What is a sales culture, and why is it important?
The term “sales culture” encompasses the attitudes, values and habits shared among the members of your sales department. A winning sales culture can usually be summarized in just a handful of words that describe your sales force’s values.
Though seemingly an abstract concept, a positive sales culture can prove vital for turning every member of your sales department into a sales leader. Experts say a positive sales culture increases sales reps’ buy-in and professional development while improving overall team dynamics. The sales culture defines how salespeople are expected to interact with one another and your potential customers. Without a clearly delineated, positive sales culture, no sales strategy is complete, and sales success may be limited.
What makes a successful sales team?
The hallmarks of a successful sales team extend beyond what can be taught in sales coaching. A successful sales team does the following:
- Has charisma. An uninteresting group of sales reps will struggle to make sales.
- Spends ample time with customers. Customers may be more likely to purchase your product if they feel properly attended to.
- Continues to learn. A major part of sales is learning about the market, the customer base and any new challenges your existing and prospective customers are facing.
- Sets a structured sales target and sticks to it. Firmly outlined goals and methods, with room for some flexibility, make for a consistent sales experience.
- Holds team members accountable to individual goals and the team’s shared vision. In a winning sales culture, working with the team’s boundaries is key.
- Communicates well within the sales team, within the entire company and outside the company. As in any field, proper communication ensures that people receive any information, ideas and data they might need.
- Manages time excellently. Sales work can get busy, but a sales team always knows how to divide and conquer.
- Makes promises they can keep. Dropping the ball or overextending oneself is a common (but easily avoidable) mistake.
- Celebrates hitting key performance indicator (KPI) targets. Positive reinforcement is a crucial component of a winning sales culture.
There are very obvious signs the culture in your sales organization is not positive, and a negative sales culture can damage your business. Signs that you need to rethink your sales culture include high sales representative turnover, resentment and rivalries among the reps, poor employee attitudes toward a sales manager or people in other management positions and a general lack of interest in camaraderie.
How do you develop a sales culture?
Here are nine ways to build a positive sales culture.
Hire salespeople slowly and deliberately.
For many fast-growing companies that suddenly have a need for salespeople, it’s tempting to hire anyone with the qualifications. Many organizations do this with the thought of churning through salespeople until they find those who can produce. However, settling for someone who is simply adequate but not the best fit can actually kill your sales culture. Take your time, and create an “anatomy of the perfect salesperson” for your product and target customer.
Make a checklist of the characteristics that a salesperson will need to have in order to create a cohesive sales organization and be able to communicate your company vision to potential customers. For some sales organizations, teamwork is a top characteristic that salespeople need. With this in mind, human resources may look for recent grads who were collegiate athletes and know how to work as a team to achieve goals. As a leadership team, work through defining your sales culture and the characteristics your salespeople would need to embody to work within that culture.
Monitor the daily activity of salespeople.
A nurse or doctor wouldn’t merely glance at you and give you a diagnosis; they would run some tests, analyze your situation, explain to you what is going on and suggest a treatment plan. It’s vital you do the same for your sales team. Take a metrics-based approach to managing your sales team, but don’t let those metrics stand in the way of genuine human interaction, positive reinforcement and the charisma needed for any excellent sales team.
Having a deep understanding of the sales pipeline all the way through the closing of deals gives sales leaders the data they need to make adjustments that lead to increased productivity and, ultimately, happier teams. For example, a sales manager who looks at a KPI and can use this metric to kindly encourage behavioral changes among their sales reps can easily foster a positive sales culture.
Additionally, technology that simplifies customer relationship management and workflow automation can streamline mundane tasks. This gives sales organizations the freedom to listen to their customers’ needs, creating a responsive sales culture.
Acknowledge both successes and failures.
It’s crucial to celebrate when your team hits a sales goal they were working hard to achieve, as doing so will help to build a strong sales team that’s willing to go the extra mile to achieve goals. But talking both positively and constructively about failures is essential, too. While it’s a good idea to take the team to celebrate a great month or quarter, it’s also imperative to address issues if your sales team didn’t quite meet their goal. Don’t berate the team if sales aren’t as high as you hoped, but talk through any challenges the team is facing to improve sales results the next month. Creating a culture of learning, understanding and growing can help encourage a positive sales culture.
Drum up some healthy competition.
It’s a smart plan to stir up some competition among your sales representatives in a fun way. Make sure you eliminate and avoid negative behavior and encourage your reps to cheer one another on. Create sales contests that compel the sales reps to work diligently, and ensure the stakes are not too high – you don’t want them to feel resentful. It’s natural for reps to compete to see who sells the most, but it’s also smart to focus on the team as a whole as everyone works toward a common goal.
Emphasize activity over results.
Sales are all about numbers, and that isn’t going to change. Whoever sees the greatest number of qualified prospects in the least amount of time has the best chance of winning. Salespeople cannot fully control who buys and who doesn’t. This makes it essential to encourage your team to increase their activity, knowing that results will increase as a consequence. However, this doesn’t mean quality should lack in either the sales message or the follow-through.
Keeping activity high while establishing a repeatable process that focuses on the quality of the sales message is important to the long-term success of the team. Organizations can accomplish this by using automated marketing solutions that message prospects differently based on behavior. That way, before making a sales pitch, the salesperson knows the prospect’s interests.
Boost salespeople’s self-esteem.
Salespeople are often the highest-income earners in your business, but that pay doesn’t come easily. Salespeople have a difficult role and unique challenges because they battle rejection daily. If your goal is for them to produce, then you have to promote how honorable it is to be a sales rep for your company. Put the importance of their position on a pedestal, and highlight how pivotal it is to the success of your business.
Learn to recognize your team’s successes.
Recognize the leaders on your sales team in a public way. A fast way to get results is to create an incentive plan that drives activity. Bonuses and prizes are often tied to production, but affordable incentives can result in an immediate spike in activity. Remember to maintain a high-energy environment. Working in sales can crush even the biggest of egos, which is why positivity is necessary to keep your employees persevering in the face of rejection. Keep things light with friendly competitions, publicly acknowledge your top salespeople and share tips that lead to success. A great way to do this is to gamify sales and publicly reward team members’ successes, thus motivating them to compete.
Master the process of training your salespeople.
It is your business’s job to give your salespeople the training and tools that are essential for success in their position. Positive sales cultures have systems that help their salespeople learn and achieve their goals. This is crucial for new employees, but it’s also important to have ongoing advantage sales training for your entire sales team. Observe reps on phone calls, and offer ideas as they plan how to approach prospects. Training courses by third parties and seminars are good, too, but the most important thing is to get your sales team to share ideas and best practices.
Offer opportunities for continuous learning.
Another way to foster a positive sales culture is to allow reps to continue to improve their skills. Education in the workplace matters, and opportunities for ongoing learning are crucial to future success. Sales managers should foster an environment that promotes learning, continuous training and sales coaching for reps. Set aside time each week for every sales rep, and hold training sessions for your team to develop sales skills. Growth opportunities not only allow reps to make improvements related to their career skills but also decrease the likelihood that sales reps will leave the company.
Additional reporting by Max Freedman.