Every sales team has a culture. Great ones are rare. They take a tremendous amount of work to establish and maintain. But most companies and sales leaders don’t plan to have a great one. Why?

Sales teams can make the number one year with a lousy sales culture. They land the big deal or rely on a great product. But a lousy sales culture will actually prevent sales from happening. Consistent growth long-term requires a healthy, vibrant company and sales culture. Understanding where yours is and what to do about it is essential for maximizing growth in the long run.

What are the signs of a terrible sales culture?  Look for:

  • High sales rep turnover
  • Blaming the salespeople and not the cultural problems
  • High cost of sales
  • Decreasing the average deal size
  • Throwing your peers and leaders under the bus
  • Bad gossip
  • Afraid to bring up the hard conversations in meetings or with your boss
  • Little respect for a team or team leaders
  • Coming down on people for failing 
  • Continuously poor deal qualification, taking any deal that comes along

Sales leaders are directly responsible for creating and maintaining an excellent sales culture. Yet most don’t know how to assess and change one. 

What is a sales culture?

A sales culture encompasses specific beliefs and behaviors that become a motivator of success. It affects all salespeople, support and operations, and it revolutionizes the organization’s ability to connect. 

Culture is established over time. It evolves from a mix of past sales styles and current salespeople. They also evolve from processes that do or don’t exist.  The best ones have great results with low turnover and solid sales growth.  Below average have exactly the opposite.

Here are the fundamentals that establish a great sales culture:

Celebration of success and failure 

Celebrating success is easy.  Do you actually celebrate failure?  This is everyone admitting they screwed up.  And discussing this openly so everyone can learn.  It takes courage and resolve to publicly admit your mistake. It’s a learning experience.

Established trust throughout

Can I trust you?  Do you have my best interests in mind? This is the core of creating a trusting culture. We all have tough times in our sales careers.  It is at the times when we struggle that we need trust the most.

Healthy competition

This really means: “I am going to beat you.  But I am also going to help you beat me.” The best want to compete with the best.  Helping your peers actually pushes you to be better.  This one sales culture fundamental drives out complacency.

Continuous improvement

Complacency is the opposite of success.  You are never standing still.  Either you are getting ahead or falling behind. Great cultures push and support people to get ahead.

Being agile

Great cultures are super quick with change.  They notice how the customer is behaving and make adjustments immediately. Reacting and updating internal processes quickly is at their core.  Flexibility is king.

Having fun

The greatest sales cultures in the world are fun places to work.  Part of having fun in your job is getting along and working well with your coworkers. Strong sales teams communicate often and enjoy working together.

Value staff opinions and contributions

If your staff believes that they matter, that their opinions matter, the company soars. People are not just productivity units; the company’s future is as secure as people are with working together.

  1. Ask yourself as CRO/VP Sales, ‘If I make this decision without sales team/employees, could this hurt the culture more than it helps?’ 
  2. Assessing if you have these Sales Culture fundamentals is crucial to improvement.  You cannot fix the culture without knowing what to address.  And this takes time-time to build and develop.
  3. Be more vulnerable with your staff, tell them you want to change things, then ask, ‘How do we do this together?’ Leaders can’t guess what’s important to employees; they have to give them ways to communicate, contribute and feel part of the solution. Leaders need to get out of their comfort zone, the more personal you can be in any situation while being professional, that’s going to help build a solid culture.
  4. Most companies fail or languish because of self-inflicted wounds, not external circumstances. Leaders should be fundamentally challenging their business and Go-To-Market models. Without a clear set of shared priorities, strong company culture will not take root. 

How can you improve your sales culture? 

Understand your unique sales culture  

Complete a formal assessment.  This is not a ‘go by the gut’ type of thing. If needed, engage an outside consultant or firm to help.

Identify the ‘Culture Killers’  

These are people, practices, and moods that are creating a negative environment.  

Make continuous improvements to your company and its culture

It sounds odd, but you cannot change your sales culture without deliberately planning for it. Make it public about what you are doing. 

Be patient  

This is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  Once you think you are done, it starts all over again. 

Hire a fractional sales executive

Great and poor sale cultures feed upon themselves.  Great ones are self-serving. If you’re struggling to establish a positive and motivating sales culture, consider hiring a fractional sales executive for innovative solutions to the issues that are holding your company back.

As a fractional VP of Sales, James Bellew works with small to medium-sized business owners to build or rebuild their sales organizations. That includes sales strategy, processes, building, establishing, and aligning sales teams and their sales tools to achieve solid sales improvement.