10 Requirements for a Winning SALES Culture

BY C. Lee Smith
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In an earlier column, I stated that culture is the kind of behavior you allow and the kind of behavior you won’t allow. Now, I’d like to dive a little deeper into how you can build and maintain a winning SALES culture.

Your sales culture can be defined as common behaviors from the top down that make your team attractive to top talent and lead to sustained revenue growth – or not.

In my experience, there are 10 things that are absolutely required for a culture where salespeople can perform their best.

  1. Purpose – Most people, and especially millennials, like to feel there is some purpose to what they do every day. So why does your company exist? Why does your TEAM exist? Your team has more than just the single purpose of generating money so the rest of the company can operate. What purpose do you serve for your clients and customers? For example, if you sell to small businesses, your purpose might be to help small businesses thrive or to grow your local economy. Whatever your purpose is, write it down and spread it around.
  2. Values — Values are the basis for how you make decisions and how you execute purpose. Google’s values can be found in their document titled Ten things we know to be true. SalesFuel’s 10 Guiding Principles can be found right under our Mission Statement. What does your company believe? What do YOU believe? Articulate your philosophies and beliefs regularly, then walk the talk. You’ll have a much better chance of attracting the kinds of people who share those values.
  3. Compensation – Regardless of what you think of his politics, there is wisdom in these words from Vice President Joe Biden, who once said “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I’ll tell YOU what you value.” If you offer big bonuses but make them impossible to obtain, that’s part of your company culture (and not a good part.) If you offer generous parental benefits, and pay women equal to men who do the same job and bring the same value to the company, that’s also defining of your culture. If you allow those who have been with you longest to hog the plum accounts and let better talent walk out the door because they can make more elsewhere, yes – that’s your sales culture. So to fix that culture, an early step might need to be fixing your compensation plan.
  4. Positivity – You already know there’s lots of rejection in sales, so your team doesn’t need more negativity when they come back to the office. When a salesperson makes a request, is your default answer no. Or, do you always try to find a way to say yes? Do you allow team members to openly vent, complain or talk behind people’s backs? That kind of negativity spreads to colleagues like a virus. Remember, the most successful salespeople are those who believe they can, aren’t afraid to try again and find a way to overcome adversity. My friend Jeffrey Gitomer calls this having a YES! Attitude. How prevalent is it in you and on your team?
  5. Accountability – Let’s say that Brittany always meets deadlines, always makes goal and always strives to be better at her craft, but Bob rarely does. How do you think she feels when she sees Bob getting the same benefits and treatment as her every day? Accountability is not just for weeding out those who aren’t doing the job. It’s for keeping those who ARE doing the job motivated and engaged.
  6. Respect
 — Everyone on the team deserves a minimum level of respect because, in part, everyone is there for a reason. Experienced veterans should respect and learn from younger team members, even if they can't work a mobile phone as well. Your team also needs to respect the chain of command, respect the company’s money and respect your customers’ time. Likewise, as the sales manager, you need to demonstrate respect for all of your reports by enforcing rules equally while still managing to individual needs.
  7. Communication –Even the companies that are the very best at communication STILL under-​communicate with employees. So imagine where that puts you! It’s natural for most managers to be guarded with information, but if you leave it to the staff to fill in the blanks, they’re more likely to do so with gossip and conjecture, and that only leads to greater problems. After all, they aren’t privy to all of the facts that you are.
  8. Engagement – To have a truly successful sales culture, everyone must be rowing the boat. Are you asking for their feedback on a regular basis? Are you giving them enough coaching, training and development? Most sales managers are not. Your team members need to be fully engaged in their work before you can expect them to bring their A‑game (almost) every day.
  9. Teamwork – Is your sales team set up to be “me versus you” (it is if you frequently run sales contests pitting one against the other) or is it “us versus them?” Good salespeople aren’t afraid to compete, but they’d far prefer to have their team ACT like a team and be supportive of their efforts. What kind of support does your company offer to current sellers (and prospective sales hires)? Inside the office, do they have the tools, training and intelligence to be competitive and win? Outside the office, are they willing to go out together for drinks or fun? This can be an important bonding experience.
  10. Appreciation – Recognition, rewards and showing appreciation of good work is as important to many people as the money. And if you have less budget these days than you used to, mental income becomes even more important. Start by recognizing each individual’s birthday and work anniversary. Then ask yourself “Are you making the effort to praise them when deserved as much as redirecting and guiding them when necessary?"

Here’s one more – and it’s a biggie!

    10+1. Consistency – Consistency is crucial to making a change of this significance. You have to work on your new culture EVERY DAY and work on it for weeks and months before it truly takes hold. In fact, the bigger the team the longer they’ve been there, the longer it will take. There WILL be pushback.

Do you have the discipline to stick with it? Culture change cannot be a sprint. Your sales department’s culture didn’t get that way overnight. It won’t get fixed overnight, either. Because I grew up on the Ohio River, I like to say it'll take as long as turning a barge around in the middle of the river. So you’re going to need the patience and support of upper management.

To change a culture, you have to be willing to be the bad guy now and then. It's important to respectfully, clearly, and immediately correct behavior that runs afoul of your department’s values. Don't put it off until later when the impact is lost.

You’re also going to need to show resilience, tenacity and determination to get it done. But I can tell you with absolute certainty, when you succeed, the improvement in your team’s performance will be great and long-lasting.