Asking sellers to describe the sales culture where they work is like asking a fish to describe water. The fish isn’t even aware of his environment because he is swimming in it and is completely oblivious to its presence or its importance, for that matter. Human beings are the same way about workplace culture. They are ‘swimming in it’ and are therefore oblivious its presence and really do have a tough time describing it.
At the same time, we all know a great sales culture when we see it. We also sense when culture isn’t positive and supportive. In this post, we’ll look at the elements of a rock start sales culture, define what sales culture is and where it comes from, and provide sales manager tips for creating the sales culture that produce results in the short-term AND the long-term.
Here’s what we’re aiming for, generally speaking. You’ll put your own elements in, too.
Top 10 Elements of a Rock Star Sales Culture
- Learning and ongoing development are valued. Sellers continually challenge themselves.
- Sellers are both enabled and ennobled. They are trusted to work independently.
- Time-wasting distractions have been eliminated. The focus is clearly on long-term, sustainable revenue growth.
- There is a unified sense of purpose that infuses the sales work with meaning.
- Candid feedback is the norm, not the exception.
- Sellers know the strategic initiatives of the organization and how to support them.
- Team camaraderie triumphs over internal competition. All are treated with respect and dignity.
- Metrics that matter are well-understood and used as a tool for coaching and achievement.
- Idea generation, problem solving, and decision making invite all voices and perspectives.
- Sales are made with a long-term view. Short-term, desperation moves are avoided.
What Is a “Sales Culture” and Where Does It Come from?
Dr. Edgar Schein is one of the world’s pre-eminent scholars on workplace culture. A simplified version of his definition is:
- Workplace culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions that influence decisions and the manner of doing work and getting along.
- Visible artifacts, beliefs, and values, along with their underlying assumptions.
- How we do things around here.
In a nutshell then, workplace culture establishes the norms of behavior and shared values of an organization. It’s really ‘how one gets along around here’. But, why does it matter what kind of workplace cultures we develop? It matters because truly high-performance sales cultures and/or subcultures (teams) have three compelling attributes:
- They consistently produce outstanding results
- They attract, motivate and retain top talent
- They successfully adapt to changing conditions
Sales culture is set by the choices you make as a sales manager. What you prioritize, what you talk about, what you inspect, what you model to others, what you incentivize, and what you recognize all shape the culture.
If you aren’t deliberate and consistent in all these ways, your culture is ambiguous and confusing. It’s more likely to be shaped by others than by you. A strong culture provides guidance for sellers so they can make appropriate choices almost automatically. After all, sellers have numerous choices every day about what to do and how to do it. Left to their own devices, they will make choices that are influenced by previous work experiences or peers. Those may not be choices that are aligned with the norms and values of your organization. Better to give them guidance by shaping the sales culture you want!
To guide the choices made by salespersons, sales managers must communicate and model the norms and values of the organization. If the norms and values have changed as a result of external pressures, sales managers must consistently communicate and demonstrate the new norms and values. Cultures fail and sellers disengage when there is a disconnect between stated values and the actions of managers.
This presumes that you understand the values and norms of your organization and are acting in accord with them. The management team, ideally, is working together to deliberately shape company culture so that sales culture is part of something bigger.
For more about sales culture, attend this webinar on Deb Calvert’ BrightTALK Channel.
Top 3 Sales Manager Tips for Making an Impact on Sales Culture
As you begin to work on your sales culture, use these tips to ace it on your first try.
Top Tip #1 – Understand that focusing on results and actions isn’t enough.
Most sales managers focus on results. It’s the nature of your work. If you hammer on results (“Get out there and sell! We’ve got to make quota!”) and constantly focus on the numbers and the progress to goal, you’re abdicating control of your culture. You’re inadvertently suggesting that the results are all that matter. Your constant focus on results suggests that any way of getting there is acceptable.
Many sales managers also focus on activities. They hope to drive results by driving the right actions, the ones that will produce more sales. If you measure performance by activity standards (call volume, number of demos, etc.), then your sellers are more likely to do what it takes to get results. They are going to do what you expect them to do in order to get the results you’ve asked them to get.
However… when managers focus on activities, they might be seen as micro-managers. This is especially true if sellers don’t understand the reason for those activities. If the activities or amounts seem random, they will come to believe that these are not very important and/or that you’re a control freak who’s trying to create busy work.
That means they won’t choose those activities unless you’re looking. They’ll game the system or make excuses for not meeting the activity standards. You’ve got to go deeper.
This pyramid illustrates what’s going on. So long as you are focusing exclusively on actions and results, you’re managing (sometimes in vain). As you shape your culture, you need to lead as well as manage.
When you’re not looking, sellers are choosing their actions based on their own beliefs (not yours!). Those beliefs traveled with them from some other place and time. Their beliefs come from their experiences.
Strong sales cultures provide experiences that form certain, desired beliefs. You know, the ones that will drive the right actions to produce the right results.
For example, if you want sellers to make 25 outbound cold calls per week, you can drive them by putting a lot of emphasis on that activity. You can demand that they pick up the phone, turn in the call report, log the new prospects in the CRM, record their call attempts, etc. But if they don’t believe there’s merit in making those calls, they will resist at every turn. They won’t make those calls with the confidence that can have a positive sales impact.
What’s missing is the belief that making 25 cold calls will help them reach their goals and achieve what they want to in life (intrinsic motivation). Based on past experiences, personal preferences as a buyer, or a lack of success with cold calls, sellers may instead believe that cold calls are a waste of time that make them look like pushy, stereotypical sellers. These negative perceptions win, no matter how hard you push.
Your only shot at modifying those beliefs and, in turn, getting those actions consistently and effectively, is to create new experiences. Show people the successes that come from cold calls. Equip them with the tools and training they need to be effective. Help them see, from the buyers’ perspective, how these cold calls are helpful and valuable.
Top Tip #2 – Clarity is absolutely essential.
Two sales cultures can’t co-exist. They will compete and fracture a team. It will be too confusing and too difficult to work in this environment. People will leave, and no one will be able to do their best work.
That’s why clarity and consistency matter so much.
Clarity in your communication includes keeping it simple, repeating it over and over again in multiple mediums, explaining everything you do in the context of your priorities and values (nothing is random or “flavor of the day”).
You’ll also need to stay on point even when challenged by difficult circumstances. You can’t abandon culture the moment you lose a deal and have to scramble to make goal. Consider the long-term ramifications of sending mixed messages or conflicting signals. Culture is for keeps, and it can’t be subject to the whims of the marketplace or any other external influences.
To be clear, determine exactly what the culture will be. Articulate it. Get buy in. Encourage others to weigh in on it and take ownership of it. Reinforce it with everything you say and do. Look for places where they might be misalignment and address those immediately. Do not deviate when critical incidents emerge!
The top two reasons that cultures deteriorate are the tone set by the manager and an excessive focus on short-term results (PwC). In your haste to make goal, don’t derail the work you’ve done to create a strong sales culture. Better to miss one goal and maintain momentum than to let it all fall apart and miss lots of goals instead.
Top Tip #3 – People are seeking meaning and purpose in the work they do
Over 90% of people would be willing to earn less money in exchange for feeling that the work they do has a higher meaning or purpose (HBR).
Think about that. What is the higher meaning or purpose in the work you and your sellers do? How often do you talk about this vs. talking about goal attainment?
Knowing the WHY inspires people. When the going gets tough, a higher meaning and purpose mobilizes them and causes them to reach deeper and apply a little more effort.
Meaning and purpose are like a spark that ignites something deep inside us. That spark is far more powerful than any fire you can try to light underneath someone.
Since people are seeking meaning and purpose, why not incorporate this in your sales culture. Talk about it. Celebrate work that moves the needle on it. Inspire others with stories about those accomplishments, not just about sales made.
7 Steps for Creating a Sales Culture that Attracts and Retains Rock Stars
You’ll find it much easier to shape sales culture if answer these questions. Each is a step in the thought process of determining what you want your culture to be.
- HOW do you want the work to be done?
- What beliefs do you want people to have about the work they do?
- What values/feelings do you want in the workplace?
- What are the performance expectations?
- What makes people successful in your workplace?
- What are the discrepancies and inconsistencies now?
- Where do people get their ideas about the “way we do things here” currently?
Once you’ve answered each question, you’ll follow up by clearly communicating and demonstrating what you expect. You’ll do this consistently and hold others accountable. Over time, these will become the accepted norms. They will become “the way we do things around here.”
In these questions, you’ll notice that HOW matters just as much as WHAT. In fact, HOW comes first. In sales organizations, everyone already knows that making the revenue goal is important. That’s not very informative, then, in shaping a sales culture. It’s already baked into the expectations and environment. The real question is: HOW will you achieve your sales goals? This table will give you some ideas about the how’s you should consider:
Sales culture, done right, is a powerful, motivating force. It unifies a sales team and draws out the rock star in each seller. Your deliberation and attention to creating a sales culture will make you a rock star, too. We can help you get started, no matter how fractured your current culture is. Give us a call!