Culture is one of the most important aspects of a business when it comes to sales. Without intervention, sales departments can become competitive, cut-throat and stressful. While some believe that pressure drives success, the science isn’t on their side; people are 13% more productive at work when they’re happy.
Research shows that companies with a good culture enjoy increased employee engagement, higher profitability and lower staff turnover. These factors arguably affect overall income more than simple tactics to increase sales. A happy, engaged team that stays with an organization for a long time will learn, develop skills and become more effective at selling without much input from managers.
While making money is always going to be the overall goal, a sales culture shouldn't be solely focused on making sales. As counterproductive as that may seem, high-pressure environments are one of the biggest risk factors for “cultural crises”: major negative events that shake a business to its core.
It should go without saying that this kind of crisis doesn’t make money, and also leads to the hemorrhaging of talented employees. Instead, staff should feel supported and encouraged to learn and develop their skills, leading to increased profit in the long run. Creating this kind of sales culture isn’t easy, but there are some key ways to achieve it.
1. Start from the top
Ideally, most employees won’t have to worry about their organization’s sales culture, or even notice it’s there. Anthony Chaine, CEO of Elite Leadership Consulting, said:
This is a good goal to aim for; if a sales culture effectively communicates what is right to employees, they won’t have to think about it when decisions are made.
To achieve this, change has to come from the top down. There’s no real exception to this rule; without leading by example, managers will simply be piling unreasonable expectations on sales staff, which will lead to pushback.
2. Measure using KPIs
A crucial aspect of developing a profitable sales culture is understanding what’s working and what isn’t. To achieve this, consider using meaningful KPIs. The most simple of these is staff turnover. For example, the average turnover rate for the US private sector is 31.1%. An organization that loses more than 31.1% of its employees in a year clearly has a culture problem.
However, measurements can get more in-depth. For instance, some companies track employee productivity which can be beneficial as long as it’s approached in the right way. Micromanagement is a key reason for employees resigning, so using this KPI to criticize individuals is a bad idea. However, it can be effective at uncovering barriers to a positive, profitable sales culture.
For example, one company discovered that sales reps were unproductive due to spending a lot of time on customer service issues. By hiring new employees to deal with this, it was able to increase the number of sales reps hitting their targets from 25% to 85%. This approach lets organizations create a more focused sales culture with a better chance of achieving results.
3. Encourage competition (but everyone wins together)
It’s often assumed salespeople are inherently competitive, and some say the best ones need that sense of competition to really succeed. There’s no reason why competition can’t be a healthy part of sales culture, but it needs to be carefully managed so as not to become cut-throat.
That means common sales tactics like leaderboards can be used, but only if leadership is committed to cheering everyone on. Competition should only be used positively; focus on the people at the top of the leaderboard doing an amazing job, and don’t criticize those at the bottom.
Competition needs to be combined with effective coaching, and this has to be done across the board. Even the top performers should be coached, otherwise it’ll be seen as a punishment, and the focus must be on helping staff develop rather than pinpointing their weaknesses.