I will never forget my response. “Oh well, um….we’re….you know….we believe….you know…we’re very….I think….um….”
Being a good consultant, he didn’t put me out of my misery. He let me flounder there in my non-response, struggling to come up with a way to describe our sales culture. For a long time. It was painful. I had no answer. I could feel our culture, but I had no idea how to articulate it.
Up until then, I had not thought about our culture, or why it was important. I was a fairly new, accidental sales leader, and was just trying to get my feet under me. I was trying to determine who I needed to recruit, how large my team would be, how I would compensate and incentivize them, what our pricing should be for the coming year, what the skill of my current reps was, what our buyer’s journey really looked like, why we lost deals and on and on and on. The list of pressing initiatives and tasks to tackle was long. Very long.
Thinking about our sales culture wasn’t even on the list, let alone at the top of the list.
But he insisted I stop everything else and decide what kind of culture I wanted to cultivate first. I begrudgingly obliged, because I was paying him the big bucks to help me transform myself into a sales leader.
I asked him where to start. His response? “I don’t know, you’ll need to figure that out. You are a big girl, you can handle it.”
I thought it would be hard to define our sales culture.
This was some tough love I was receiving. I was on my own.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to dictate our culture. A culture is shaped by the people who live it. I wasn’t starting from scratch, I already had team members. They were living the culture.
I didn’t want to start with a group exercise, because I wanted to avoid a long-drawn-out discussion and debate that didn’t go anywhere. That’s just frustrating and I’ve been in those “let’s come up with our positioning statement” type of workshops that drag on and accomplish little. So I gathered everyone together for a stand-up huddle and explained that I wanted to formalize our culture. Who we already were, but also who we wanted to be. The characteristics of our team we could live and breathe and measure ourselves against. I asked the team to give it some thought and email me personally with their input.
I thought that I would gather everyone’s input, organize it and then bring everyone together for discussion and decision making. My hope was that if we each put in some personal thought into our culture first that we would be more productive when we came back together.
I didn’t really know what to expect from everyone. But I was sort of dreading it. How was I going to get 10 adults to agree on our culture? And was this a total waste of time? Wouldn’t I rather have my team opening opportunities and closing deals? Why was I distracting myself, and them, with this when there was so much to do? I hate amorphous efforts, and this felt like it was going to be one of those types of initiatives.
Wow, was I wrong.
By the end of the day (yes, that very same day of our stand up), I had emails from everyone on the team. Concise, thoughtful and…surprisingly similar emails.
Someone wrote “Collaborative, but with good competition”, someone else wrote, “Competitive, but always supporting and helping each other.”
Someone wrote, “Always learning”, someone else wrote, “Highly skilled, because we take our professional development seriously.”
There was so much overlap in their responses, each saying relatively the same thing, but in their own unique words. As I read through the emails, there was more than a thread, there was a common story about our culture.
Inspiration hit that night and I quickly organized the common themes, taking into account their comments and editing for brevity and consistency. I emailed the group my draft, explaining how similar their descriptions were and the process behind my draft.
Again, it was a group of 10 people. All of whom had strong opinions about everything. I expected to get back tweaks, revisions, and comments. I got back 10 replies, “YES!”, “This is perfect”, “Wow, we nailed it.”
A sales culture is defined by the sales team.
And thus, my first sales culture was documented and defined. Not by me, but by the team. And I loved it. We memorialized it in posters and in workshop themes, and we lived it every day. We used it to help us recruit new reps and coach existing reps. The sales culture became an important part of who we were, and I now see that if you have a new team, it’s important that you, as the leader, define the culture from the start. And if you have an existing team it’s just as important to ensure the culture is memorialized and kept front and center. It’s a great unifying element to running a strong, cohesive team. It helps everyone know what is expected, it helps define how people will interact, it helps create workplace norms. Culture is important. Long live culture!
Choose your team wisely.
And here’s the punchline. I simplified the above story to illustrate my point. The truth is I had two people who didn’t participate in the culture exercise and weren’t collaborative about the whole thing. They sort of opted out. And guess what, they were our most unpredictable reps.
As the months went on after defining our culture, when I viewed them through the lens of our culture, I could see we had some serious problems. Those two reps were the ones who never really did put in any effort into their professional development, so they were our least skilled and least productive. They didn’t follow the same processes everyone else did, and it made their deals a mess. They weren’t really collaborative—neither seeking help nor offering it. And viewing them through that lens helped me coach them on to better things and make the decisions that needed to be made about them. So, yes, culture is important, for the team and for the leadership of the team.