A Guide for Building A Successful Sales Culture
What is sales culture? And more importantly, what is a successful sales culture, and what does it look like?
Creating a sales culture is no easy task, but it’s one we hear about all the time from our customers. From 100-person sales teams to 5,000-person sales teams, every sales leader wants to feel hustle, buzz, and energy from their sellers, and they know that building a sales culture that promotes those characteristics is the best way to get there.
But it’s a lot harder than it sounds.
And especially, as just about every sales team is currently remote, that challenge becomes even more daunting.
Sales culture, defined
“Culture” refers to a collective belief system that manifests itself as social behaviors and norms for a group of people. But let’s get real and tear that down -- what is the definition of “sales culture?”
I spend a lot of time speaking with sales leaders across industries and employee counts. Many of them are searching for that elusive sales culture, but just aren’t sure how to cultivate it. So if you are feeling the same way, you’re not alone.
Words that I commonly hear as managers and leaders are describing their ideal sales culture:
Work hard, play hard
But compare that to what I hear when they talk about their current sales culture:
Can’t make people care
I don’t know what they are doing all day
The difference between reality and ideal states for sales culture is vast, so let’s unpack exactly how those conversations go a little bit more.
Many of these conversations start like this:
“Sales culture is that buzz on the floor.”
“Sales culture is a culture of winning.”
“Sales culture means that I’ve created a place that people want to come work.”
“Building a sales culture takes the right people and the right tools.”
“A great sales culture is one where people are motivated to grind and close deals.”
“Creating a sales culture is the result of a strong vision and support from leadership”
But then those conversations quickly turn into this:
“Building a sales culture is tough because it’s so intangible.”
“How do I even begin to go about creating a sales culture of winning?”
“How long will it take me to get to the sales culture I want? Do I even have that much time?”
And then this:
“Why does sales culture even matter? Shouldn’t my reps be motivated by commission?”
“Does spending time building a sales culture take away from time I should be spending helping close deals?”
“I used to just be thankful for a job, and sales culture didn’t matter. Why does it matter now?”
So you can see why this is a complex subject that takes some unpacking.
Let’s start with question 1.
Why does sales culture matter?
Sales is a competitive field. A-players are known not only within their own organizations, but throughout their industries, and they routinely are poached for higher bases, larger commissions, and better incentives. One way to keep your sellers engaged and loyal is simply by creating a sales culture that resonates with their key values. After all, they are spending the majority of their waking hours working for you. Keep in mind the Golden Rule -- treat others as you would like to be treated. Show your team that you’re working for them, and you’ll see that effort reciprocated to you.
Additionally, as younger generations enter the salesforce in greater numbers, the definitions of a great place to work have shifted. It’s no longer the 9-to-5, cubicle-based sales culture that many of us grew up with. Now, sales is about relationships, humanity, and hustle. It’s about the perks of working hard in an office that still knows how to have a good time. Visit any sales team in the Bay area, and you’ll see foosball tables, dogs at work, and flavored water machines. You’ll also hear the famous “buzz” that is so coveted in sales organizations.
Lastly, those who move into sales management positions are just….good people who want to provide a great experience and sales culture for those following in their footsteps. Most of them are promoted from front-line selling roles, so they know what it takes to move to the top, and they know how hard that is to do when you don’t believe in your company or your management.
How does this change as teams go remote?
Now, more than ever, building a sales culture that resonates with your sellers is critical to the success of your organization. As “the floor” is no longer an option, sales leaders must find other ways to keep sellers motivated, hustling, and fulfilled at work. But how do you do that when you are not face-to-face?
It turns out the same rules for creating a sales culture apply as when we were all in the office together:
Be transparent about clear, S.M.A.R.T. goals and expectations
Hold all team members (including yourself) accountable to the grind
Figure out what motivates them….then do that
Make sure you recognize positive behavior and milestone achievements
Put development of your team front and center
Since it takes a little more effort to reach people while remote, this is where software can come into play.
What does building a sales culture look like?
Before we dive into creating a sales culture, we need to set our vision so we know what we’re going after. A successful sales culture can look like this:
Reps are motivated to work hard because they are held accountable and are offered appropriate incentives
Great behavior is rewarded and recognized, and negative behavior is immediately addressed in private
Turnover is low
Sellers are invested in the vision of the business and understand how their own actions impact the bottom line
Open, honest communication between sellers, and between management and sellers, is the norm
Above all, team members enjoy coming to work
Key Components of a Successful Sales Culture
There are a few key components that sales managers and leaders should remember while working on building a sales culture for their teams.
The foundation for developing a world-class sales culture is transparency into progress against goals, objectives, and KPIs. Here is the thing -- we feel good about ourselves at work when we know we’re doing a good job. That means we feel stable in our careers, employment, and decisions, and it also means we know the impact we are having on the world around us. It frees our minds up to focus on getting better results every day.
And without frequent feedback loops on how we’re doing, we lose that freedom to focus on getting better -- and instead focus it on questioning and insecurity.
Ask yourself if you’d rather have a team of bold, confident sellers -- or one of sellers questioning their every move. For most of us, the choice is clear.
Using tools like leaderboards, dashboards, and easy access to performance and activity metrics helps sales leaders maintain access to that transparency AND deliver that same transparency to the team.
Sellers can see their progress against goals and pick up the steam when they see they are falling behind their KPIs. And it really gets fun when they see peers pulling ahead -- and then they do what it takes to beat them.
The same goes for managers and leaders of sales organizations. Transparency into team performance helps them understand when and where to step in proactively to keep their team members on track and focused on the right KPIs, and it also helps them know which tools to use to get their sellers running in the right direction. Sometimes a 1:1 coaching session is what a seller needs to refocus their efforts, and sometimes throwing a fast blitz or competition in the mix is what the team needs to re-energize.
One of our customers uses data transparency in just this way. As leader of her sales operations organization, she gets an automated alert at 11am every day, filling her in on her SDR team’s productivity. If they have not hit their volume and efficiency metrics by that point, she puts a $25 Amazon gift card on the line and lets them run after it. Additionally, she can see WHO is falling short, so she spins up quick 1:1s to get a sense of what is challenging them, enabling her to proactively remove blockers before they throw her team’s numbers off. Now that is using transparency to drive a healthy sales culture!
Holding others accountable can be tough. It can mean having challenging conversations, talking about difficult topics, or even feeling like you are calling people out.
But it also is a foundational element to creating a healthy, robust sales culture. Holding sellers accountable to commitments means that the entire team knows that everyone is pulling their weight, which results in greater trust between team members. When some sellers are pushed hard and others are allowed to slide, an environment of resentment starts to build, which ripples out through the rest of the organization.
Holding sellers accountable does not always have to mean they are doing a bad job. Rather, it means that expectations and commitments are clearly defined to managers and team members up front, and that every effort is made to stay transparent on progress against those commitments throughout via frequent feedback loops.
One of the hardest things about building a successful sales culture is the accountability piece, because who has time to stay top of of each individual seller’s goals and progress? For many, that means it falls by the wayside -- until big problems emerge.
So how do you hold your teams accountable to their activity and objective goals before it becomes a problem?
Many sales leaders rely on systems designed to help them automate pieces of this puzzle. Systems that track sellers’ and teams’ goals for you, surfacing progress and problems proactively, make a huge impact on how leading sales managers run their teams. These systems can be the difference between a frazzled sales leader pulling their hair out with CRM reports and spreadsheets, and one that sees where to focus quickly and spend his or her time coaching, motivating, and developing team members -- the place where they can provide the most value to their teams.
Remember that what motivates YOU may not necessarily be the same thing that motivates your team. Listen to them and ask questions to find out what they are willing to work for.
Some may care more about financial gain than others. Some may love the flexibility of a gift card, while others may enjoy bespoke gifts that show thought. There is a rising trend in offering experiences as incentives. We have one customer who offers two tickets to the Superbowl every year. With remote work becoming the norm, we’re seeing leaders get more creative with their incentives -- for example, our SDR team now offers one “free” day off to anyone who achieves 150% of their goal.
And don’t neglect the importance of competition in motivating ambitious sellers to win. Getting creative with contests can help keep that energy up and drive the sales culture you’re looking for.
We always recommend to mix up your competitions to keep goals fresh. While individual-based competitions are great for helping each seller reach his or her goals, team-based competitions often drive the conversation and reliance on each other that is critical when creating a sales culture. If you envision a sales culture with conversation and that coveted “buzz,” running team-based competitions is a great place to start.
The first thing we need to remember about recognition is that it is not only about the big achievements. To keep sellers motivated and keep energy up, be sure to recognize the iterative, and even hidden, small wins that lead up to the big ones. Examples:
-- Someone hits daily call volume for the first time
-- A seller creates an opportunity with their highest seat count ever
-- Someone increases their call-to-meeting conversion rate by 10%
These are all incremental wins that may not typically get recognized, but that are still critical in creating the successful sales culture many of us dream about.
Next, we need to talk about how to actually recognize people. When sales teams were working in large offices, we used to see floors of hundreds of sellers, on the phone, with TVs in every corner that were constantly showing leaderboards and wins.
Now, we’re in a much different scenario. Gone are the crowded floors as most sellers are currently working from home. In this situation, it is even more important to find the right software that helps you reward positive behavior -- in the moment.
Software like Ambition helps you run leaderboards that reps can pull up on their computer screens, giving them 24/7 access to standings within and between teams when it comes to their KPIs. Understanding where they are compared to goal is critical to driving a winning sales culture, because you want reps thinking “If I make just TEN more calls, I can hit my number for the day.”
Knowing where your reps are communicating currently and taking advantage of those tools is another necessary component to most effectively using recognition to drive positive sales culture. Many of us rely on chat tools like Slack to stay connected with each other and with the company while we all work from various locations, so finding recognition and gamification tools that integrate directly with Slack is an easy way to boost sales culture.
As wins, whether incremental or milestone, are achieved, use a software like Ambition to automate notifications directly in Slack. Sellers are recognized for their winning behaviors not only in front of their teammates, but also in front of leadership and the entire company, prompting virtual pats-on-the-back and high fives. We rely on the Ambition>Slack integration to promote sales culture and cross-functional culture, and our entire team loves the positive vibes it drives across our remote workforce.
Sales is a dog-eat-dog world. Great sellers are recognized and known outside of their companies, and they are constantly recruited to join other teams. While contests, goals, and compensation play big roles in keeping sellers happy -- often A players are looking for something more.
These sellers are great at what they do because they constantly strive to be better. What’s one sure way to get better? Learn from others -- and that is where developing your team comes into play.
Great enablement and content, opportunities for peer learning, and 1:1 focused coaching sessions with their managers can round out the development of your sellers, from those who are struggling to those at the tops of their game. And team members who feel invested in are happier and more likely to stick around. If you want to talk about a strong sales culture, this it it.
One challenge many sales leaders have when it comes to developing their sales teams is that it feels so….soft. How do you measure “development?”
Finding a sales management platform, like Ambition, that aligns performance metrics with development, so sales leaders and sellers together can see the impact development initiatives have on performance, is critical for driving cultures of success on sales floors.