Top Tips for Succession Planning in Sales

Posted by

Sarah Downs


Top Tips for Succession Planning in Sales

Staff turnover is inevitable; sometimes, it’s planned, and other times, it’s not.

On top of the general churn, most industries face an ageing workforce and risk losing decades of knowledge, skills, relationships, and corporate memory.

The sales function has other risks. Staff spend their time interacting with current customers while nurturing new business leads to generate revenue for the organisation.  Therefore, the loss of a successful sale professional can affect the bottom line more and faster than some other business departures. In addition, the exit of a strong sales leader can take a performing sales team with them if you’re not careful.

According to Deloitte, 86% of business leaders believe succession planning is an ‘urgent’ or ‘important’ priority, but only 14% believe they do it well.

This blog discusses how to mitigate these risks by having a succession plan for your sales team.

Success planning mitigates the risks when a salesperson leaves

Succession planning helps with slowing revenue, especially if you back it up with individual development plans.

An effective succession plan helps you reduce the impact of unexpected resignations. Still, there’s much more to planning than promoting your best salesperson into a management role.

While detailed planning is helpful, it doesn’t guarantee success.  For example, you may have developed your next annual strategy with a commercial forecast, market opportunities, and identified trends.  You’ve likely got a list of key prospects and identified your buyers.  But a single unexpected exit from the sales team could throw everything off course.

Planning is essential, but are you going deep enough into a contingency mindset, asking yourself the all-important questions like “what if our best salesperson leaves?” and “what if we make another bad hire?”

Ask “what if” questions as a powerful way to identify scenarios.

succession planning doqaru

It is a common fear that your competitors might poach your best salespeople. Perhaps you are worried about leaving the only salesperson with a strong relationship with a key account.  The client could panic after hearing the news and refuse to deal with anyone else.  The same client could go to your competitor, leaving a gaping hole in your commercial forecast.

As I said before, staff turnover is inevitable, but organisations could avoid the disruption with an effective succession planning strategy.  We need to find and nurture the sales leaders of the future. But how do you do it?

Tips for Succession Planning for your Sales Team

The first step is to plan early. Have conversations with everyone in your team about their motivations and ambitions. What do they see themselves doing in a few years?  What are their development or training needs? Do you have data to back this up?

Here are my top tips for effective succession planning in your sales team:

  1. Ensure that key accounts aren’t reliant on one person

Identify which positions would create the most disruption to the business should a gap occur.  Avoid scenarios where customers only develop a strong relationship with one contact. Only one contact makes you vulnerable, and you miss opportunities to develop your wider team.

  1. Get clear on your strategy for developing your people

Succession planning is all about “readiness”. Your business needs a clearly defined strategy for harnessing talent within the organisation. If one of your team leaves, rushing the recruitment process is not the answer.  Ideally, have sales competency data to back up your strategic plan and a well thought out strategy for the long-term rather than a knee-jerk reaction if the worst happens.

  1. Don’t assume that great salespeople make great sales managers

Please don’t assume your best salesperson has what it takes to step up to a sales manager role. The competencies of a high-performing salesperson are very different to that of a sales manager. If you don’t believe me, check out this recent article by Forbes or set up a call with me for real-life examples.  If you want to test the idea, you should have data-driven insights and understand your ROI on moving or developing them.


So, let’s get to work! Be proactive in setting the strategy. Developing an employee to take on a new role or extra responsibilities can take months or even years. If you wait until an employee leaves, it’ll already be too late, and you will have disruption to deal with and potential risks to client relationships.

If you’d like to talk through ideas on how to future-proof your sales team using data-driven insights, contact me at sarah@doqaru.com.

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