Are Your Salespeople Suffering From The Seven-​Year Itch?

BY Kathy Crosett
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In the rom com classic movie, The Seven-​Year Itch, featuring Marilyn Monroe, the lead character has grown a bit tired of his marriage. Do you have long-​term salespeople in your organization? If they've been doing the same thing for seven or more years, they could be bored with their daily grind. To keep the work experience fresh and to motivate your salespeople, you need to take action.

Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, and Ellen Van Oosten, professors at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, study dramatic behavioral changes . Their research shows it might be basic human nature to burn out on an activity after five to seven years. If that's the case, managers should change the work experience regularly for their employees.

Focus on Purpose

Boyatzis et al. remind managers that younger employees, in particular, expect to be engaged in meaningful work. You may be able to keep long-​standing employees motivated by asking them to participate in crafting vision statements for the organization. Beyond that, think about how your organization serves the community. In a smaller company, you may not be able to offer your seven-​year salesperson a new position. But you could ask them to head up a charitable initiative that’s personally important to them. This initiative should also be tied to the company’s mission in some way.

Career Planning

It may come as a surprise to managers, but not all salespeople want to spend their entire career in a specific selling role. Check in regularly with your senior salespeople about their future ambitions. But don’t rush to put them in a management position. As C. Lee Smith, CEO and founder of SalesFuel, remarks, “One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in sales happens when the rainmaker gets promoted into a sales management position.” That’s because top salespeople love to sell. 

Do you have a new product line coming out? If so, you may be able to motivate your sales stars to maintain their energy and enthusiasm by giving them responsibility for selling that line. 

Ask your sales reps if they have interest in a related field. With the right kind of training and mentoring, they could successfully move into a research role. Or maybe they’ve always wanted to write sales collateral. Their unique perspective, after spending years working closely with clients and prospects, could be invaluable.

Don’t assume that all is well because your sales reps aren’t whining about something. Be proactive. Put action plans in place to head off that seven-​year itch.