11 Winning Sales Culture Practices that Drive High Performance
Winning sales cultures drive sales performance and attract and retain top talent. You want a list of sales culture best practices, but it all starts and ends with accountability.
You want a list of sales culture best practices, but it all starts and ends with accountability.
Most of us know that a positive sales culture is integral to the entire team’s health. Many thought leaders term “sales culture” to encompass the attitudes, values, and actions shared amongst a sales department. However, sales culture is more simple than that:
Sales culture is how things get done in your sales organization.
It’s that simple.
Sales culture requires people to do what they commit to doing. Having worked with hundreds of different sales organizations, accountability is the most significant component of a winning culture in sales.
Here is my list of the top ten sales culture best practices to ensure you create the most successful sales team with game-changing results:
- Hold salespeople accountable
- Create transparency
- Instill company values
- Evaluate the organization’s sales culture
- Create a hyper-competitive environment
- Incentivize positive sales culture
- Celebrate your wins
- Learn Individual’s affective motivators
- Hire for roles purposefully
- Eliminate bad fits
- Practice ongoing learning & coaching
Notice that each is extrinsically linked back to accountability.
Hold people accountable
Successful sales culture starts with holding your sales department accountable always. Holding a sales team accountable starts with senior management.
A sales leader’s role in any sales department is to ensure your team meets and exceeds sales goals by demanding excellence and inspiring the team.
The first part means sales leaders create effective sales processes and strategies that align with the company vision and revenue goals, which builds a sales culture around success. It includes forcing functions that ensure each sales representative remains accountable, including using incentives, competition, and systems.
Secondly, sales leaders must inspire their whole team. They hold themselves to the same standards.
Sales leaders, you have a team rather than a family.
In sales organizations, we hold everyone accountable – including the sales leader. We execute. We hit our targets. We do what is expected of us. In a family, it is too easy to empathize, forgive excuses and ask for pardons.
There are two ways to lead your team, and only one gets results. You can be the “friend,” or you can be their coach. Sometimes, the coach is hated: your team will hate you. However, you will also empower growth, skill-building, and hitting sales goals. Which provides true value?
Accountability creates a growth-minded, winning culture.
A successful sales culture also sees accountability at the individual level. When company executives decide to hold themselves accountable, you will see fewer excuses and more sales coaching, leveling up on sales skills, hunting down their prospective customers, and making better deals, equating to increases in the team’s monthly revenue.
Successful sales culture starts with holding your sales department accountable always. Holding a sales team accountable starts with senior management.
Accountability and transparency go hand-in-hand. What’s measured and reported improves, meaning your salespeople need to know what you value and measure to hold themselves accountable to those standards and culture.
I advocate public metric dashboards for any sales force – think giant jumbotron for the entire organization. All salespeople can see the results, and everyone is held accountable.
Each rep can spot weaknesses and make real-time adjustments and improvements. It also further holds your team accountable and boosts commitment levels.
Instill Company Values
Core values are simply what your company stands for, expressed as a company mission statement or a series of action statements. These values reinforce actions and performance because they are upheld by company leadership as the roadmap to success – or a winning sales culture.
Look at it this way:
Core Values → Company Culture→ Behavior & Actions
When there is no core value alignment, your sales department operates subjectively differently from the rest of the organization.
Ensure the values are lived, not just a company wall poster. Sales leaders model and reinforce the values to ensure they become a part of everyday sales activity. Also, ensure your sales representatives connect emotionally with each core value.
When salespeople internalize core values, live them profoundly, and are held accountable to these core values, it cultivates the desired culture.
Any breaches of the core value and sales culture will result in disciplinary action.
As with all accountability conversations, there will be discomfort with employees, but it ultimately creates progress and protects the culture.
Evaluate Organization's Sales Culture
Industry thought leaders always talk about the importance of building a healthy sales culture, but the reality is culture forms whether you create it or not. To enforce positive sales culture, you must make, measure and standardize it.
Most sales organizations and individual sales reps are measured objectively: revenue, KPIs, sales activity, etc.
The challenge for sales leaders is that once they build a strong sales culture, they also need to learn how to continuously measure sales reps and managers subjectively, alongside objective measurements. To gauge the subjective, you must standardize it across the entire organization.
Standardizing starts with ensuring sales managers and executives align with company values and understand what they are.
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Create a Hyper Competitive Environment
Competition is essential to strong sales culture building. Without competition, you get individuals making excuses for underperformance. A hyper-competitive environment breeds organizational success because all your sales professionals strive to reach their maximum potential.
Your organization’s underlying structures and systems reinforce your sales team’s competitiveness and intensity, such as individual and team incentives and sales team boards. You can also create opportunities like quarterly or monthly sales contests. Gamifying sales and publicly rewarding team members’ successes motivate them to compete.
Contrary to belief, a competitive environment with healthy sales culture is also distinctively different from a toxic environment. Sales professionals should always expect hard work, effort, and competition to achieve their goals.
However, while healthy competition is essential, a successful sales team also relies on collaboration to achieve high performance. Excessive competition and cooperation interfere; a sales leader must balance the two.
Incentivize Positive Sales Cultures
Sales culture best practices also include systems and structures such as pay.
I am against 100% commission-based sales teams because it is almost impossible to cultivate great sales culture. Intense competition is essential, but a base salary covers team members’ commitment, accountability, and daily activities that drive organizational success.
A base salary psychologically informs the sales team member of the sales organization’s commitment to each sales representative. In return, it provides the sales leader with the force function to maintain accountability.
Additionally, sales leaders incentivize behaviors and practices that deliver more significant results, i.e., your commission structures and bonuses.
You can calculate the commission percentage on the total contract value or off-profit margin. Your choice will vary depending on whether your profit margin has a high variance.
If the profit margin is consistent, you should set a small commission percentage based on the total deal value. This allows for less ambiguity and more transparency for the sales representatives and is psychologically more appealing.
Larger commission percentages suit industries that habitually negotiate prices and base them strictly on the margin they can maximize. Sales managers motivate their salespersons to hold margins.
In both these examples, you incentivize behaviors and actions that put more money in the pocket of your salespeople, increasing intensity and competition within the organization and leading to good sales culture development and vision.
Learning from losing is essential to motivating team members and establishing team culture. However, ensure you take the time to celebrate the wins publicly.
Separate from individual compensation packages are incentive and reward plans that drive activity. Bonuses and prizes connected to team production offer an immediate spike in activity. Sales culture is also about maintaining intensity and energy in environments where high stakes and rejection are standard.
Remember, while sales is highly competitive between sales representatives, it is also team-based, relying on collaboration. Excessive competition and cooperation interfere; the sales leader must balance the two.
Rewarding the entire team at the end of the sales quarter or year builds a sales culture and provides a sense of comradery between team members.
Industry thought leaders always talk about the importance of building a healthy sales culture, but the reality is culture forms whether you create it or not.
Learn Individual's Affective Motivators
Providing good compensation packages is great sales culture practice. However, money is only a soft motivator.
More than making sales representatives compete for rewards is required. You need to motivate people intrinsically.
Salespeople are often intrinsically motivated by the following:
- Job satisfaction and recognition
- Bettering own performance
- Combination of any of the above
To build a sales culture, you need to learn all your employees’ affective desires to trigger accountability. It enables you to speak to that individual at their level with complete transparency.
Ask yourself this question before making the next two sales competitions: do I know each member’s role on my team? What skills do they bring to that role? Do I know how to motivate them?
Once they know sales representatives’ roles and how to motivate them correctly, you will start to build a winning sales organization.
We use a combination of Kolbe and PRINT® assessments to identify every team member’s strengths and motivators and even illuminate bad-fit placements amongst leadership and salespeople.
Hire for roles purposefully
Great sales leaders value their sales culture and actively incorporate culture-building into the recruitment side of sales management.
Excellent sales leaders understand the entire sales team: strengths, weaknesses, and individuals. However, they also recognize the diversity of selling styles by which you can achieve sales success.
Creating game-changing sales cultures is about looking at the entire company or sales force and knowing the exact roles and the individuals you require for them. Ultimately, your sales leader is the gatekeeper of the company’s sales culture.
Eliminate bad fits
I hold an unpopular opinion: not all sales turnover is bad. There’s the wrong turnover and the right turnover. You need to know the difference.
A sales manager or rep will stick around and operate at their leisure without pressure to level up. If you apply pressure or enforce standards and are met with complaints and negativity, it stems from being unable to hit numbers.
This is what creates a negative sales culture.
When you hold people accountable, you lose low performers and low accountables. This is ideal for the sales organization because high performers want to work with other high performers in the most successful team – they strive to win.
Any breaches in sales culture will result in disciplinary action.
If there is no realignment with the company’s sales culture, you need to move the sales rep out.
As with all accountability conversations, there will be discomfort with employees, but it ultimately enables progress and protects the culture.
You give them a warning, feedback, and a chance to realign themselves with a performance improvement plan that dictates what you need to see from them to demonstrate realignment with the sales culture.
Practice Ongoing Learning & Coaching
Sales coaching and continuous learning support a strong sales culture, a vital sales leadership role.
Successful sales teams have a growth mindset. Every member of the team – sales manager, executive, and employees – constantly seek to improve and work to solve current sales challenges.
Opportunities for coaching and learning include your weekly sales meeting, sales stands, competitions, one-on-one check-ins, and support. However, behind the scenes, you are running tests, analyzing your situation, and suggesting courses of action. You must do the same for your sales team.
A deep understanding of the sales pipeline and the upcoming deal closes gives sales leaders the data they need to pre-empt adjustments and challenges. It can be as simple as pipe checks in your team meetings, working with the executive team to role-play a challenge in your sales messaging, or a new team member’s sales pitch.
The difference between a good and an excellent sales leader is their knowledge of when to allow the team member to experience failure to grow and when to provide support and make adjustments for the sales organization.
Reinforce a culture of winning
When your organization grows, you have to reinforce a culture of winning. This is effectively the role of a good leader. You have to be honest and provide candid and timely feedback to all team members up and down.
Remember, you’re the sales culture gatekeeper – it starts with fostering a culture of accountability.
You see an individual making a mistake; you tell them so they can fix it. You identify a problem inside of your company; you point it out. You constantly need to improve yourself. Use your brain and think about solutions to issues preventing progress.
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About the author:
Ali Mirza is the Founder & CEO of Rose Garden, a national sales consulting organization, and featured in Forbes, Inc, Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Business Rockstars, and The Wall Street Journal.
Ali is a highly sought-after public speaker presenting at multiple national conferences on innovative ways to accomplish transformational growth on your sales team.
Rose Garden provides unparalleled support and guidance to growth-minded founders via sales strategy differentiation, world-class sales culture creation, and exclusive playbooks, processes, and scripts to position them for limitless growth.