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All of the comradery and none of the cutthroats.
If I asked you to describe a typical sales culture, what would you picture? Fast-talking men in suits boozing and schmoozing with clients over drinks? Traveling vendors with briefcases upselling their wares? I, for one, would think of that scene in the first episode of Succession, where a bunch of grown-up frat stars drop f-bomb after f-bomb as they hype up the deal they're trying to close.
And I'm not the only one whose mind goes there; a 2006 academic study found that media descriptions of the sales occupation were "overwhelmingly unflattering and negative."
Sales can have a reputation for being a cutthroat, manipulative, greedy, and dishonest boys' clubs with high turnover and lots of stress. Those media portrayals were often based on real-life experiences, were they not?
But sales doesn't have to be like that. Building a healthy sales culture that encourages collaboration while still rewarding performance can help you create a sustainable sales team that lets its members and your business thrive. And a healthy sales culture is one more likely to make women and underrepresented minorities feel comfortable and flourish, bringing much-needed diversity of perspectives and market understanding to your business (and the results to show for it—companies with 45% or more women in their sales teams have higher-than-average profits).
This article will highlight common mistakes found in sales teams and provide advice from seasoned sales managers to help you build a better sales culture.
Common mistake: "You're on your own" mentality where each salesperson is responsible for figuring out best practices.
Why it happens: "Sales is hard and requires more than just product knowledge to be successful. Many companies treat sales as a natural ability and not something you can learn," says John Hill, founder of CRM customization company Adapted Growth and host of the Sales Throwdown podcast.
What you can do about it: Focus on training and mentoring and make those responsibilities an explicit part of your management meetings as well as how you grade and compensate your most senior and successful people.
And in your training sessions, consider a wide range of useful skills beyond the core components of prospecting and closing. "I train only 25% of their time in sales tactics and 75% of their time in self-development, compassion, and empathy," says Abbie Mirata, founder of non-profit Kyndly. "The more a salesperson feels confident and valued and not afraid to make mistakes, the better they will eventually become. They will also build stronger customer relationships and close more deals when they have real care and compassion for what a customer needs."
Chris Mason, senior vice president of sales distribution for HealthMarkets, suggests creating a sales culture of abundance versus scarcity: "One team member having great success doesn't detract from others' opportunity; conversely, it shows what is possible for others, that systems work [and that] products are relevant in the market." Make sales success post-mortems an agenda item on every team meeting, where the salesperson who closed the deal walks the team through what they did, what worked and what didn't, and how others can find similar success.
Common mistake: Measuring results on an individual basis versus a team basis, which leads to risk with top performers and resentment from less-than-stellar performers.
Why it happens: Salespeople are often compensated on whether or not they hit certain targets, so some managers will only measure results on a person-by-person basis, leaving behind the overall synthesis of the team's direction.
What you can do about it: Create team targets and widely publicize them. "Many years ago I worked for one company that would regularly shoot itself in the foot by setting an individual target [where] as soon as you hit it, you [could] go home," says Kim Adele, a leadership coach and former C-suite executive. "I amended it to be a team target. [It was] a small change, but the team spirit it built was amazing and we went on to have double-digit growth and a really engaged team," she says.
As vice president of accounts at youth sports advertising firm LeagueSide, Jason Smith notes the importance of making sure you are capturing and systemizing your top performers' success tactics and publicizing them to the rest of the team. "A lack of managerial leadership to replicate [success] often has led to resentment and jealousy," he says. At team meetings, give updates on overall success and on collective improvement to processes to make everyone feel like they're in it together.
Common mistake: Isolating the sales team from each other and/or from the rest of the company, leaving them feeling less attached to their team and the company's overall mission.
Why it happens: "[People] think about salespeople as lone wolves," says Yuval Shalev, co-founder of enterprise sales platform Hunterz. Because salespeople often work away from the office and may not have many full-team touch-points, fostering connection can be hard.
What to do about it: Invest in team-building within your sales team and between your sales team and the rest of the company can help reduce turnover and motivate employees, says Shalev.
For team-building with your sales group, try these ideas:
For team-building within your sales team and the rest of your company, try one of these:
Building A Healthy Sales Culture Takes Leadership
Overall, remember that a sales team manager's biggest responsibility is to lead their team to success. That means listening well, adjusting plans and processes to fit your team's needs, hiring and compensating your team fairly, and knowing when to hold your team accountable and when to celebrate. It's a tough job, but if it interests you—and you don't already have that responsibility set—check out the 500+ open Sales Manager jobs on PowerToFly.
Want to learn more about how PowerToFly can help you build a diverse and inclusive culture? Contact us here.
Crises can bring out the best in us. It can be hard to believe that when headlines are crowded with toilet paper hoarders or raucous spring breakers under the impression that they're invincible, but it's true. A paper by the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center found that assumptions about people acting in their own best interest during a crisis are "fundamentally incorrect" and that "human beings…typically rise to the daunting challenges that disasters pose."
A PowerToFly Resource
Free Team Check-In Guide
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