’s happiness is at least partly reliant on each other.

Support your team during this transition period and communicate the changes clearly and positively, getting on the ground to work closely with your sales team. Acknowledge the shift and its impact while presenting new opportunities for your team. For instance, you could ask sales people if any of their colleague’s responsibilities, accounts or clients interest them.

Think carefully about your replacement

The resignation provides a prime opportunity to review the skills and experience you have in your existing team, identifying areas you’d like to develop or add to. Perhaps the vacant role could be filled by someone with specialist experience in a new or developing market, or someone who can introduce new technologies and strategies for your team. Think about upcoming sales trends – such as video prospecting, automation and omni-channel sales strategies – and consider looking for candidates who can being these to your sales team. Along with this, look at who is already within your team who can take on some of the responsibilities of your departing sales person. You don’t need to replace like for like – instead, think about the kind of candidate and skills that will most benefit your team in 2018 and beyond.

React quickly but remain flexible

The competitive nature of the sales industry means you’ll want to react quickly to secure the market’s best talent. It can take time to get head count agreed, salaries signed, job descriptions written and advertisements published, so factor in these timescales when you start recruiting. A drawn-out hiring process can turn candidates off, and with 25% of sales candidates securing at least one interview within the first week of job hunting, it’s imperative that you move quickly and provide a positive candidate experience.

You’ll also need to be flexible on sales people’s background and experience in order to have someone on turf as soon as possible. Every week that passes without someone covering the vacant workload makes it harder for you to hit targets in 2020, so assess the market to see what’s available and consider adapting elements of your role to suit. While the “perfect” sales candidate may be hard to find, a fast-moving, flexible attitude should see you recruit a sales person who is perfect for your team and the market conditions.

Call the experts

The above steps are all essential when you receive the dreaded news that your top sales person is resigning – and so too is contacting your sales recruitment partner to start a discussion about how to progress. Contact BMS here to find out how we can help.