In years past, if you wanted to build out or strengthen your sales organization, you could simply offer higher compensation than your competitors. The higher sales cost would be greatly outweighed by the revenue that high-performing sales professionals would drive for your organization. Nowadays, sales professionals are not just asking about their base pay, base vs. variable split, or commission caps, but they are also asking about what it is like to work at your company. E.g., “What is your culture?”
At SBI, we work with clients of all shapes and sizes, but one common theme we see is that if your company is a great place to work, you will have one less hurdle to overcome when you need to scale your team or meet an ambitious, board-driven growth mandate. You may not know how many new sales reps you need or how your territories should be reallocated. Still, at least you know that you can get the right people into your organization once you can answer those foundational, strategic questions. If you’re looking for a framework to assess if your team is full of culture champions or culture detractors, look no further than our Job Trial Evaluation Tool, which will allow you to identify the traits that make up a great sales professional for your organization.
There are 5 key themes to think about as you look to develop a great sales culture:
Not All Recognition Is Created Equal
Everyone loves to be recognized, and that is especially true with sales professionals. All types of personalities can succeed in sales, and you need to have a recognition program that appeals to all of them. Some people are driven by public recognition, e.g., an ‘employee of the month’ award presented during monthly staff meetings. Some people are driven by private recognition, e.g., a regular 1:1 performance review cadence. Some people are driven by frequent, small-scale recognition, e.g., a quick thank you note. At the same time, others are driven by big payoffs after the end of a great year, e.g., President’s club trips. The examples provided are just a sampling of how recognition can manifest itself. Still, the bottom line is that your sales organization must have a multi-faceted approach to recognizing great work.
Provide Impactful Feedback
Feedback is related to recognition but gets much deeper. Sales attracts high-performing, driven individuals who crave feedback. When performance is suffering, they want to know why, and when they are exceeding expectations, they want to know how they can be even better. If your performance review process is simply a "check the box" exercise, high-performing individuals will not be fulfilled. They will not feel like their employer is investing in them. They will start to feel as if they are just a cog in the wheel, and that will make them more likely to explored perceived greener pastures. If you want to keep a sales team of high performers, you must develop a feedback process that gives them impactful guidance and helps focus their talents towards continuous improvement.
Competition That Motivates
It goes without saying that the world of sales attracts those with competitive tendencies. There is something about winning a big deal or displacing a top competitor that just makes salespeople tick. Competition does not mean you need to implement a cutthroat culture or that there have to be winners and losers within your sales org. Appeal to your team’s competitive side by setting up a competition to award the sales team that generates the most leads in the month or closes the most deals. Bonus points for setting up a leaderboard with regular updates so that the teams can all see who is winning. You can offer an extra incentive to the team that wins the competition, but there can also be smaller awards for the entire organization if the overall goal is met.
Enable Them For Success
Every sales organization has some sort of enablement available to their sales teams. What is important here is that you develop enablement content that is relevant and helps your team close more deals. Enablement isn’t training—it is how you enable your top talent to make the most of their well-honed sales skillset. No one wants to sit through 2 hours of new product training, but if you take that training and distill it down into a scenario-based sales playbook, you have just given your sales team the tools they need to position your solutions against your competitors. Even sales playbooks themselves can become a burden on the sales team if they aren’t done right. If you’re thinking about developing a sales playbook, you must start by reading SBI’s Definitive Guide to Sales Playbooks.
Leading by Example
To establish a strong sales culture, you must make sure you consider the 4 criteria above. However, we have not touched on the most important aspect yet. Sales culture begins at the top, and as the sales leader, that means that sales culture begins with you. As the sales leader, you must drive recognition programs, make sure feedback is not just a check the box activity, have your managers propose and develop competition ideas and give your teams the tools they need to succeed. Failing to do this will mean that you will always struggle to attract and maintain top sales talent to help you meet and exceed your ever-growing growth targets.
At SBI, we have seen both ends of the sales culture spectrum, and we have seen many new sales leaders come into a new role and successfully set the team on a new path to a strong, collaborative culture of growth. As the average sales leader's tenure hovers around 18 months, this already difficult task may feel downright insurmountable. The good news is that you are not alone. If you’re looking for ideas and ways to get started, join our active community of sales leaders to connect with your peers that have successfully implemented a strong sales culture within their organizations.