Building Great Culture Takes Courage

I am fortunate to be on a great sales team right now.  I’ve had the privilege to build a sales team from the ground up and the kind of team you would want to be a part of.  It wasn’t easy.  Three years ago the team was performing poorly, dependent on one successful account manager and generally disconnected from each other.  We’ve been through very difficult challenges to progress to where we are now.

More than any other reason, courage has been the driving force in developing our team culture.  Sales is a demanding, high pressure profession.  Most seasoned sales people have worked for sales leaders that are demanding, critical and condescending especially when a sales person falls short of the number.

In my opinion, this style doesn’t work (at least over the long run) and is the leading cause for toxic culture on a sales team.  I believe this style is based on that leader’s inability to do their jobs more than it has to do with the performance of anyone on the team.

Here is some advice for those who want to build great culture for their sales team:

  1. Put Your People First – I see a lot of sales leaders that are great at managing up but when it comes to really engaging with the team, they fall short.  It’s critical that your sales people feel you’re committed to their success.  This is a function of showing them, on a daily basis, that their success is your number one priority, not your success.
  2. Build Trust First, Accountability Will Follow – When I first joined this team, everyone was cautious about the “new manager.”  The first several quarters were difficult to get the team to feel comfortable that I wasn’t going to blast them at the first sign of trouble.  I had to show them that I included myself in the results of falling short.  Eventually they came to trust that I was committed to their success.  Now, they are as committed to me hitting my number as I’ve ever seen a team be.  They are driving their own accountability.
  3. Have a System – One of the best ways to build trust with the team is to build a system that makes sense to the team and shows them a path to success.  This takes time but is important.  It also shows the team that you’re serious about doing your job well, not just babysitting the numbers.
  4. Avoid Criticism, Focus on Coaching – As a sales leader, resist the urge just to criticize the poor performance.  On July 19th I wrote about What Drives Bad Sales Management Behavior, it’s really about a lack of control.  So as a sales leader, apply your energies to coaching and that will allow you to avoid criticism and focus on coaching the behavior and execution that will drive success.
  5. Always Do the Right Thing – This is the most important advice I can give.  In all situations, do the right thing.   This goes for all team members, including you.  I see sales teams all the time bend the rules, manipulate facts and generally act selfishly to get a deal done or to get paid just a little bit more.  This begins and ends with you.  Make sure your team sees that you are committed to taking the high ground and always doing what’s right.

Remember, it takes courage to do things the right way and overcome the day-to-day frustrations of a sales leader.  Your courage will set the tone for a great sales culture that people will want to be a part of.

Chaos - The Enemy of Sales

I was having breakfast a while back with a friend and we were talking about sales and I made a comment that stood out to him.  I said, “The real enemy of sales success is chaos.” 

In our conversation, we discussed all the things Sales Leaders focus on to drive sales results.  We like to turn our efforts to things like training, accountability sessions, coaching as our tools to help keep teams focused.  When you take a step back and observe what’s really going on, the problem is more that we live in a “distracted world” than it does our team members need help doing their jobs.

It’s fair to say, on Monday mornings, your sales reps start their week with every intention of that week being productive.  Everything is fresh and possible but it ends up by the time they get to Friday they ask themselves Where did the week go?

The reality is that they have so many things pulling them in every direction (the chaos) that very quickly they move into reactive mode.  Psychologically, the real challenge is that they feel the burden and pressure of having a thousand things to do.  That would be overwhelming for anyone.  Think about all the demands they deal with on a weekly basis; prospecting, email, voicemails, team meetings, management busy work, customer meetings, proposals, account planning, partner meetings, travel, quoting, order administration, training and customer service issues.  This is just to name a few.

Where did the week go?

It also seems that since everything we do is on the laptop that electronic distraction plays a real role in impacting productivity.  An example of this could be; your rep fires up a browser with the intention of pulling up their customer’s website to do research and before you know it they’re ordering patio furniture on Amazon.  And then later in the day tell you that they simply don’t have enough time to get their job done.

The end result is that the key priorities don’t get done or team members have to work too many extended hours to get their work done and it cuts too far into their work life balance.

Our recommendation to help with this dynamic is to offer a simplified model for teams to operate from within to minimize disruption and more importantly organize those thousand things into a fewer list of larger objectives.  We call the simplified model the Business of Sales.  It’s comprised of (4) categories; Partner, Pipeline, Engage (Selling) and Manage.





To really help your reps with the chaos, require them to have a 1 hour meeting on Monday mornings where they simply organize the To-Do list into these (4) categories and check in with them once or twice a week on the list.

This approach won’t magically fix all the problems related to chaos or electronic distraction but it could lead towards productivity gains that will have an impact on your team’s performance.

Sales is from Mars and Marketing is from Venus

(This blog is focused on companies that require a field sales organization to sell their products.)

I recently sat on a panel where the topic we were discussing was lead conversions to sales.  The moderator asked, “What percentage of your sales leads convert into sales?”  I had to laugh because I’ve seen so many situations where the sales teams don’t get any leads from marketing at all.

It’s not that there aren’t any inbound inquiries from customers as much as it is the tendency for some marketing organizations to “over qualify the lead.”  Sales teams find this frustrating.  I get that Marketing doesn’t want to send junk to the sales teams.  However, the fatal assumption here is that the lead MUST turn into an immediate sales opportunity before the sales teams waste their time on it.  Bad assumption!

Most sales people spend a lot of their time nurturing customers who are not ready to buy.  Sales people actually want to go out and meet new customers even if they’re not yet in the buying process.  This means they will get in early and have an opportunity to educate the customer before they develop their requirements.

Sales has not been without their faults in this story either.  Marketing organizations frequently get frustrated because they feel the sales teams don’t follow-up on leads and this has a big impact on their metrics.  Sales leaders need to ensure their sales teams have proper expectations on lead follow up and providing feedback to marketing.

The responsibility to get the sales and marketing teams on the same page is the CEO’s.  They are the person that sets the direction and objectives for everyone in the company.  Here is some advice in establishing better alignment between sales and marketing:

Alignment of Goals – I believe one of the key reasons there tends to be mis-alignment between sales and marketing is because they don’t share the same mission and goals.  In your annual planning process ensure that both sales and marketing share key goals around pipeline development.  And then pay both of them to achieve those goals.

Lead Definition & SLAs – Require sales and marketing to agree on what defines a lead (or types of leads) and ensure that everyone across the organizations (sales and marketing) understand the definitions.  Establish SLAs and metrics for when marketing gets those leads to sales and when sales is expected to provide feedback on the leads.

Partner Models – Many sales organizations sell through partners or resellers.  It seems like these teams are commonly an after thought in this process as well.  Make sure there is a process and clear expectations with these partners that they MUST follow up on their assigned leads timely and MUST provide feedback on the process.  If they don’t comply, they don’t get more leads.

Integrated CRM System – Make sure your CRM system is integrated with your marketing and sales systems so you can tie together your marketing, sales engagement and bookings data.

Report the Data in Terms Everyone Understands – We certainly have enough data to work with in this area.  The challenge isn’t having data.  The challenge is publishing the data in a meaningful way for everyone to know what’s going on.  It’s also important to publish the terms in plain English not just marketing terms that others can’t relate to.  The key data points to consider are:

  • Qualified lead volumes
  • Campaign effectiveness
  • Pipeline generated by inbound leads
  • SLAs on leads to sales and sales follow-up
  • Closed business from inbound leads

Publish the data in places where both sales and marketing teams will see them frequently.

I know I’ve been a bit rough on sales and marketing in this blog.  I do believe we are living in a very exciting time when it comes to sales and marketing and the options available to reach customers.  The issues I’m pointing out are organizational and the core responsibility to ensure good alignment between sales and marketing falls to the CEO. 

Make sure you’re not inadvertently pitting these two groups against each other by assuming they can come together and work out the alignment problem.