How to think about Sales Culture when you are Building a Sales Machine

Nothing is more exciting than starting from scratch, and as I kick off a new sales team for the 10th + time, I decided to really research what all the other leaders out there where doing.  In particular i wanted to see how everyone else was thinking about culture, and I came across this quote:

Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like… I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game, it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. – Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.

So I decided to really think through the finer details of culture, and how to set the foundation for a sales team from a culture perspective.

What is a sales culture?

I define it as the voluntary or involuntary set of shared beliefs and habits that prevail on a company’s sales floor.

The Center for Sales Strategy blog says it is, “The culture of a company or a department is simply what most employees do most of the time.”

David Needle wrote in his book Business in Context: An Introduction to Business and Its Environment , “Culture includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits.”

At Gallup, they define sales culture specifically, as “as the attitudes that employees have about the environment in which they work.”  I’d encourage you strongly to read about their method of measuring culture via 12 specific questions, its extremely powerful.

Proactively set it

It’s too important to leave culture to happenstance. Culture will form on your team whether you direct influence it or not.  Reflect on the things that you think are important, and share these thoughts with your team.  Culture, by definition is a collective concept, it takes multiple people believing the same thing for it to be culture.

You can’t control it, but if you direct it proactively in the beginning you can ensure that it gets a solid start.

Define it in detail

Go through the exercise of defining it in detail, down to specific examples.  If one of your core culture values is going to be around being “data driven”.  What does that mean?

Give a specific example in which a sales person or sales manager does something that is data driven.  Give an example of a scenario where someone is not data driven.  This will leave no question in people’s minds around what is expected.

Lead by example

Teams will do what their leaders do, not what their leaders SAY.  Culture is a double edged sword, you can’t just set it and forget it.  As the leader, you will need to walk the walk every minute of every day.  If you don’t live by the cultural values, no one else will.

Follow through

Culture is a process , not a moment in time.  Every action you take as a leader contributes to the culture, every 1:1 you do is another opportunity to add to or detract from the teams culture.  Slow and steady wins the race, and the best approach is to make sure you’re constantly coming back to your core culture and evaluating ongoing actions through this lens.  (see Recognize / Correct down below for a follow through tactic)

Make it part of your sales managers job

If you’re building a sales machine, you’re probably not the only leader on the team.  Your sales managers or directors need to be culture carriers too.  Nothing can kill culture faster than the leader of one team behaving in a way thats contrary to the culture of the broader team.  Sell each leader as they come onto the team on the importance of each component of your culture.  Encourage them to join or not join the company based on how they feel about these values.  Let them know you expect them to live these values and that you’ll hold them accountable to them.

Recognize / Correct Daily

Full transparency, I got this idea from Kyle Porter when he came to speak at our last BTM Sales Leadership event.  Kyle shared his technique for continually re-enforcing culture on his team through recognition and light course correction.  When he saw someone doing something that was in line with, or going above and beyond a culture value, he’d recognize it.  When he saw someone doing something that was against the values, he’d say something.  I know, sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget to do on a daily basis…

Ex Recognition: 

In this situation, imagine a sales or post sales team where the culture placed importance on being caring.

Hey Sally, I noticed that on the phone the other day you spent an extra 10 minutes with our client helping them configure their profile.  I know this is not part of your job, but it was an awesome example of showing our client that you care.  If we all did this, we would get to our goal of being the most caring software company int he world!

Course Correct:

Hey Todd, I noticed on the phone this morning you had an opportunity to help a client with their questions about their profile and you told them that it wasn’t your responsibility.  I’ve seen you do things that where incredibly caring in the past, so I know you’re capable of it.  That would have been a great opportunity to be caring, and to contribute to making us the most caring software company in the world!