4 Ways Sales Leaders Can Make or Break the Company Sales Culture

Lou Gerstner, retired CEO of IBM once said, “Fixing culture is the most critical – and the most difficult – part of a corporate transformation.”

Uncovering your sales organization’s most effective sales culture may seem like a daunting task, but it can be achieved with just a few thoughtful shifts in behavior. The work of cultural change is less about doing different things and more about doing things differently. 

And there’s no person more influential to the health of a sales culture than the sales leader—on a daily basis their behaviors are either actively building a healthy sales culture, or unknowingly degrading it. Here are 4 ways the sales leader can make or break the company sales culture. 

They can align their team with the company purpose OR unwillingly create a disconnect 

Research from the Harvard Business Review indicates that high-performing sales cultures are characterized by an ability to align and gain clarity on vision, strategy, and shared employee behavior. 

It’s important that everyone has a clear understanding of the organization’s mission or purpose, but hearing it once during a speech from the CEO (no matter how motivating) will not instill it into the attitudes and behaviors of every employee—that’s up to the manager. Front-line sales managers should constantly be reminding their team of the organizational purpose and strategy, both in their words and their actions. 

And since direct supervisors have the greatest influence on the way a rep views company leadership (a fact supported by Gallup research), it’s critical for them to demonstrate their support of the strategy and direction. That solidarity will transfer to the sales team—increasing alignment and getting everyone working together towards the same goal. 

They can model ideal behaviors OR let a culture happen on its own 

Culture is going to happen whether you are intentional about it or not. But something as entrenched as culture won’t be transformed just by telling a team to change their behaviors—employees need to see people they look up to behaving in the new way. 

To establish the tone for the sales culture, a sales leader must meaningfully set a positive example through their own behavior. Hypocrisy sends the wrong message, so it’s crucial to make choices that are in alignment with what you’re asking of your team. Make the same bold moves you’re asking them to make—for instance, invite the sales team to listen in while you make a call to the president of a prospective company. You can spend all day trying to enforce new behaviors, but the most effective way to get results is to show someone what you expect to be done.

They can enable with coaching OR distract with lagging metric inspection

While it’s important to forecast performance as accurately as possible, time spent inspecting lagging indicators rarely if ever helps improve sales. Focusing too heavily on these “rear view” metrics not only eats into the sales team’s day, it represents lost opportunity for the guidance and coaching that actually drives results.

Sales leaders who are intentionally building a healthy sales culture spend less time analyzing results, and more time enabling their team by coaching to optimal behaviors. By hardwiring sales meetings and one-to-one discussions with questions that measure leading action (How many new, self-generated opportunities have we identified this week within key market segments? How many opportunities have moved from one stage to the next in the pipeline?), sales managers can influence the right activity to improve performance. 

They can hire and retain top performers OR spend time finding replacements

Gallup has found that when top producers leave companies, 70% of the time it’s because of a breakdown in their relationship with their direct supervisor. High sales turnover weakens a sales culture and ties up sales managers’ valuable time—time that could otherwise be spent improving the performance of their team. 

Sales managers that contribute to high-performing sales cultures prioritize the hiring process and devote time and energy into selecting the right fit for their open positions. By carefully guarding the quality of talent they bring onto their teams and adapting their coaching approach to suit each individual, sales managers can build a loyal, performance-driven tribe and reserve their time for the activities that move the sales needle the most. 

Published on March 17, 2016

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