Focus: The importance of building the right sales culture

Key Points:

Richard Branson may have said it best: “Hiring the right people takes time, the right questions, and a healthy dose of curiosity.” During my time as a sales leader, I have learned that building a successful sales team depends entirely on building the right sales team.  For each organization I have been a part of, the definition of “right” has been a bit hard to nail down, but the foundation has always been the same – build the right culture with the right people in the right place and give them a framework for accountability.

Build the Right Culture. Building the right culture begins with understanding the key characteristics that define it and how best to consistently communicate its importance. You might have the best product with the best support in the best marketplace, but if you don’t have a sales culture that defines how people react and act towards each other, and externally towards your prospects, sales will never reach its full potential. Sales people need vision and it’s the job of a leader to help that vision come alive. When we interview for the sales organization, the first thing we gauge is whether or not this person is going to be the right culture fit; if they aren’t, no amount of performance will offset the potential risk to our culture. Personally, I’d recommend building a sales culture of collaboration, with the right dose of competition, and fun. I want my team to be fanatic about responding to any request, question or otherwise that stems from their colleagues or prospects.

Hire the Right People for the Right Role. If you know your culture – live it, breath it – you know the type of people to hire. However, to make those people and your team successful, you need to understand where they can add the most value and where they fit best. Equally as important as having a clear understanding of the specific responsibilities of each role within your team is the ability to understand who best can master those responsibilities. In my experience, I have found that when you have a clear understanding of responsibilities within the team, you are building the foundation for accountability. Depending on your go-to-market strategy – selling through partners, selling directly to your customer – you need to have the right people in the right place and take immediate action when you recognize gaps, or possibly the wrong fit.

Hold People Accountable. When you know your culture, know the type of people you need on your team and where those people fit best and add the most value, you’ve already built a strong foundation for a sense of accountability. Accountability should be part of the culture, it needs to be defined and properly communicated to your team. For my current team, one of the key characteristics of being an accountable organization is being a learning organization. Everyone can gain knowledge from another in some way every day. Encourage people to ask questions, to use each team member as a resource, and to never perceive any question as “stupid.”

In addition, we hold our team accountable to very clearly defined metrics. We love metrics. As a leader, these help me define where and what we need change, where we’re trending towards, and what are the next actions that we need to take to grow faster.

Building the right sales team takes time. Most importantly, it takes an investment from every member of the organization. It also takes a fundamental understanding that each team is unique and what’s a best practice in one may not necessarily work for the other. Understand what works best for your team rather than what’s worked best for everyone else and most importantly, define it and articulate it clearly.