The Great Resignation: How Commercial Leaders Are Navigating Talent Challenges

5 Aug 21

As commercial leaders approach 2022 planning, there is no bigger risk impacting their ability to achieve growth goals than Talent. Our research has revealed three talent imperatives for commercial leaders as we head into 2022 planning season.

The Impact of ‘The Great Resignation’

Despite record unemployment levels in 2020, the pandemic had led many professionals to reassess their career goals and job satisfaction, with 40% of global workers considering leaving their employer before the end of the year.1 Commercial roles are not immune to this trend – more specifically, the number of posted sales roles has increased by 65% since the beginning of the year as employers recruit for both growth and replacement roles.2 While many of the CEOs with whom we work have expressed concerns about how this dynamic will impact their growth plans, leading commercial organizations are already initiating systemic change to set their teams up for success.

Imperative 1: Improve Hybrid Infrastructure for the Short- and Long-Term

Like it or not, hybrid selling is the new normal – for both commercial teams and customers. A LinkedIn study on hybrid sales found that nearly half of sellers closed deals of $500,000 or more in the last year without ever meeting the buyer in-person – and customers are more than comfortable with this change. In fact, 50% of buyers say that remote work has made purchasing easier.3

While some sellers are excited for a return to face-to-face interactions, many hope the flexible working conditions of the past year continue. To avoid accelerated departures of current team members, commercial leaders should prioritize gathering feedback from employees to understand: 1) what do their ideal working conditions look like and 2) what are the biggest friction points in their day-to-day activities. Over the past few months, many high-growth commercial organizations have recognized that the rapid, ‘good enough’ transformations that many teams enacted during the pandemic now need examination and rebuilding to support employee productivity and overall satisfaction.

To boost commercial teams’ ongoing effectiveness, leaders should evaluate the tools used at each stage of the sales process and where friction or gaps exists for sellers and buyers. Most leaders will – correctly - think of things like account planning, opportunity management, quoting, and prospecting, but organizations should also consider customer experience basics. As one example, invest in training sellers on how to use the full range of virtual meeting technologies to ensure smooth client interactions– not just the dominant one in which your company invests.

Imperative 2: Ensure Improvements in Commercial Culture Endure

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a quote most widely attributed to Peter Drucker. The quote rings true as it relates to talent. A strong commercial culture isn’t just important to your talent strategy – it’s also crucial to accelerating your commercial team’s productivity in a world where buyers move seamlessly from digital, to phone, to in-person interactions.

One positive development that emerged from the pandemic involved the breakdown of commercial silos as companies rushed to introduce new innovations. Commercial leaders couldn’t afford siloed operating environments to slow the introduction of these new solutions.

Not surprisingly, commercial employees experience higher job satisfaction and engagement in environments that foster more cross-functional collaboration. As we’ve begun engaging with commercial leaders around their 2022 annual planning process, many appreciate that they need the tight cross-functional alignment introduced during the pandemic to persist. One midsized tech company CEO shared his keys to tight commercial coordination: 1) weekly CEO videos on new developments related to the company’s top 3 strategic initiatives, 2) a tightly integrated cross-functional team responsible for executing a platform strategy across the entire customer lifecycle, and 3) training and coaching to boost middle managers’ collaboration skills.

As companies plan for 2022, they must ensure that improvements in cross-commercial coordination aren’t abandoned as organizations find their new steady state.

Imperative 3: Redefine Your Seller Profiles

New SBI research finds that CEOs plan to shift more budget to sales – and specifically sales headcount – than any other function in 2022, but the Wall Street Journal reports that recruiters are struggling to fill open sales roles.4

As professionals reassess their career goals, hiring companies should also consider new sources for talent and reassess what skills are most critical for new hires. With many job seekers looking to make big changes, several CEOs have reported success looking outside their industries – or even outside the commercial function – as they rush to source additional talent. One CEO at a high-growth, edtech firm recently shared that his company has begun recruiting teachers and training them to take on sales roles. They are curious, analytical, and most importantly, empathetic: they understand the buyer better than anyone. To redefine your ‘must have’ hiring criteria, begin by looking at key characteristics of top sellers – what skills or traits do they share?

Leaders should also be aware of risk within the high-end of their existing talent pool. Too many organizations treat their top performers as if they are only incrementally more valuable than a middle performer when, in fact, they often deliver 5-10x as much value. A “peanut butter spread” of pay adjustments is a recipe for disaster in the current climate. By over-investing in a small number of top performers with lucrative comp structures and retention bonuses, commercial leaders are better equipped to ‘lock down’ their A-players and keep them happy and productive.

More Insights from Market Leaders

You can read more about trends in talent strategy as well as how market leaders are approaching their overall annual plans in SBI’s Q3 report. Download the report for guidance on specific questions that commercial leaders should be addressing during the 2022 planning season.

1 Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index
3 The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2021
4 SBI Annual CEO Planning Survey