A recent HBS article confirmed what we all intuitively know: Well-executed quotas and bonus programs are highly effective tools for motivating sales teams. This increase in motivation and resulting sales performance, however, comes at a cost. And while the administrative and financial investments are significant, the biggest price to pay for an overdependence on sales quotas to drive results may be within the culture of the sales team.
Stories like the one at Wells Fargo shine a clear light on the potentially negative power of sales culture. But from these cautionary tales, we need to parse out whether an unrelenting focus on sales performance ruined the sales culture, or if an already toxic sales culture inhibited sales performance. Either way, though, we can see that sales culture is a critical force for an effective sales organization, and shouldn’t take a backseat to quarterly sales targets.
What is the sales culture today? What should it be in the future?
Developing a strong sales culture is more than simply writing down what you’d like it to be. However, without documenting the values and working styles you want the sales team to exhibit, you are likely to miss the mark. As the late Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
Sales culture is established around a series of critical choice points: Should sales leaders control or empower their teams? Are we focused on the short term or long term? Do we value behavior or results? Should we foster a competitive or collaborative environment? Do we want to provide stability or be adaptive? Should we promote risk taking or conservatism? Clear answers to these questions provide clear goals for the team and are an important first step in creating your cultural goals, which become the map to get your sales team knowing where they are going.
How can the sales culture be developed, enhanced or changed?
Sales culture is dynamic, and it is both a development and a consequence; it is the result of many organizational choices and behaviors, across levels and over time. It is not a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of directive that can just be decided, and neither is it a fixed entity that can be locked down after it’s established. Creating an enduring sales culture is a matter of discipline, intention and execution across a few key areas:
- Who we hire and how our competency models and hiring program support our culture
- What directives and expectations we communicate to all of our sales employees
- What values or behaviors are prioritized through regular training and coaching efforts
- What we reward through recognition, incentive programs, promotion or other benefits
- The legends and heroes we hold up, formally or otherwise, as an example of success
- The example of our sales leaders through their demonstration of values and behaviors
So how do you know if the current culture is helping or hurting?
A culture assessment should evaluate the extent to which the sales culture is an enabler in executing the sales strategy, or in advancing or continuously improving the sales and service process. It should focus in on three key forces:
- Are the current values and working styles considered appropriate and acceptable?
- To what degree is there organizational consensus on each value and working style?
- What is the level of intensity exhibited around each value or working style?
For the few sales organizations with high intensity and consensus around appropriate cultural values and behaviors, congratulations. For most organizations, however, there is significant room for improvement, and important decisions to be made regarding where and how to improve.
How does your culture stand up: Is your culture surviving or thriving and driving?