For as long as I can remember, clients of The Center for Sales Strategy have been saying that one of the great benefits they derive from working with us is a sales culture, a culture that provides the foundation for success in their organization. We love hearing that compliment, but just what does it mean? What is a company culture, anyway? And why is it important?
According to Wikipedia, “Organizational culture is the behavior of humans within an organization and the meaning that people attach to those behaviors.” Author F. John Reh says it in fewer words: “Company culture is the shared values and practices of the company's employees.” It’s not complex or difficult to understand. The culture of a company or a department is simply what most employees do most of the time. While the people help form the culture by their behavior, it’s equally true—and ultimately, more important—that the culture communicates values and sets expectations that determine how people behave.
You can’t prompt an organization to adopt new values or new practices, and have them hope to stick, without changing the culture. As people grasp the new values and implement the practices, they start to move the culture in the direction you want. But adoption of the values and practices needs to reach a critical mass before the culture has permanently changed, and before the new culture can deliver what you want it to deliver: The expectation that your salespeople and sales support staff will keep behaving that way. Reaching that critical mass takes a concerted effort—and keeping it there requires constant attention.
Because culture change—and the performance improvement it promises—starts with the propagation of new values (beliefs, principles, priorities) and new practices (behaviors, processes, routines), the role of training is pivotal. Training is how the people learn the values and learn how to do the practices. But training alone is never enough. Just as a new campfire needs to be carefully tended and nurtured, sales managers need to guide, mentor, and support their salespeople as they grow into the new expectations established by the training. And just as that fire needs frequent attention to keep it burning with intensity, so too do managers need to focus on maintaining the culture they built in order to keep it strong.
Given the importance of culture—remember, it’s the foundation of success—we created a new workshop and related resources called Foundations. The focus is on the specific processes a sales manager should use to ensure that values are adopted and practices are transferred effectively from the training module or course or workshop to the real world. It’s what the manager needs to do to take each member of the team from the flickering flame in the kindling to the roaring bonfire of a hot sales culture that is driving performance.
I recently facilitated our first Foundations workshop, and I learned as much as I taught. We had talented sales managers in the room, performance-driven coaches who were as focused as any group I can remember, men and women who were passionate about learning, who asked great questions, who had frequent aha! moments, and who truly started to own the sales culture and their responsibility for spreading it and growing it.
The culture our clients hire us to help them build is called How Selling, a funny name designed to get your attention. Throughout most of history, salespeople have practiced a kind of selling best summarized by the word why: Why the prospect should buy the salesperson’s product or service rather than any of those offered up by competitors. But Why Selling doesn’t even get salespeople in the door anymore, not in this era of extensive product information, ratings, and reviews online. Today’s successful sales culture is How Selling: How to use the various resources and capabilities the salesperson has available to solve a very specific, important, real-time need, problem, or objective. The most successful salespeople of the 21st century aren’t pitching the general value of their wares; they’re creating specific value for each prospect.
In the Foundations workshop, we shared with these managers how to build a How Selling culture by using three specific short-form online courses we offer—Brand & Connect, Getting That First Appointment, and Hourglass Needs Analysis—together with other resources and processes. They came away with a roadmap, a support group, and a very intense commitment. They own it now. Their culture is certain to grow from that flickering flame to a roaring bonfire.