It happened twice that week. I received calls from two very different organizations (one providing surgical devices to hospitals and the other offering IT solutions to SMEs) looking for help building a sales culture. My response was very much the same, “You already have a sales culture.” After a short pause on the telephone, I continued, “It’s either a good one or a bad one!”

Culture is defined as the attitudes and behavior characteristics of a particular group. So your organization already has a sales culture. The question is, how effective is it at helping your team adopt desired selling behaviors and reach their maximum sales potential?

In my work with MNCs with sales teams throughout Asia-Pacific, I’ve noticed some best practices for building high performance sales cultures. By incorporating these 4 important steps, your organization can experience the benefits too:

Common Vision

You start by defining “sales culture”. That means different things to different people. I start facilitation sessions with stakeholders by asking “What would the “perfect” sales culture look like? What would be happening? What would you notice? What would other people notice? How will you know when you’ve got the “perfect” sales culture?”

You’ll have all sorts of definitions. One person might say, the back office and front office staff would work more closely together. Another might say, sales reps would be more confident, optimistic and persistent. Someone else might say they would be excited and passionate about selling. Another might say, customers would notice how driven, enthusiastic and responsive our reps are!

First, agree on a common vision of what you want as an organization and then start working towards how you will achieve it.

Top Management Commitment

Having the commitment of top management will greatly increase the likelihood of buy-in and implementation throughout the organization. This cannot be driven by Human Resources or Learning and Development alone. With a recent client, I worked directly with the Regional Director and his senior team (Business Development Director, Country Director and Human Resource Director) to understand their definition of the “perfect” sales culture.

We then had a context-setting conference call, followed by a 2-day strategic session with all Country Directors and Division Mangers to come up with a common definition of “sales culture” and get their input on how we could achieve it. With transparency across all levels, this programme can now be rolled out to the sales teams.

Dedicate the Resources

Building the “perfect” sales culture takes time and resources. It takes more than sending your team for sales training once a year. How will it be successful if your team returns to an environment that doesn’t support what they’ve learned? Their day-to-day environment must support their learning, so that their new behaviors become habits. These new behaviors must become habits in order for sales to improve. Despite that, what do most leaders do when sales don’t improve after training? Send the team for more training! So what can you do to ensure your team consistently adopts desired selling behaviors?

Be willing to invest in coaching (internal and external), on-the-job mentoring, additional training, train-the-trainer, motivational talks, team meetings, videos, webinars, mobile templates, sales tip cards, etc. If you don’t have the budget now, start planning to ensure you’ll have the financial resources you’ll need in the next FY to support this programme.

Incorporate Appropriate Metrics

The purpose of having metrics is to have clarity on the effectiveness building your “perfect” sales culture. What would be the first small signs that it’s working? How will you know? The best way to do that is to incorporate quantitative and qualitative criteria.

Quantitative criteria includes: sales volume in dollars or units, growth over previous years, new accounts, and profitability. Qualitative criteria includes: attitude, product knowledge, communication skills, personal appearance, customer feedback, selling skills, and personal initiative. When assessing the performance of your sales team, be sure to differentiate between aptitude and attitude. When in doubt, train a poor aptitude and fire a bad attitude.

When I’m speaking with Directors and Sales Managers within SMEs and MNCs, I remind them that “walking the talk” will greatly increase the likelihood of buy-in and implementation throughout the organization. I’ve also noticed that at times, this “perfect” sales culture already happens for them, at least a little bit. I’m always curious about what they did to make that happen. Ask yourself, what’s already going well? What is the next small step you could take? What would it take to get you closer to building the “perfect” sales culture?

Article originally appeared in The Straits Times 20 June 2014

About Tom Abbott

Tom Abbott is the author of 'The SOHO Solution' and 'Social Selling'. Sales leaders engage Tom for his proven solutions to building high performance sales teams that exceed targets and for motivational keynotes that energise their audiences.

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