Whether you are new to sales (or indeed business in general) or a seasoned veteran, you will surely have heard the term ‘sales culture’ being bandied about.
Do you know what ‘sales culture’ is though, what it means and how getting it right can have a massive impact on your bottom line?
Does the term make you cringe?
Does it sound like one of those high level ‘management speak’ phrases which can’t possibly be applied to your business?
Well, read on – we’re going to explain how getting YOUR sales culture right is vital to the long-term sustainability of YOUR business
Could your business survive without an ongoing inwards income stream?
Unless you are multi-millionaire self-funding some kind of ‘vanity’ business, the answer is surely going to be NO.
How do you achieve an income?
By producing goods and or services that consumers (including other businesses) want to BUY.
In other words, your business needs to SELL its goods/services.
Fact. All businesses have to SELL to survive.
Why then are sales and selling often regarded as an ‘add on’ to a business operation?
Could it be because ‘sales’ and by association ‘sales people’ have, rightly or wrongly, been categorised as being somewhat unsavoury, a bit aggressive, manipulative – even downright deceitful?
Ask someone what springs to mind when hearing the word ‘sales’ and often the used car salesman or pushy double glazing sales person is the first thing they will mention.
How then do you, and by extension, your business rise above these perceptions and ensure you are able to create and maintain an effective sales operation?
By developing, nurturing and maintaining a SALES CULTURE that pervades EVERY area of your business.
It doesn’t matter if a business is a multinational operation or an SME, if sales and the sales force are not seen as an essential, and more importantly, INTEGRAL part of the organisation then the business will not reach its full potential.
Does that statement shock you?
It shouldn’t, because at the most basic level, if your staff do not feel that they are all working towards a common goal – namely increasing income (aka sales) – then there will always be discord and inter-departmental rivalry.
For example: your sales team is doing really well, they are exceeding all their targets – business is booming. BUT the accounts team are not keeping up with the increased need to invoice/credit check/credit control and therefore the money is not coming into your bank accounts. Result – your sales team are disillusioned because they can’t see the rewards for their successes.
In another scenario, the sales team are again performing well BUT production is slow to scale up to reach demand.
Or how about, the purchasing team have not been informed of the latest sales drive and therefore have not placed the necessary supply orders that will be required to increase production…
And so it goes on…the crux of it is that every person within an organisation needs to be putting sales at the top of their agenda – regardless of whether they are part of the sales team itself. It’s only by doing that, by creating a cohesion between your different teams, that you will be able to maximise your sales.
In a nutshell then, sales culture may be described as “Putting sales at the heart of all your business processes”.
That may be a little simplistic, but you get the gist!
What’s Your Sales Culture?
Stand back for a moment and take a good long look at your business (this is something you should be doing on a regular basis).
Be objective, try to see things as if you were an outsider looking in. Consider it a full 360° review of your operations.
What’s your turnover (sales)? Are the figures consistent month on month, or do they fluctuate? Are there any external reasons for fluctuations, for example seasonality or are the differences solely attributable to the success (or otherwise) of your sales team?
How do your various teams or departments interact? Is there rivalry (or worse) between different sectors within your business? Are the accounts team seen as ‘blockers’ by the sales force or the sales team seen as being ‘pushy’ or ‘arrogant’ by the rest of the company?
Look also at your own behaviours, your own values and beliefs. Do you treat departments differently – love sales but feel you have nothing in common with accounts (or vice versa).
Examining your business this way should help to determine not only what sort of sales culture you currently have but also what your overall company culture is. You may be surprised at some of the things you discover!
There is a school of thought that businesses should be driven from the bottom upwards, but whilst engaging everyone within a company is absolutely vital, at the end of the day the reality is it’s the leadership team that really shapes culture and ethos. In other words, you need to drive culture change from the top down.
Let’s look at some of the things you may have uncovered in a review:
Staff turnover is high
No stability in your teams – performance is low
Teams only looking out for themselves, so little to no
Unmotivated or unrewarded sales team
Inconsistent sales figures
Poor planning and inter-department information
No joined up thinking, teams working in isolation
ALL of the above are going to impact your bottom line – your profit, so, what can you do?
Create the Right Sales Culture
Richard Branson is quoted as saying, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.
This sort of approach is one that all business should look at adopting – it demonstrates a corporate culture that places employees as the key assets.
You can link this approach directly to creating a positive and enabling sales culture as your staff need to be totally committed to creating and maintaining a sales focussed business. If they don’t feel valued as an employee, how can you expect them to commit to the business?
Every person within your organisation (be that 2 or 222 of them) has to understand and embrace the fact that without sales there is no business. Put that in an entirely person-centred sentence – “Without sales you will have no job”. Such a bold statement of reality tends to have a way of focussing people attention!
Everyone, from the most junior staff member right up to the board, need to understand the importance of sales, how your sales process works and what their role is in ensuring consistently high sales levels.
There is absolutely no point in giving your sales teams targets if they have no support from the rest of the business.
Equally, there is no point rewarding your sales teams for hitting their targets whilst not also rewarding the support teams who help them get there.
Yes, your business has to be driven by your sales teams as they are the ones ‘bringing in the cash’ but, just as a car won’t work without fuel, neither can your sales people operate in isolation.
Isolating your sales people, treating them differently, setting them apart from everyone else, simply serves to alienate them from the rest of your workforce.
When creating sales strategies, targets etc ensure that the other departments are included in the process – or, at the very least kept informed. Do not assume that your head of sales will communicate with the heads of marketing, production, distribution (or whatever). Nor that the heads of relevant departments will fully inform their own team members of the latest updates.
Aligning your entire business operation towards sales has been shown to result in a higher probability of sales closures. According to a 2014 study by Math Marketing, organisations that are aligned have a 67% higher probability that marketing-generated leads will close. Yet research by Bizible shows that over 30% of marketers feel that they are not aligned with their sales team.
Translating these stats into bottom line results shows that tightly aligned sales and marketing operations achieved 24% faster three year revenue growth, and 27% faster three-year profit growth. (Sirius Decisions). Isn’t that something worth aiming for?
Information is key to a company’s success but all too often you find managers holding onto things because they feel it gives them an edge over a colleague. Competition can be a useful tool, particularly within a sales environment but it can be at the expense of collaboration.
Rather than separate pockets of information residing at departmental level, instigate company wide “all hands” meetings where everyone can have their say and you can share strategy. If your organisation is too large to do this, have representation from each level (and ensure the most junior are included…a fresh perspective can be extremely useful and younger staff are often able to see things in a totally different way).
Try making these meetings standing ones – it tends to keep them brief and it also negates the hierarchy situation that happens when seated around a table.
Instead of imposing ideas on your people ask for input. Is there something the accounts team do that drives your sales team mad? Does the marketing team make promises that neither the sales team nor production can fulfil? Perhaps a junior employee has spotted something that can be improved, a system that may have been in place for ages, but they spot a way to make it better?
Look at your existing staff roster, your terms and conditions and remuneration but also look at how you can improve them – don’t assume that ‘good rates of pay’ are the be all and end all. Today’s workforce (particularly millennials) often have a different approach to their working life…work life balance is not something you hear much of in a sales environment but it should be factored in to your recruitment strategy.
If your staff turnover is high find out why and fix it. Are people driven away by unrealistic expectations that result in burnout? Are your packages not reflective of your industry in general? Are your managers themselves the problem?
Your aim is to create the kind of work place that your staff want to come to and want to stay with. Create a place where your people feel valued, listened to and really believe that their contribution matters – whatever their role is.
Creating the right sales culture for your business may mean that you do have to consider letting people go…not an easy decision. However, as you undertake a companywide review and begin to implement new collaborative practices it will very quickly become apparent if there are any sticking points (or rather resistant people). To be honest such individuals may begin to feel so out of place in a revised culture (particularly if they had been ‘getting away’ with behaviours which are contra to your new culture) that they may decide to move on without prompting.
You will by now have realised that creating the kind of sales culture that will not only drive your sales team to excellence but will also motivate your entire workforce is going to be neither easy NOR quick.
It will however be worth it.
‘Sales culture’, ‘company culture’, ‘values and ethos’ may all sound like soundbites, or HR driven niceties…THEY AREN’T.
The overall culture present within your organisation will ultimately determine how successful your business is.
The sales culture will determine the volume and consistency of sales (and thus profit) you achieve.
A company could survive, at least for a while, with a toxic culture but it would be at the expense of its workforce. Only the thick skinned or ruthless sales teams would remain whilst the rest of the staff peel away and take up roles with companies with more agreeable cultures…possibly even your competitors.
Review your business operations
Identify your pain points and seek to address them
Involve your entire workforce – not just sales
Communicate across the board
Lead from the top – leaders drive culture, teams maintain it
Ensure inter-departmental collaboration becomes the norm
Employ people willing to accept, appreciate and abide by your company and sales cultures
Find a way to move on those that can’t accept your culture
Remember the phrase: “What if I train them and they leave? …What if you don’t and they stay?!”
“PUT SALES AT THE HEART OF ALL YOUR BUSINESS PROCESSES”.
This is the first in a series of article; look out for the next one which will explore the issue of Sales Leadership.