How Strong Is Your Commercial Culture?

7 Oct 21

The importance of having rigor, accountability, and intention cross-functionally is clear when you consider the relative performance of a commercial organization that does not identify with these traits.

Some of the most valuable and fastest-growing organizations in the world are known — for better or for worse — for their cultures. While the product-market fit for companies such as Salesforce, Microsoft, and Amazon (AWS) is a major culprit of growth, we’ve observed the commercial teams in countless other high-flying technology and business services companies marching to a different drumbeat than the rest of the organization. But what is commercial culture? How do I determine the commercial culture of my organization? Read on for the answers to these questions and three ways to reinforce your commercial culture cross-functionally.

What is commercial culture, and why is it important?

Let’s start by defining what culture means in the broader context of an organization. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, an organization’s culture “consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding.”

As you would expect, shared beliefs and values of the commercial leadership team naturally skew toward the customer, market, and the organization’s effectiveness in engaging, converting, and retaining customers versus its competitors. These values are communicated and reinforced through day-to-day workflows — as digital ad and account-based marketing campaigns occur, as leads are generated and developed, as opportunities flow through the sales process, and as managers coach reps and lead preparations for the QBR cadence or product demos.

The importance of having rigor, accountability, and intention cross-functionally is clear when you consider the relative performance of a commercial organization that does not identify with these traits. Unless the product or service sells itself, achieving sustainable growth is likely an uphill battle for commercial teams lacking a strong culture.

How do I determine my organization’s commercial culture?

Many have written about the process of determining and diagnosing culture within an organization. Viewpoints vary, and technically, no one is right or wrong, as the concept of culture is somewhat subjective. Accordingly, the following self-diagnostic is intentionally lightweight and simple. Addressing these statements will provide initial insights into the degree of definition, presence, and proliferation of your org’s commercial culture across marketing, sales, and customer success:

  • Values: Our commercial execution is anchored in our company’s values.
  • People: Our recruiting and talent management frameworks highlight the qualities an individual must possess to succeed on our commercial team.
  • Customers: We have explicitly defined our ideal customer profile and use it to guide our commercial team’s prioritization and execution.
  • Strategy: Our commercial strategy is understood and internalized equally across all levels of the organization, from leadership to the frontline.
  • Results and Accountability: Cross-functional teams understand our OKRs (objectives & key results), and we hold each person accountable for their contributions to these objectives.

If your response to any of these statements is "no" or "unsure," there’s an opportunity to define or reinforce your commercial culture for improved execution and results across marketing, sales, and customer success.

How can I align my marketing, sales, and customer success teams culturally?

There are a variety of steps that can be taken to drive cultural change within an organization. These range in effort and impact based on numerous factors. When cultural change represents a key component of a client engagement, the solutions we deliver broadly fall into one of the following 3 categories:

  • Memorialize
    • Capture key processes and handoff points, such as the lead lifecycle, sales, and forecasting processes and cross-functional interlock between marketing and sales
    • Document an ideal customer profile - the industry, subsector, size, revenue profile, typical buying group, and psychographics of your best-fit buyer
    • Develop an ideal candidate profile - the traits and qualities that comprise critical success factors for an individual to excel within your commercial organization
  • Incentivize
    • Align individual compensation plans - ensure comp plan mechanics and pay levels incent behaviors consistent with commercial values and beliefs
    • Drive cross-functional collaboration - publish and assign joint ownership of cross-functional KPIs such as lead qualification and conversion, time to revenue, product penetration within accounts
  • Emphasize 
    • Recruit for culture - formally integrate a cultural dimension into the candidate screening and interview process
    • Coaching and mentorship - define a formal coaching cadence within your organization including a prescribed frequency and framework; develop a mentorship program
    • Feature culture in org-wide communications - every org-wide communication or meeting should be anchored in the commercial values

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"

We know some of the most valuable and iconic B2B brands in the world for their cultural traits. Many scholars argue that the commercial success for these brands — Microsoft, Amazon (AWS), Salesforce — is at least somewhat (if not directly) attributable to the firm’s culture and the propagation of the culture across the organization. While you can debate correlation versus causation in this case, is it worth the argument? After all, culture eats strategy for breakfast, as a wise person once said.


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