Picture this. You start the year with 30 AEs, yet by the end of the same year, you lose 10 of them. 32%. That’s the average attrition for AEs in SaaS organizations. What if you could bring that down to 20% or even 10%? How much more could you accomplish with your sales organization?

Justworks CRO, Robert Lopez, and Director of Sales, Valeria Avila, show you how to create longevity in your sales organization and why it matters. Justworks is an HR tech company that’s been around for about 11 years. They started in 2014 with 30 customers and have over 10k today, plus hundreds of millions of revenue.

They’ve been in the same place other founders are, punching through that first $1M, $10M, $20M, $100M. Along the way, they’ve picked up some tactics for building an everlasting culture in your business that you can implement tomorrow.

When thinking about that 32%, would you rather push a boulder uphill or have some tailwinds? Of course, everyone wants the latter. Let’s talk about how to get that.

Two major themes show up at Justworks, leading to a 10% average attrition for AEs rather than the average 32%. They are:

  1. A sense of ownership
  2. Investing in team development

Theme 1: A Sense of Ownership

Employees who feel connected and have a sense of ownership within their organization tend to stay for longer periods. They’re more productive in less time, which reduces turnover costs for the business.

But how do you do that? A lot of that starts with education. You want to educate your people. How many AEs know how your business really operates?

When you give out equity, that’s some sense of ownership, but feeling like an owner is a lot more than that. Early on, when Valerie was an AE, Rob sat down with her and broke down the concept of unit economics.

A Culture of Education

What did that have to do with the day-to-day of being an AE? Nothing. However, it helped Valerie gain perspective on the building blocks required to build a successful, healthy business. It also allowed her to co-create OKRs alongside Rob. All of a sudden, she felt like an owner.

You want to build the skills of a team and educate them on how to be successful within the skills they need for their day-to-day, and you want to think about how to invest in their growth and knowledge as an owner.

When you do that, two things happen.

  1. Employees feel more invested
  2. You start to build a bridge

People start to see the business, not just in their day-to-day, but on a grander level of how the teams are connected. That fosters the connective tissue within the org.

Building Connective Tissue

Imagine the company is a body. Your departments are your bones and muscles. As you’re scaling, peoples’ heads are down, silos are created, and teams are working against each other if you’re not taking the time to bring them together. That’s an opportunity cost.

Justworks’ founder Isaac brought everyone together into a “war room.” All teams discuss blockers, inefficiencies, structure plans, and different communication channels to charge a path forward.

Those war rooms started to bridge a connection across teams. It created that connective tissue that allows your bones and muscles to work together so you can run faster.

On top of that, they would celebrate when employees went above and beyond their scope to contribute to the business in a bigger way. That built cohesion, accelerated growth, and made everyone feel like a greater whole with a sense of ownership.

The actionable advice: Build skills beyond what you need to know for your job. Teach about the business, start that war room, and reward exceptional moments.

Theme 2: Invest in Team Development

Team development can happen in two powerful ways.

  1. Get out of the way
  2. Internal promotion vs. external hiring

If you set the foundation for a sense of ownership, it’s important to ensure people are running in the right direction. Once you have the right team, you have to let an athlete run.

Get Out of the Way

Let them go crazy and get out of their way. In 2015, New York’s tech ecosystem was a fraction of what it is today. Valerie met a lot of female entrepreneurs and wanted to do a woman-focused conference for them to network. It was good for them to build community and for Justworks to acquire new customers, so they gave her the budget and let her run with it.

A few years later, they have one of the marquee franchises that helped hundreds of women entrepreneurs connect and brought dozens of new customers to Justworks.

When you see and have these folks invested and bought into that foundation, let them run with it.

Internal Promotion vs. External Hiring

The second focus of team development is all about aligning incentives in terms of hiring internally and externally. There’s no rule here, but Justworks firmly believes in having 60% of leadership from internal promotions and 30-40% externally.

Internally, you want to ensure they’re tied to the culture of the business and bought into the long-term vision. But you still want outside folks who can bring in an outside perspective.

One of the more controversial things Justworks does is pay AEs on their net book of business. So, net of churn, net of retention, net of expansion over long periods, coupled with an AE progression plan with highly quantifiable metrics and a scope that expands in terms of tenure.

That has allowed Justworks to align incentives so sales folks are only bringing in high-quality business over long periods. Now, they have AEs who have been with the company for 3-4-5-6-7 years, and you see increased productivity as they grow.

If another company comes in and tries to offer them another $50k-$75k from an OTE perspective, they don’t take it. It’s increased Justworks’ employee retention and decreased overall turnover because they’re getting an incredible paycheck on an annual basis.

It might be a battle in the boardroom, but it drives long-term incentives outside traditional compensation and equity plans.

Key Takeaways to Build Longevity in Any Org

  • You want to curate a sense of ownership. That means educating beyond the skills of the role and, instead, on every aspect of the business. This helps folks feel like they’re part of what they’re shaping.
  • Build and maintain connective tissues across the organization. Launch the war room, and reward and recognize moments where people go beyond the scope of their responsibilities to really contribute to the business in a meaningful way.
  • Invest in team development. If you’re hiring great people and giving them the tools to succeed, get out of their way. They’ll step up.
  • Strike a balance between internal promotion and external hiring. It can be tough, but it’s critical to ensure the longevity of the organization.

If you can implement these things, you’ll be on your way to making that 32% 10%.

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