There are many components to building a successful and thriving sales team. Many startups make the mistake of focusing solely on hiring and growth, but when teams begin to have problems with employee retention, culture is often the leading indicator. A strong sales culture is a crucial component because it is what creates drive and unity.
The culture on your sales team is like a separate subculture within the larger company. Similar to the CEO’s role in fostering the entire startup’s culture, it’s your job to build a strong sales culture that will lay the framework for building your team.
The following is a framework for cultivating the right sales culture for your team:
- Start with a Goal
What do you envision for your company’s future?
For example, if you are selling a low-price-point product that relies on inside sales and phone calls, you need a culture that can create enough excitement, buzz and energy to keep your sales team motivated and focused. The job can become a grind because of the repetitive tone. So keep it interesting!
Start by assessing your overall company goals to develop an idea of what type of culture you would like in your sales organization.
- Decide Which Fundamental Aspects You Value
You must be explicit about the sales culture traits you value. Using your goal, create a list of questions to ask that will help your team reach that goal. This will help create unity and a mutual understanding of what is expected from all parties.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Who do you want to hire?
- What are personality traits that are a must in a sales representative?
- What kind of experience have they had?
Answering questions like these will help develop the tone, voice and ultimately the culture that you will want for your sales team. These key attributes should align with the larger company values but be unique to sales. Many sales teams are sub-organisms and may want an explicit list of attributes to look for when hiring salespeople.
- Fairness vs. Equality
In order to have a healthy and stable sales organization, it is crucial to have a fair system. A general rule of thumb is to shoot for fairness, not equality.
Reminder: Fair is not the same as equal. It’s important to establish a culture of fairness in the motivation behind policies and changes in a sales organization but the results doesn’t necessarily have to mean everything is equal.
For example, one common policy that is often the topic of internal discussion is lead allocation.
A policy of giving all inbound leads to the top sales rep is certainly not fair if all reps are on the same performance plan. However, it may be fair to give all inbound leads to an inbound team and hold them to a much higher bar for performance such that reps are indifferent between the two options. In this case, the lead distribution is still not equal but it may be closer to fair.
- Invest in Career Development Ladders at an Early Stage
Startups are exciting due to the fast rate of growth, and this especially applies to the careers of employees. It’s extremely motivating for a team to see how others in the organization grow, so promote from within. It shows your reps that it is possible to move up the ladder.
Even if the team is small, always try to plan ahead. Think about what your next role will be for a rep and/or if he or she starts as an SDR, where can they grow to next. You should be able to paint a picture for how your reps’ careers will grow within the company. This helps people understand their career path and what’s going to happen while being with the company.
- Keep Your Sales Team Up-To-Date on the Company’s Vision
We cannot express how important this is! It is crucial that the sales department be connected to the product roadmap and how the company plans to evolve. Without this, there is less direction(s) to follow and a disconnect in communication. The reps should always be aware of the changes and constantly be learning about the new products and services. This gives a sense of purpose and less room for mistakes. It will keep employees’ attention, as well as their loyalty and devotion to the company. Not only does this benefit the employee, it benefits the company tremendously.
- Invest Early in Change Management
A weak culture is often the result of communication barriers. Large company and policy changes need to be communicated internally. Some examples are knowing how to explain someone’s job being terminated or why the company will start selling different products and/or services. As a leader, you will need to have a playbook on how to communicate these changes. A playbook builds consistency, helps establish expectations and helps align the executive team.
Use the following questions to create a playbook for how you’ll communicate important internal changes:
- Who gets told first?
- How should the group know?
- What is the right messaging?
- What level of transparency do you show?
Meet with all key stakeholders to establish a consensus around your playbook. Then as issues arise in the future, you have an agreed-upon expectation of how to proceed.
- Creating a Precedence: Direct Conversation
As a manager, it is your job to promote direct communication on a daily basis. Drama is inevitable in the workplace, so the best thing you can do as a manager is to encourage coworkers to talk things out as opposed to you doing intermediary work.
A solid communication ground should be established and agreed upon by all employees. Therefore, problems are resolved with honesty and integrity – without having to get the higher ups involved unless they are truly needed.
- A Balance of Positive and Negative Reinforcement
You want to provide a source of motivation every once in awhile; to create a positive sales culture and have your employees feel appreciated. Some sales organizations will skew to one side, but you need to provide both positive and negative reinforcement to challenge your team.
Try holding contests with cash compensation and awards. Setting goals can drive focus for the employees that are slacking. However, this should not be a daily occurrence. Technically, your employees were hired for their specific responsibilities and need to be held accountable if they’re not meeting their requirements. Perhaps hold contests every quarter or during sporting events such as the week of the Super Bowl or NCAA’s March Madness.
As I already mentioned, many people join startups because they enjoy being part of the company’s growth. With that comes a need for transparency. When a company is not transparent, it causes tension and aggravation.
All headline information should be shared with the team to make them feel more connected. Keep in mind that too much transparency can be damaging and hurt the company. When the entire company knows every single challenge/problem, it can create negative energy. The Founder and/or Sales Leader should be selective on what to share in order to avoid adding extra burden to the employees.
- Hire Emotionally Intelligent People
Every company wants emotional intelligence in their employees, and it’s an especially important part of the sales culture. When hiring new employees, a level of emotional intelligence and maturity creates an easier route to get through the good and bad times.
No matter how strong of a sales rep someone may be, you want someone who is mature enough to handle management changes, as well as other changes within the company. An immature person will hurt your culture no matter how successful his/her sales generation is.
Sales culture takes a long time to build and will constantly be evolving. Even if you have only a few salespeople, it’s important to start early. Investing in a healthy sales culture allows you to recruit and retain your talent and avoid painful events later on.
Jordan Wan is the Founder/CEO of CloserIQ, the sales recruiting platform connecting top sales talent to tech companies. Previously, he was the Head of Analytics at PayPerks, Sales Manager at ZocDoc and Trading Strategist at Bridgewater Associates. Follow the CloserIQ blog for additional insight on sales strategy, talent management and recruiting.