In my sales career I had 22 different sales managers (not counting a few interim ones) over time and experienced great, amazing leadership – and also horrible, disappointing leaders. When you are an individual contributor, your direct manager – often the “Sales Manager” is the first link to representing the culture of the business to you.
In my estimation, after talking with dozens of companies and hundreds of reps and leaders, we have a shortage of sales teams leading with a healthy, strong, defined, inclusive sales culture and that leaves us with reactive, win-at-all-cost corporate sales organizations.
A strong sales culture is critical to a team’s success.
A strong sales culture starts with values – your corporate values, clarified. What we all stand for, and what we won’t stand for. Great companies post them on the walls of every office and share them in onboarding and virtually so buyers can understand what is important to the company.
It’s the points mentioned within the “We’re hiring” part of your website, but it is much more than that. It’s what the individuals on your sales team, and sales leadership say it feels like to be part of your sales organization.
It’s a code of conduct – HOW we want every person representing our team to act when the boss is not present.
More than anything, it is the heartbeat and soul of your sales team. It is why team members come in early and think over the weekend about a deal, and collaborate with others to solve tough problems.
We now know that a healthy culture encourages retention of team members – that means real dollars when you look at the cost of replacing a seller. A healthy culture encourages diversity and inclusion – which also grows revenues.
Here are the fundamental steps to take to ensure your team has cultural roots.
VISION and VALUES:
Be VERY clear about what you stand for in the company and on the team. This means that you can also say what you do not stand for. It is more than words on the wall, though – it is demonstrated.
A VP of Sales was walking through the sales team area and he heard comments from the guys about a woman one of the guys was dating. He was horrified at the lack of thought these two particular reps had in speaking in front of all of their peers. He stopped in his tracks, and said,
“This isn’t a locker room – it is a professional place of business – no one talks that way about anyone in this room – got it?”
That is what leaders do – they live their values. It’s more than writing them down and sharing.
What do you and your company stand for? Would I find it if I looked?
A strong culture has strong high-performing leaders. They carry the flag for you, and they help instill vision and values in those they oversee.
I need to know what my career path is as an SDR or an AE. What might the future hold for me when I’m successful and can achieve and exceed goals? We know from research that we’ll retain more women on the team with clear career paths and professional development. If you are in a male-majority industry that is important for inclusion.
When you can tell your new reps why the company does what it does through stories it helps people learn.
Measure everything you can, and come from a place of data rather than gut feel – this goes to hiring. Stop hiring on gut feel!
A successful, over-achieving female rep recently left a sales team (brand you’d recognize) for two reasons – she felt she was not appreciated (consistently over quota and currently at 150% of quota and she didn’t see any women in senior leadership – so in her mind, she knew (felt) that it wasn’t a smart long-term place to be. She moved to another big name brand where her immediate boss is a strong coach (she asked lots of questions to determine this) and the team has a culture of high performance and transparency.
Ultimately, what you stand for and how you convey that is everything.
Build a team with better leaders and higher-performing reps (use tools to help you)
Reduce turnover – high performing, inclusive teams have lower churn.
Keep this focus as issues and crises arise – as your culture will be your North Star and help guide you to greater success.
Excerpt from Lori’s upcoming book, “She Sells – Attract, Promote, and Retain Great Women in Sales” available January 31, 2020.