Sales teams can often feel like their own little island, with a culture unique to themselves. This can be quite a positive thing at times; after all, it doesn’t make sense to have a sales team that functions in the same way as a team of accountants or maintenance technicians.
On the other hand, if sales teams are left on their own to develop their culture without deliberate thought, things can often devolve into hypercompetitiveness, burnout, and a revolving door of salespeople who join the team only to leave for greener pastures shortly thereafter.
For this reason, it’s worth thinking about what makes a good sales culture and how managers can shape it in a productive way.
Create structures for effective collaboration.
Sales teams are often motivated by competition, and this can be effective at encouraging salespeople to take risks, get creative, and go the extra mile. On the other hand, too much competition can lead to a Lord of the Flies situation where best practices are hoarded and failures result in schadenfreude instead of support. Collaborative structures that can help combat excess competitiveness on a sales team can include:
Opportunities to share areas of expertise within the team
Collaborative development of goals and strategies
Make room for growth.
While competitiveness can be grueling, career stagnation leads to boredom and lack of drive. Make sure that you’re always encouraging your salespeople (and especially your high performers) to achieve their own career goals in addition to the goals of the team and the company.
Talking with them, both formally and in informal settings, about their hopes for advancement will be key in this area. But you may also want to consider:
Title and compensation bumps
Opportunity to train, coach, mentor, or manage other salespeople
Meaningful training and professional development
Assistance with tuition for those who wish to further their education
And when in doubt, ask. Maybe growth for one salesperson means the opportunity to shape strategy or work with a new product, while for another it means the ability to work remotely while living abroad for a year to become fluent in another language. If you assume that everyone’s career will follow a similar path, you’ll end up losing anyone who isn’t interested in taking that particular route.
Embrace high standards and the failure that comes with them.
If all of your salespeople are meeting 100% of their goals, there’s an excellent chance your goals are too easy. On the other hand, if you’re punishing people for failure to be perfect, you’re missing out on the creativity, innovation, and learning that only comes with risking failure.
A salesperson that hit 70% of their goal one month and 130% the next isn’t worth the same as one who hit 100% both times. They’re worth more, because now they know what works much better than “perfect”, and some pitfalls to avoid low-results months to boot.
This isn’t to say that goals should be impossible, or that you should reward employees who are inconsistent in their conscientiousness or effort. Rather, create a culture where reflecting on and learning from mistakes becomes the norm, rather than simply repeating whatever works well enough to get that A+.
Hire the right people.
None of this will have any impact, though, unless you hire the right people. People who come into your sales team with an ego-driven attitude, poor interpersonal skills, or an inability to take risks or make mistakes will inevitably sour even the most carefully cultivated team. Want to delve deeper into the process of hiring the right salespeople for your team? Download The Employer's Guide to Hiring Salespeople to learn more.