I would like to discuss with you the building blocks of a successful sales culture. Let us start with values and morals. Then we will move on to thoughts which lead to behavior. Behaviors establish a culture, the backbone of your organization.
Your parents and other influential adults instilled values in you when you were a child. Those values stick with you for your entire life, at least for most people. Values form character. The strength of your character makes or breaks you as a successful professional. You have a mixture of instrumental and terminal values within you. Instrumental values are those values that you hold dear as you progress to a successful goal. With instrumental values, you value the specifics of the process.
Terminal values are end-state values. These are what values you want to achieve as the pay-off for your hard work. A terminal value may be ending the year 150% of goal. How you get there is a function of instrumental values. Terminal values are what you've achieved.
Both instrumental and terminal values are important and you should know where those values lie for you and which of the two motivates you more than the other.
Morals are closely tied to values. Morals are also instilled in you when you are young by your parents, faith-based organizations, friends and your environment. Morals give you the sense of right and wrong in business.
Look around your organization. View your colleagues and their different definitions of right and wrong. Chances are you will see different moral orientations among your peers.
Immoral behavior will not lead to success. It will get you thrown out of your organization. Customers will eventually pick up on immoral behavior, if and when, you demonstrate such. This will lead to short relationships, high churn of relationships and a lousy reputation. With this foreknowledge, do you want to be the slightest bit immoral in the selling business? I think not. Check your behavior.
Attitudes and opinions
Thoughts form attitudes. Attitudes are mental expressions formulated by your thoughts and filtered through your morals and values. These may be good or bad. Good attitudes are desirable by your company, while bad behaviors are unwanted. An attitude becomes an opinion when the feeling behind the attitude breaks into the spoken word or on the printed page. That's when those around you have no doubt about your attitude because you have opined your inner feelings.
Be careful about showing attitude and expressing opinions around buyers and co-workers because the expressions usually don't lead to positive business behavior and, in fact, hinder a positive sales close. Put another way, most people don't care about your opinions, at least most of the time.
Culture is a set of behaviors and organizational rituals played repeatedly.
Do you want to change your organization's culture into a true sales culture? Then change your behaviors and those of your staff to successful sales-oriented behaviors.
I've worked in true sales cultures and wannabe sales cultures. The difference is dramatic. First and foremost, sales cultures produce lots of sales, quickly excise poor performers, and generally have an upbeat atmosphere all the time because so many people are winning. These cultures have a strong focus on sales. Stress can be a bit heavy at times, but that is good, to a point.
If you adopt the philosophy that sales is about making money, a sales culture is something you want.
Sales cultures also have a no-excuses mentality. The culture is naked in the sense that individual sales numbers go on the board each month for all to see. Some win and some lose. A valid excuse may exist for the lack of a sale, but who cares? Go out and sell someone else is the usual mantra in a successful sales culture.
Successful sales cultures breed innovation. Some years ago I worked in a strong sales culture and had a few ideas. Those ideas were received by the owners.
I founded a value-added technology company and its initial line of products that is a big business today and it all started in the Milwaukee area of Wisconsin with my ideas - the products name and all. Others followed and claimed to have invented it, but it all started with an idea and lots of hard work. It became a winner.
The sales culture was both a help and a hindrance to my developing that company. The strong sales culture meant that my new ideas outside the sales paradigm were often met with doubt and even scorn.
The strong sales culture also meant that the innovation would eventually take root because strong sales cultures are inherently innovative.
Healthy cultures are fun places to work. They buzz with positivity and good vibes. Members understand their mission in healthy sales cultures - sell as much as you can and hang on to as much business as you can for as long as you can.
Healthy cultures focus on winning new buyers and satisfying existing customers. They nurture their staff with praise. They don't beat on personal weaknesses because personal weaknesses are part of the person and unlikely to change. Duh! Instead, healthy cultures cultivate managers who work with individuals to find their strengths. They exercise those strengths until the players are competing at an optimum level.
Too much time is wasted trying to improve individual weaknesses. Managers should test individuals before hiring them for innate strengths and weaknesses. If one cannot handle the baggage of a few weaknesses, then don't hire the person. But stop carping on weaknesses that are unlikely to change. Focus on the athleticism of individual talents and natural strengths. Downplay the weaknesses.
The harbingers of a bad sales culture are many. For starters, one can observe that emphasis is placed on customer service instead of new business sales. I worked at one firm where customer service was touted as a differentiator. That's a good thing, but too much of a good thing is bad. That organization's sales people spent most of their time servicing customers and hardly any time selling new business. It was a pitiful sight to see the new business numbers, or lack of them, each month in sales meetings. The owner would get all red in the face and jump up and down, but he was the real culprit for mismanaging his team and failing to create a sales culture. The truth is you need to do both, but more sales are first. Sales builds successful sales careers and expanding, healthy organizations.
Bad sales cultures usually also have a thread that leads to the executive suite. A management that is not engaged or leading the charge for more sales is a strong signal to the troops that sales are not the most important task of the organization. Remember, behaviors are what make a culture. Weak leadership behavior begets a weak culture. Change out the weak leaders and replace them with strong leaders who exhibit a take-names-but-take-no-prisoners attitude toward sales production and you will see behaviors change and a strong sales culture emerge. A strong sales culture is not a place for coasters.
Have you ever seen this organizational blunder? Someone pounds the pavement and earns stripes as a good salesperson. The corner office decides that he or she would make a good sales manager. The pavement pounder gets promoted and turns out to be a lousy leader. Why, everyone asks? You and I have seen this bad decision played out many times. Leadership traits and skills are not the same as good salesperson traits and skills.
A two-edged sword
Organizational culture is a two-edged sword. Cultures are hard to change. Bad cultures are hard to break, but the key is to simply change behaviors.
Unfortunately that simple remedy is a very difficult task. Work at changing behaviors and slowly but surely your culture will change. The trick is to adapt changed behaviors that will lead to a winning sales culture.
On the other hand, once an organization gets into the groove with a successful culture, it is very hard to change winning behaviors. The culture becomes like a machine attracting great people and making lots of sales and profits.
A sales culture is who you are as an organization. It defines your reason for being and your image on the street. Misfits will self-select out and winners will self-select to try and get in. You'll get stronger and turn into a power house.
Managers need to pay attention to the tenets of a sales culture, many of which we discussed in this column. In doing so, you are working on the part of your business that has global impact across your organization, not just the micro pieces of good or bad producers. Resolve to win as an organization.
Make that resolution permeate everything you say and do. Talk about it in team meetings. Talk about it as the most important thing in performance appraisals. Resolve to win. There is no other single message for how to behave in your organization and the sales culture that will follow.
Next month, we'll tackle leadership issues in a sales culture.
Don't be late.
Davidson, CEBS, is the founder of futureofficenetwork.com, MedAnalyzer suite of health care analytics and mysalesrockstar.com. He is also on the faculty at the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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