Culture—the ultimate 21st-century corporate buzzword. Most agree it’s important, some understand why, but very few sales leaders use it as a competitive differentiator. There are many factors that drive high-performance in a sales organization: talent development, enablement, and incentives, to name a few. So, where does sales culture fit in? What does it mean? Most importantly, why should a sales leader care?
Before assessing sales culture, use SBI’s Culture Questionnaire Tool to ensure your broader organizational culture is aligned to company strategy. This will ensure employees are empowered to live your company values—a prerequisite to implementing a high-performance sales culture.
The Intangibles - NFL Quarterbacks and Sales Culture
As the all-time NFL passing leader, Drew Brees recently announced his retirement and will soon be a first-ballot hall of famer. Like most NFL quarterbacks, Brees has always had the physical intangibles to win at the highest level. What set him apart was his obsession with off-the-field recovery (nutrition, training, sleep, etc.) to keep his body in prime form and quickly bounce back from injuries through an unprecedented 15 NFL seasons.
Many sales organizations also have the intangibles to win at the highest level. These are foundational pillars for an effective sales organization that include:
- Sales Strategy: Provide an operating plan for a company’s sales teams to allocate resources in the most effective and efficient manner.
- Performance Conditions: Create a sales environment conducive to seller productivity and efficiency.
- Sales Talent Strategy: Acquire, develop, and retain “A-Players.”
If a sales organization exemplifies each of the intangibles, they will succeed despite a lackluster sales culture. Culture is to a sales organization what recovery is to an elite athlete. An elite athlete with all of the intangibles will succeed, but the raw talent plus an emphasis on off-field recovery take their performance to the next level.
What we found is that market-leading sales organizations - defined as those who consistently grow organically faster than industry and competitors - are not truly best-in-class across all three pillars. They typically excel across two pillars, with a hyper-focus on cultivating a high-performance sales culture.
The Common Threads
So, what are the key elements that embody a high-performance sales culture? (Hint – you don’t need to start browsing oversized gongs on Amazon.) It depends. And it needs to be unique to your organization. Company values, competitive differentiators, and the virtues of your highest-performing reps should heavily influence how you define sales culture. There should be rigor behind defining this, with input from the front-line, up to the leadership team. That said, there are a few common threads that we observe in market-leading sales organizations:
- Active Leadership Participation: If sales leaders are not actively involved in shaping culture, defining cultural edge cases, and leading by example, the entire exercise will be a waste of time. Period. This is the #1 reason sales culture transformations fall flat. If leaders do not walk the walk, followers will see right through it.
- Robust Coaching Program: Sellers need constant feedback to improve, and SBI’s benchmarking database shows best-in-class organizations have front-line managers spending ~50-75% of their time on coaching activities. Contrary to popular belief, coaching time should be skewed to A and B player reps, not your low performers, to maximize sales productivity. C players carry a high opportunity cost and should be quickly managed out of their role if improvement is not shown. A coaching system, along with continuous improvement in manager coaching capability, are other critical success factors.
- Healthy Competition: Collaboration and scaling learnings within the sales organization are critical, but scoreboard matters. If you aren’t diving competitive spirit in your sales team, you are not pushing your Sales Reps to their full potential. Leaderboards, contests, and gamification of sales targets motivate your best sellers. Even in a remote sales environment, sales gamification software like Hoopla or Ambition can fill this gap.
- Thoughtful Recognition: Seller success needs to be recognized, and the sales team celebrated as the organization's “tip of the spear” to create an optimal employee experience. Nothing feels better for a rep than to know they did a great job, it’s acknowledged, and they added value to your client's and company's success. Well-timed recognition and unique experiences (e.g., trips, reimbursement for a family night on the town) are proven to drive intrinsic motivation and engagement.
- Compensation and Performance Alignment: As Ben Horowitz stated, “Great sales cultures are competitive, aggressive, and highly compensated – but only for results.” We could not agree more. To attract and retain A-Player talent, your seller's total compensation package should be benchmarked to market, with top 10% performers compensated at least 3-4x average performers. This comes at the expense of low performers, keeping your CCOS in check.
Wrapping It Up
To be clear, this is not a one-and-done or delegation exercise. Your culture is dynamic and re-defined every day. As a sales leader, you must ask yourself if your sales culture is an asset driving growth or a liability limiting your team's full potential. Start by downloading SBI’s Culture Questionnaire Tool to ensure company strategy and goals align with organizational culture. Then, assess your sales organization across the five elements that lay the foundation for a high-performance sales culture - the common thread for those who consistently grow organically faster than their industry and competition.
If you need more ideas and support, SBI is here to help. Reach out to me directly or set up a commitment-free consultation here to discuss how a high-performance sales culture can help you accelerate growth.