Seven Traits of a High Performing Sales Culture
Every IT staffing sales organization has a sales culture. Great ones are hard to come by because they take a long time to develop and tremendous effort to sustain. Sales teams can have a lousy sales culture but still have a great year and hit or even exceed their sales quota. Consistently meeting and exceeding sales quota (24 months without missing your sales quota) however requires a healthy sales culture. Sales teams don't consistently meet sales quota without having a strong sales culture. At the same time, your sales culture can prevent sales quota attainment from happening.
Before I turn my attention to the seven traits of a high performing sales culture, let’s first make sure we understand and recognize the traits that make up an undesirable sales culture. How can you notice a terrible sales culture? Look for any of the following:
- High turnover
- Less than 80% of the sales team is meeting their sales quota
- Lack of accountability (employees with poor, negative attitudes, under performers remain employed for months on end)
- Poor/average performance is acceptable
- Gossip and back-channel communications are in the ranks where people talk about each other behind their backs
- Team members hold back with each other when communicating, they fail to engage in healthy debate and avoid sensitive issues
- Sales reps don’t know where they stand with their manager (little or no performance reviews)
- The sales leader fails to roll up his or her sleeves and engage the front-line sales reps
- “Untouchables” These are the sales reps who can do no wrong. They’re not held to the same standards as the rest of the team nor are they held accountable (the sales leader often doesn’t see it this way but it is crystal clear to the rest of the team)
Sales leaders are directly responsible for creating and sustaining a high performing sales culture yet most don’t know how to assess, create or change their sales culture.
Conveying Your Vision for a High Performing Sales Culture
Most people struggle with the idea or concept of culture because it’s so difficult to define. Culture is like the clouds in the sky, you know they’re there but how do you describe them? How do you grasp them? Wikipedia defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.” But how can sales leaders get their teams to come to an agreement on those shared attitudes, values, goals and practices? And even if you do, how do you get your people to think and act in that way? The answer is that you don’t. People are not robots. Culture is not a goal where people are mandated, instead it is the outcome of a collective set of behaviors.
Sales leaders need to define their goals, vision and aspirations. They need to define what specifically will be different, and how will it make a difference for the success of their sales organization. Specifically, what are the most critical behaviors that will characterize the culture you want to create? What behaviors will no longer be tolerated and why? What behaviors will be rewarded and why? Without further a due, here are seven traits of a high performing sales culture.
1. Genuine Trust
Most IT staffing firms have a level of trust in which they can count on each other to do the mundane tasks such as show up for work on time every day. For example, “Dan is late for work and hasn’t called in." Because I have worked with Dan for years, I trust him and know that Dan will either be in the office shortly or he will call to let me know what is going on.” Sure enough, Dan calls in to notify he is running late and shows up in the office a bit later.
Just about every IT staffing sales team and company I have encountered has this level of trust. However, this is NOT the level of trust I’m talking about. The trust I’m talking about is when teammates can call each other out and hold each other accountable when they fail to pull their own weight. For example, if a sales rep can’t get feedback from a client, the recruiter and sales rep should possess enough trust in their relationship that the recruiter can call the sales rep out on the client's poor behavior and the rep's inability to get client feedback and/or the rep's unwillingness to walk away from the opportunity (that is clearly a dead end). I have found from working with hundreds of sales teams who lack this trust, allow this behavior to repeat itself over and over again. The ironic part is everyone is the office knows what the 1,000 pund pink elephant in the room is but nobody wants to speak up and talk about it. Everyone ignores it. Why? Nobody speaks up because of the lack of trust. People are afraid they might jeopardize their relationship(s) with their co-worker(s) if they push back or call out a teammate. Real trust, genuine trust is when teammates feel comfortable calling each other out and holding one another accountable for their actions or lack thereof but at the end of the conversation they still trust each other to have each other’s back and are supportive of one another. They understand that is it not personal, it’s just business. They trust each other and have enough confidence in the relationship to the point where they're not afraid to engage in conflict. Most sales organizations don’t have this level of trust. Does yours?
2. Data Driven
High performing sales leaders and their teams rely on hard, factual data, not gut instinct, theory or “what if” scenarios” for executing their sales plan and hitting sales quota. Sales leaders and their sales reps are able to make highly confident business decisions from the insight they glean from the data.
For example, an analysis of your sales funnel might indicate a poor conversion rate of first time face to face meetings with prospects to new job orders. This insight might reveal a team wide weakness in qualifying sales leads. With that knowledge the sales leader can focus his or her time and energy toward addressing qualifying sales leads to ensure his team is meeting with the right prospects. Without that insight and the use of the raw data sales leaders often just assume what the issue is, typically that the reps need to make more calls to get more meetings. If there is one thing I have learned in the sales profession it's that you can't assume anything.
By finding specific areas for improvement as revealed by data analysis, you can coach your team much more effectively.
Top performing sales leaders know that when people come up with their own ideas or solutions, they own it and when salespeople own an idea or solution they are far more likely to apply it. This level of ownership breeds a deeper level of accountability compared to simply exerting control out of authority. It also builds people’s self-confidence to solve problems and generate solutions on their own. Effective sales coaching is what is needed to both cultivate and sustain these behavioral changes. In essence, this is sales leadership and leading with questions is the vehicle to make it happen.
4. Healthy Competition
A sales leader board is critical for creating a transparent sales culture but also a culture of healthy competition. Top sales leaders never let their reps become content. Instead they fixate their salespeople to always be striving for new and improved levels of performance. Using gamification and sales leader boards is a key tool for ensuring the foot is always on the gas pedal. With a sales leader board you can list your top five reps by net new bookings, cumulative gross profit, weekly gross profit (or any other metric) for all of the reps to see. This will make the other reps even more motivated to step up their game and crack the top five ranking. The second- or third-best rep will want to finish ahead of the first-ranked rep and ‘win the competition.’ According to a study conducted by Salesforce, 71% of companies that implement gamification saw an 11 to 50% increase in sales performance.
5. Low Sales Rep Turnover
If you have ever worked in a company or department with high turnover than you know it can feel like being a human yo-yo. Sales organizations with high employee turnover operate much like an airplane experiencing turbulence. It makes the people on board feel sick to their stomach and they struggle to reach comfortable cruising altitude. These organizations have to constantly train new employees and deal with the process of fully onboarding and ramping up new hires to sales quota. Meeting sales quota is very, very difficult under these circumstances. Just as importantly, high turnover can quickly become a red flag for your existing team members, especially your top performers. High turnover is often symptomatic of bigger, deeper issues with the organization.
6. Sales is Managed as a Process
High performing sales organizations manage sales as a process and the sales process is understood by all team members and aligned with how their buyers buy. By doing this, these organizations have a huge advantage over the competitors because this enables them to replicate the sales activities and behaviors that produce consistent, predictable success. This is how they are able to grow faster than the competition, by replicating repeatable and scalable sales behavior. With one customer I worked with we identified points of failure in their sales process that was leaving their reps frustrated and driving high turnover. But by identifying key points in a successful sales cycles that most often resulted in acquiring new business we were able to teach other reps and replicate it across the organization. Isolating those common variables helped them to concentrate resources and focus on key milestones at each stage of their sales cycle. This enables organizations to replicate sales behaviors executed by their top performers and provides a road map for rapidly getting new hires up to speed and productive.
7. Sales Strategy
High performing sales organizations have a clearly defined and understood sales strategy beyond “get out there and sell!” Their sales strategy includes a clearly defined target market including an ideal target customer profile (attributes of customers they seek and those they wish to avoid) and clearly defined buyer personas. Their sales strategy also includes a definition for the best, most qualified opportunities to pursue and a road map for the sales team to follow for how they will differentiate and win in the markets they serve. The cornerstone of their sales strategy is a clearly defined value proposition that spells out how their offering will make an impact on their customers business. Most important of all, all members of the sales team have the same consistent understanding of this strategy and have been trained and coached to execute.
What are you doing to build a high performing sales culture? What are the top traits of your sales culture? What about your sales culture would you like to change? Let's start a conversation in the comments section below.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.