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.