It’s common for a CEO to say he wants a sales culture, or more specifically, a culture that supports sales. It sounds good especially to shareholders and corporate boards who have a sense that selling is kind of important for achieving revenue growth. Sales teams like to hear it, too, as it feels like recognition for the importance of the role.
But most efforts involving culture devolve into big science projects led by human resources and disregarded by others. With no disrespect to HR—in fact, I started my career in HR—that department will never be able to change the culture of a business. That is a job for the leaders of the business, and sales leaders have to step up to the challenge of working across the organization to drive this change.
To create a culture of selling, you must consider three fundamental principles:
1. Focus on the Value Sales Creates
Culture is about mindset. That means to create a sales culture, you must start with what people believe about selling. Our beliefs shape our behaviors, so you need to know what people in your organization think or feel about the sales force. Do they view the sales organization as a vital part of the value created for clients, or do they see it simply as the distribution function?
Companies that have a strong culture of selling focus on the value that is created because the sales organization does considerably more than communicate the competitive advantages of products and services. They are the advantage.
2. Practice What You Preach
Actions more than words cause people to change their beliefs. While leaders must actively communicate how the selling function supports the value chain of the entire company, they must also show how it does that.
Role models need to be recognized throughout the business as the standard for performance. Publicly identify those who achieve strong results for the business. This goes beyond revenue generated. The real exemplars are those who achieve strong results for the business and do so in a way that demonstrates how they helped differentiate your business from a competitor or how they positioned your products to form a unique solution that the customer hadn’t considered.
Yes, profit and revenue are the quarterly (or monthly or weekly) report card. But highlighting them as the only things that matter undercuts the importance of how those results are achieved.
3. Reinforce the Right Behavior
The culture you create depends on your reinforcing the right behavior and having consequences for inappropriate behavior. Leaders must, therefore, determine specific expectations and standards across the business and translate those into actions. What are the appropriate response times on proposal support requests? How are members of the sales team expected to participate in territory research?
By asking such questions as “How would I know we have a sales culture?” or “What would be different if our culture were more sales-focused?” you’ll quickly come up with answers that decode what it looks like in your business. Then provide the rewards and consequences for sales reps’ behavior.
Note: it’s a mistake to recognize someone for results if they were achieved following undesirable behavior. For instance, if a seller reaches his quota but does so by significantly discounting prices, that is not something to recognize when you are trying to increase margins. You need to provide recognition for actions that will drive future success.
Organizations that have a strong sales culture understand there is a significant connection between the value customers are willing to pay for and the role of the sales organization. Great products and services are table stakes for selling today. The companies that win most have a culture in which everyone recognizes that the sales organization is part of the competitive advantage of the business.