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3 Steps for Building an Effective Sales Culture

The sales culture is the single most important aspect of a selling organization. Culture drives buy-in, professional development, and team dynamics. Culture is the framework on which the organization rests.

However, the relentless pressure to deliver on more immediate goals like quarterly quotas can obscure the importance of culture. As a result, culture languishes.

Selling organizations occasionally require a culture change. In some cases, this change is necessary because the existing culture is broken. In other cases, the culture lacks shape and intentionality.

There are five common scenarios that necessitate a change to the culture:

  1. A change in ownership
  2. A change in leadership
  3. A merger or acquisition
  4. A performance problem
  5. A shift in strategic direction

Researchers at PwC conducted a survey to investigate other unseen causes of culture problems. Their work revealed that:

“87% of directors say inappropriate tone at the top leads to problems with corporate culture. But almost as many [79%] point to the tone set by middle management.”

The study shows that other problems underlying harmful cultures include placing too much attention on short-term results, misguided compensation plans, and poor communication. The survey reasserts that internal factors put stress on cultural infrastructure.

The good news is that a healthy culture also stems from internal factors. Therefore, the leadership has control over the culture and can reshape or rebuild it. Doing so means taking three key steps.

Determine the Sales Culture

Leaders should shape their definition of a healthy, productive culture with a two-step process.

  • Hold discussions at the executive level. In this first step, the leadership should focus on developing a cultural identity that agrees with their long-term goals. The leaders should reach a consensus before moving forward.
  • Survey team members to understand their understanding of what constitutes a supportive culture.

In both cases, the key is to understand how everyone feels about the current culture and what they believe should change, but at the end of the day, it is important to remember that the leadership sets the culture. While it is helpful to hear all of the voices, it is the job of the leaders to distill the conversation into a clear and actionable plan that can be communicated.

Communicate the Culture

Communication determines if the culture succeeds or fails.  Telling people how to follow the culture is not effective for two reasons.

  • First, this approach suggests that people will follow a “thou shalt …” style of leadership. No individual or team will adopt a new set of principles and behavior just because they’re told to do so.
  • Second, telling people what to do leaves them unclear on what the culture should look like. Telling offers only a tone but no real message.

The best way to communicate the new culture is through actions. Leaders must lead by example. This approach helps team members adopt the new culture because it provides a clear, real-world example of how it should look. It also shows team members that the new culture is possible.

Reshaping a culture is a big undertaking. Many will be skeptical that it can work. Seeing a leader take on the challenge of embodying the new cultural norms will prove unequivocally that it is possible.

Sustain the Culture

Sustaining the culture requires continued effort. In many cases, weak or nonexistent sustainment is the reason a new culture is needed in the first place.

Often, sustainment fails because leaders don’t have a roadmap. While the intended culture may be clearly stated on paper, the plan for sustainment often lacks that same structure. Leaders should consider drafting a sustainment plan in three parts:

  • Recognize Success: Leaders must recognize team members who exhibit the intended culture. This is especially true of teams. In a sales culture, there is a lot of focus on the individual and their personal quota. Therefore, highlighting great team performance helps avoid the specter of “every person for themselves” that can so easily loom over an organization.
  • Measure Outcomes: Measurement must be more than a gut feeling, and it must go further than monitoring turnover. Surveys and open-ended dialogues are great ways to hear the “room tone.” With these responses, leaders can, in time, measure the trend.
  • Hire Accordingly: Hiring practices must be congruent with the intended culture. Leaders need to ensure that candidates exhibit the norms underpinning the culture or at least a willingness to adopt those norms.

There are plenty of good financial reasons to develop a strong culture. Studies show that businesses named in Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” broadly outperformed the S&P 500 from 2009 to 2014. However, the most enduring reason to focus on culture is that it makes work meaningful.

The average US employee works nearly 2,000 hours per year. Those hours must be spent in an atmosphere that invigorates a sense of belonging.

Download the Brief: Building a Sales Culture to learn more about how to build, communicate, and sustain an effective sales culture.

About the Author

As Chief Sales Officer, Steve Dodman leads Richardson’s global sales organization, providing leadership, direction, and an executive vision to ensure alignment with the company’s financial and strategic goals.

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