Culture is King
Author: collin stewart
Like many who land in sales leadership, Eric Reed came to the profession by a circuitous route. He started off his career in sales working for east coast alternative publications and it was there that he began building out sales and marketing teams. These types of publications, at the time, had a reputation for dealing with the subversive, the artistic (the alternative, if you will) – the types of topics big corporate publications shied away from. In turn, these publications attracted a certain type of person and, in Eric’s experience, a certain type of salesperson who wasn’t drawn to the traditional glitz and glamour of USA Today or Gannett or didn’t fit within their rigid molds.
These salespeople, Eric explains on a recent episode of the Predictable Revenue Podcast, were great salespeople. But beyond that, they were creative and, when put together, created a great culture. Eric soon realized that building a strong sales team isn’t about finding people who can close, but about finding people who will build and fit into a strong culture.
Eric took these ideas out of the alternative publications world and, over many years, tested them in various industries, eventually even trying them on for size at USA Today. All of his suspicions were confirmed.
CULTURE IN THE CONTEXT OF SALES
Any close-knit group has a culture. Whether it’s an ethnic group, the population of a city, a family, a dance troupe, or a sports team, there is a culture that exists, and that culture is ever-evolving. The same applies to a group of colleagues. A department or a team at a company is bound by more than just their workplace.
Yet when it comes to workplace culture, we often see it as a fixed structure. Take a sports team, for example. The coach and the manager know that each player has their own unique strengths to be exploited and challenges to be worked on, but together all the players build a great team. We should apply the same logic to a sales culture. There is no one static system you can plug your salespeople into and expect them to perform. That may seem like a smart choice on paper, but, in practice, it is dehumanizing, robotic, and does not encourage a culture of ownership.
A sales culture needs to promote equality and fairness, and also needs to be developed and upheld by all the individuals involved. This means that a sales manager shouldn’t create a sales culture in their own image and work to enforce it. People thrive in the cultures to which they contribute.
CULTURE IS NOT
Culture is not jeans on Fridays, ping pong tables in the break room, and your manager saying “take your kid to that doctor’s appointment even if it’s at 2pm on a Tuesday.” That, Eric maintains, is just being human.
Culture is finding what works for a team and working to avoid what doesn’t. It’s encouraging people to do what excites them, uncovering what motivates them, and encouraging them to do their best work while supporting and rewarding them.
The first pillar of a sales team’s culture should tie into a company’s mission. Do your salespeople know what the company mission is? Do they agree with it? Do they feel like they are a part of it? Is the mission itself relevant, or does it need to be updated?
The next pillar in a sales culture is that of performance. Is your team target attainable? Do your sales reps have the resources they need to hit it? Do they feel ownership of and accountability to this goal?
The above questions seem basic, but even though they may not be exciting they are paramount to building a strong and effective culture.
HIRING FOR CULTURE
Eric believes that people aren’t hiring for culture above all else today because they’re afraid of the risk. They’re afraid of bringing someone on that may take a little more time to ramp up, that may not come with a huge book of business, or that hasn’t exceeded quota 9 times out of 10 for the entirety of their career. But what they don’t see are the risks they are taking by bringing on people who have the skills but do not fit the culture. The salesperson may exceed targets within the first 90 days but then they’re going to leave for another opportunity, and you’ll be back at square one interviewing again. They’re going to cause trouble with your other sales reps which will, at best, hurt your credibility with them and, at worst, make one or more of your best people walk out the door.
Another thing leaders are missing when they don’t hire for culture, is the reward. Hiring for culture translates directly into the customer experience. Good people buy from good people, and when you’ve brought on a sales rep who is a culture fit you can trust that they are selling in a way that aligns with your company culture and bolsters your brand. A culture fit will be loyal to the company and fit in well with the team. Eric finds that if you look back at any spectacular month for sales, behind those numbers you can see a collaborative, reciprocal culture on the team.
This isn’t to say that someone who has the raw skills for sales is a bad person. It’s just to say that skills aren’t everything. Skills can be taught, but culture and values cannot. And if you bring on a person that isn’t a culture fit you’re not only doing a disservice to your team, but to that person as well, because they simply aren’t perfect for the role.
INTERVIEWING FOR CULTURE
To uncover whether or not someone is a culture fit during the interview process, you need to ask probing questions that are tied to the important elements of your culture. Instead of asking them to tell you what numbers they’ve hit over the past year, ask them to tell you about a time that they didn’t get along with a coworker (to uncover teamwork), or to tell you about a time they felt like they were doing a bad job at something (confidence and resilience).
And make sure you take into account what your team values as well. Before you start interviewing to fill a role, go to your team and ask them to rank their top 3 behaviour relating to culture that they would want to see in a colleague. Then, build questions around these values.
This may seem like a tedious task, but if you don’t do this right you’re going to find yourself bringing the wrong people onto the team and hiring over and over again. The questions may feel awkward or intrusive, but they get to the heart of what you’re looking for much better than traditional questions about numbers and growth and excellence ever will.
If you’re not hiring for culture first you’re just temporarily patching a need. You’re just checking a task off your list – and that’s a losing proposition. So build a strong culture for your company and your sales team, and then take stock each week each month to make sure you’re living the culture you’ve set out. If it needs to evolve, let it, but make sure it’s strong. And make sure when you’re bringing somebody onto the team that you’re bringing somebody in who is a culture fit, first and foremost.
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