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How to Build a Positive Sales Culture
Written by: Victoria Yu
Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on October 11, 2023
How to Build a Positive Sales Culture
If you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross, you know what a toxic sales culture can be like: stressful, degrading, and cutthroat. And just like in Glengarry Glen Ross, a salesperson pushed to their mental limits is likely to crack, leading to burnout (or criminal activity in the name of making a sale).
A real-life sales department should never look like the movies. Instead, sales leaders and managers should work to build a positive sales culture that uplifts and supports salespeople, enabling them to work to their full potential.
But what’s a healthy amount of competition or feedback? How can you be supportive without being a pushover? To help you answer these questions and make the most of your sales team in the long run, this guide will teach you all the tips you need to build a positive and successful sales culture.
A sales culture is the overall workplace environment of your sales department, guided by the manager’s actions and policies.
A positive sales culture uplifts employees and enables them to work to their fullest ability, so companies would be wise to develop a healthy sales culture.
Eight tips for developing an effective sales culture are to share a vision, base it off your company culture, use a salary-based compensation plan, have a fair lead distribution system, host competitions, avoid micromanagement, offer learning and development opportunities, and praise employees.
Why Is a Positive Sales Culture Important?
A sales culture is like a microcosm of your company culture, specific to your sales department. It’s a short description of your overall workplace environment, describing the attitudes, behaviors, and habits are accepted, as well as the processes and procedures that encourage or discourage those traits and set morale and motivation.
A salesperson’s effectiveness is more than just their own personal sales acumen: when faced with challenges, the company’s sales environment and culture decide whether a salesperson sinks or swims. Sales culture is a support network and safety net all in one.
Obviously, companies want to encourage their salespeople to make as many sales as possible. But a stressful, abusive, results-oriented sales culture is unsustainable, quickly leading to employee burnout and high turnover rates.
Instead, companies should focus on building a positive sales culture that emotionally uplifts employees and allows them to bring their best to the workplace, boosting the morale and performance of the whole team.
Eight Tips for Building a Positive Sales Culture
Not only does a positive sales culture promote a happier and more productive sales team, but it can also make your team easier to manage. With those benefits in mind, here are eight tips and techniques you can implement in your sales department to begin building a winning sales culture.
1. Share a Vision
The first step is to share a vision, or a statement about your company and sales department’s dreams and purpose. Having a common goal and set of company values is one of the defining features of a group culture, as it gives all of your employees something to work together to achieve.
Your sales vision can be either a short-term goal, like “be the most successful sales team in the company,” or a long-term goal, such as “develop a reputation for excellent customer service.” In any case, be sure to make it achievable and to commend sales reps who work towards the goal, instilling the vision into the team.
Your sales vision can act as both a motivator and a guiding beacon. Employees will work harder to achieve the vision, rather than simply working for the sake of a paycheck. Then, if a sales rep is unsure what to do in a situation, they can use your sales vision as a motto to know what’s important to your company.
2. Use Your Company Culture as a Springboard
As we said before, your sales culture is a miniature version of your company culture, specifically tailored to the activities and personnel in the sales department. That means that your company culture should be the starting point as you begin to craft your sales culture.
For example, IBM’s three core beliefs are “respect for the individual, superlative customer service, and the pursuit of excellence in all tasks.” If you were a sales leader at IBM, you would then base your sales culture around respecting and trusting your sales reps’ individual judgment, putting the customer above all else, and encouraging quality over quantity of sales.
If your sales and company cultures are divorced from one another, this will cause cognitive dissonance in your employees, confusing them as to which set of principles they should follow. Your company’s brand as an employer will also take a hit as employees denounce you for falsely advertising your workplace culture.
3. Detach Compensation From Sales Figures
Your sales compensation plan describes the schema you use to pay your salespeople. Unlike salaried positions, sales reps are usually paid according to how many sales they make using a commission plan.
Financially speaking, a commission-only payment structure (a sales rep doesn’t get paid if they don’t make any sales) is the most logical: if the rep doesn’t bring in any revenue, they don’t incur any expense.
However, this can cause a major mental strain on your sales employees, as it means the rep can’t support themself or their families if they don’t close any sales. As a result, sales reps might prioritize closing sales above all else, possibly going as far as lying, cheating, and stealing leads to get more money and keep their job — i.e., going full Glengarry Glen Ross.
While it’s true that commission-based compensation plans encourage reps to work harder and close more sales, the constant mental stress of commission-only compensation will turn your workplace into a toxic cesspool of negativity.
Instead, we’d recommend sales leaders include a salary-based component to salespeople’s compensation structures, providing a fixed amount of money that can then be augmented by bonuses from commissions. Approximately half of all sales organizations use a base salary plus commission model, so the plan has been proven to be effective.
With a salary-based component to their wages, your sales representatives will be much more relaxed, as they know they’ll get paid even if they spend some time on other tasks. This means they’re more likely to help with non-selling tasks around the department, strike up a conversation with their coworkers, and train newer sales reps. All in all, salary-plus-commission plans create a much more supportive environment for your employees.
4. Have a Fair Lead Distribution System
If your business model relies on one-on-one potential customer and sales rep interactions to drive sales, you likely have some method of assigning incoming leads to available sales reps, called lead distribution.
If one sales rep or team gets all the best leads, it could breed resentment between your salespeople and against you – especially if you have a commission-based compensation plan, as mentioned above. THat’s why it’s important to have an equitable lead distribution system to ensure fairness.
There are plenty of different lead distribution methods that either let sales reps choose their own leads or have their leads assigned to them through some sort of matching process. Whichever method you choose, it’s your responsibility as a sales manager or leader to select a lead distribution model that ensures that all reps are getting their fair share of work.
You should also sit down with your sales team and explain why you chose the lead distribution model you chose, answering any questions and getting the team’s buy-in to prevent any negative feelings from brewing.
5. Host Friendly Competitions
A good way to keep things lively in your sales department is by hosting small competitions between your sales reps, such as by offering small bonuses to the most-closing reps or teams who bring in the most revenue per period. Opportunities for healthy competition spice things up in your employees’ day-to-day lives, contributing to a healthy sales culture.
The trick to keeping competitions friendly and fun is to change things up every time. If the grading criteria are the same every time, then naturally, the same people or teams will win time and time again, disenchanting the rest of the participants. Instead, you could change team compositions or base the competition around a different part of the sales cycle every month.
Rather than pitting your employees against each other, you could even turn their competitive spirits inward and base the competition on personal improvement instead, such as who has the largest growth percentage between selling periods.
6. Don’t Micromanage
If you’ve ever had a stifling parent or boss, you know exactly how soul-crushing micromanagement can be. Micromanaging is when an employer or manager attempts to control every little aspect of an employee’s work, such as by giving too-detailed instructions, constantly monitoring employees, and taking away an employee’s decision-making powers.
Though managers might think they know the best way to get a task done, this rationale is harmful on two fronts. First, managers often lack crucial or implicit information that’s only apparent to a worker in the field, meaning they don’t have all the information needed to make the right decision on a sale.
Next, by taking on all of the decision-making and problem-solving themselves, managers send a message that they don’t trust their employees to make decisions and solve problems by themselves, belittling them and implicitly calling them incompetent. As such, 70% of employees say that micromanagement decreases their morale, and 55% say that it hurts productivity, according to LinkesaliedIn.
Part of developing a high-performance sales culture is trusting employees to manage themselves and only looking into their results rather than their minute activities. Not only will this create a more trusting work environment for your employees, but once they learn to let go, sales managers will also feel more relaxed as they don’t have to deal with so many details.
7. Offer Learning and Development
Nine out of ten (91%) employees say that it’s important for managers to inspire learning and inspiration. Thus, managers should give employees the enrichment they need by providing learning and development opportunities, such as sales coaching, training seminars, and courses and certifications stipends.
These programs help employees develop their hard and soft skills, improving their current productivity and chances of career development. Any employee would be grateful for the chance to advance and update their skillset!
Additionally, it’s important that your sales team learns new skills to keep up with new trends in the constantly-changing economy and industry. As such, promoting constant learning and development as part of your sales culture not only keeps your salesforce happy but agile as well.
8. Offer Praise
Finally, recognize your employee’s achievements by offering positive feedback and compliments when they meet a goal, share an insightful comment, or perform better than usual. On top of offering praise to single employees, you could also offer compliments on a team-based performance basis. This lets employees know they’re doing the right thing and inspires them to keep up the good work.
A pro tip when giving performance reviews or feedback is always give the criticism first, and end the conversation with praise and positive feedback. This ends the conversation on a high note, letting the employee walk away in a more positive mood.
As you praise employees, other employees will also follow their example in hopes of being praised, as well, creating a positive feedback loop and a high-performing sales culture.
To any sales organization, your sales culture is tantamount to your company culture itself, guiding your sales employees’ attitudes and actions within the sales team and with customers. That’s why it’s wise for companies to foster a positive and optimistic sales culture, encouraging salespeople to find deeper value in their everyday tasks.By following these eight tips to create an effective sales culture, you can make both employees and customers happy, ensuring your company’s long-term success.
When building a healthy sales culture, you should avoid threats: don’t threaten to dock people’s pay or fire them. There are more constructive ways to push employees to work harder than by threatening them. Instead, you should use positive reinforcement and incentives to encourage employees to do their best.
A lot of the tips and techniques we mentioned for building a positive sales culture can’t be implemented by the sales leader alone: things such as compensation plans, performance reviews, and learning and development are actually the jurisdiction of the Human Resources (HR) department. Thus, sales leaders must work together with HR managers to build a great sales culture.
Additionally, HR provides a safe place for sales employees to express grievances with their workplace environment or supervisor, mitigating workplace conflict and holding sales leaders accountable for their actions. If a company doesn’t have an HR department, a sales leader setting the sales culture all alone is likely to become a dictator instead!
A good measure of your sales culture’s effectiveness is your turnover rate or attrition rate. Unhappy employees will likely quit sooner rather than later, so if you notice that employees are leaving faster than the industry average, you may have an issue with the company culture on your hands.
A common mistake growing companies make is not adapting their company and sales culture as their business grows larger and larger. While a close-knit “business as a family” culture might be acceptable for a small team of four people, as your sales department grows to 100 salespeople, it becomes unfeasible to maintain close personal relationships with every employee.
Thus, as your business hires more employees and managers, it’s best to codify procedures that ensure a positive sales culture rather than relying on personal connections and positive emotions. For example, while a small sales team could simply give praise whenever a rep deserves it, a larger sales department would need concrete and objective performance reviews because managers can no longer track each rep’s work in detail at all times. In other words, as the company grows, there should be less subjectivity in sales management.
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