Do Not Underestimate the Power of Your (Anti) Sales Culture

Editor’s note: This is the eleventh post in a new series devoted to helping new sales managers survive and thrive in their new role. For more essential tips and tactics, sign up for our free email course, The First 90 Days: A Sales Manager Survival Course.  

The first dozen years of my sales career I only worked in healthy, pro-sales cultures. My first few sales jobs were in companies where Sales was king and salespeople were treated like royalty. Don’t take that for a second to mean that they were “soft” on sales, lacked intensity, or a results focus. Not at all. In fact, these companies were quite the opposite with a high–performance bent and an obsession for exceeding sales goals. Oh, how I benefitted from and loved working in those environments!

Young and naive, I wasn’t even aware that there were sales organizations and companies with unhealthy, anti-sales biases until I joined a small software startup with the goofiest anti-sales culture imaginable. Senior leadership at this company didn’t quite get that foosball and free soda did not a healthy sales culture make. Little did I know that my exposure to less than ideal cultures was just beginning. It took fifteen years, three employers and over 150 client engagements until I discovered another company with as healthy a pro-sales culture as the place I worked prior to the software company!

Hallmarks of Organizations with Prominent Anti-Sales Cultures

What was I observing and experiencing in company after company? Let me count the ways:

A low view of salespeople and the sales role. Salespeople not only weren’t valued or appreciated, they were treated as second-class citizens. In one company they were categorically denied credit for sales successes while being constantly blamed for sales shortfalls and frustrated customers. In others they were treated like little children incapable of making even the smallest business decisions or judgment calls.

A complete lack of understanding that sales involves emotions and heart-engagement, and that salespeople actually need to make noise to effectively do their jobs! This may be hard to believe, but I’ve been in companies where it was common for the sales team to be regularly told to “keep it down” so the important people (software engineers) could do their jobs. I kid you not.

High-ego self-proclaimed “sales expert” executives deflating salespeople with micromanagement and constant pontificating. This point doesn’t require further editorial comments or specific examples. Does it?

Management jerking around with work rules, compensation plans, quotas, territories, and commission deductions. I’ve seen everything from out-of-control controllers arbitrarily taking commission deductions to executives insisting that salespeople keep “regular” office hours even during days/weeks when they’re traveling extensively including nights and weekends.

Lack of focus on goals and results. You might be surprised at the number of companies where a salesperson’s specific goals are unclear or where sales results/reports are not published/public for all kinds of silly reasons. Oh, there’s plenty of criticism and public complaining about sales performance, just not goal clarity, useful reports and scorecards. This one is definitely a head-scratcher.

Salespeople are treated as “free labor” and given extra non-sales work to do by management. Is there anything more insulting to a forward-deployed salesperson than when he’s viewed as an extra set of hands and free indirect labor to help out managing a program or tackling an operations challenge? What’s crazy is that it is usually the weaker underperforming salesperson recruited to “help” with a non-sales task – the salesperson who can least afford to be diverted and distracted from his primary job. Then at the end of the quarter, management turns around to blame that very salesperson for missing his number while conveniently overlooking the fact that he was occasionally reassigned to play “good corporate citizen.”

The sales manager’s desk is treated as the garbage dump for all customer problems. I worked at a company where there was so little respect the sales manager’s role that customer service reps were actually instructed that all customer issues went to the sales manager. Needless to say, once I figured that CSRs were giving my cell phone number to insignificant little customers, I put a stop to that inane practice. But it spoke volumes about the company’s low view of sales and sales leadership.

I could go on, but aside from the entertainment value, it would not be productive. My hope is that this list has caused many of you to pause and reflect on your own sales culture and its impact on both the health of your sales team and your sales results.

A healthy, pro-sales culture is a wonderful, powerful, and unfortunately, very rare thing. Two years ago during an engagement with an incredible company outside Philadelphia, I discovered The Healthiest Sales Culture I Have Seen. It was so dramatically different than what I typically encounter that I dedicated an entire chapter to describing it in my new book Sales Management. Simplified. This company exhibited every characteristic I consider important to creating and maintaining a healthy sales culture:

  • They were crazed about goals and results with sales reports published everywhere you turned
  • Management met one-on-one regularly with every salesperson to review goals, results, the pipeline and business plans
  • Sales team meetings were fun, energizing, productive and helpful; salespeople walked out better aligned and better equipped to win
  • It felt like the winning locker room of a championship team (chemistry, loud, passion, high expectations, straight talk, confrontational with love)
  • Sales management and salespeople were laser-focused on their primary jobs and given tremendous respect for the value they brought to the organization
  • Victories were celebrated
  • Every salesperson knew beyond a shadow of doubt that management and the company were for their success and had their backs!
  • The compensation plan was brilliant: it drove the desired behaviors and results and management was thrilled when the salespeople won big because it meant the company was winning big
  • Sales was king. Period.

Let me leave you with a few challenge questions:

  • Is your sales culture working for you like the wind at your back? Or does your culture actually work against building the sales team you want and the results you desire?
  • If I confidentially polled members of your sales team, would they more likely to tell me that your company is for them or against them? Is the company and culture helping or hurting performance?
  • What would it take from a priority and time allocation standpoint to shift your sales culture to be more like the ideal environment at my client I described?

More Tips for New Sales Managers

Get caught up by reading any previous posts in the series you may have missed:

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