Winning Sales Culture Starts At The Top

A winning sales culture starts at the top.

“Culture” is about patterns of behavior and the blend of values, habits and practices that exist in an organization. The habits and patterns of behavior that lead to an organization’s success are established by those at the top of the organization. In a B2B sales organization, we are talking about the head of sales and his or her front-line sales managers.

Having worked with roughly 150 sales organizations over the last thirteen years, I have been exposed to all types of different sales cultures.  A range of cultural labels come to mind as I think about companies I’ve come to know.

Winning Sales Cultures versus The RestLucky sales cultures exist in those organizations that seem to win despite themselves. They have no discernible patterns of behavior or values, but they seem to win (i.e. grow bigger) anyway.  Typical markers of the lucky sales culture include organizations with big, recognizable brand names, shiny silver objects, or partnerships with big, recognizable brands with shiny silver objects.  Frantic cultures exist where the sales organization is always playing catch-up, rarely setting the pace, and mostly reacting to issues and opportunities that bubble up.  They have no operating rhythm and no apparent focus on any one, important thing.  Instead, everything is important, and everyone in the organization is exhausted.  Groundhog Day cultures exist in organizations that don’t ever seem to learn.  They apply the same bad habits and practices over and over again, never changing, and they hope for  better results than they had in the past.  One could also call these cultures “insane.”

I expect you might be able to come up with your own list of cultural labels, ranging from those that indicate high function and performance to extreme dysfunction. Rather than dwell too long on the negative experiences we’ve all had, let’s instead consider what winning cultures look like. I’ve worked within several winning cultures and played a role in helping to shape them.

Winning sales cultures share some important, common characteristics.  They have a discernible rhythm in which important trumps urgent.  They proactively focus on doing what it takes to differentiate and win, making the effort to create maximum value for customers in each and every interaction.  Winning cultures start at the top.  Their senior-most leadership makes a conscious choice to pursue excellence in all aspects of client relationship management.  They intentionally focus their company’s best resources and effort on the clients and opportunities that are best aligned with their strengths as an organization.  They do not make nor will they accept excuses for operating in a way that does not conform with the company’s standards of excellence.  If things ever go badly, people in winning cultures own up to their role in causing the bad outcome rather than blaming others. They fix problems rather than make excuses for poor performance.

Winning sales cultures are customer-focused in all that they do. In their habits and practices, you see evidence that their people are proactive, intentional, focused, and they learn and improve when things do not go according to plan.

It is the beginning of a New Year, and now is a great time to take stock of your sales culture. What label would you place on your sales organization? Can you confidently say that you’ve established a winning culture? If not, what do you / your leaders need to do more of, do less of, change, or stop altogether?

If you have a winning culture today, what can you do to sustain and build upon your team’s winning habits and practices? What will you do to raise your own game?

United Sales Resources provides actionable intelligence and practical advice to sales leaders, so they can drive better sales results. If you would like to discuss this post with Matt McDarby or learn more about how our sales leadership coaching and advisory services help our customers to grow, then contact us for a brief tour or a conversation.  Thank you again for your time!

Your Pipeline: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Is your pipeline giving you reason for concern?

In our work with small to medium-sized sales organizations we hear a common set of complaints revolving around Bullnew business pipelines.  Often during our initial diagnosis phase, senior executives and sales leaders will complain about the quality, size, depth and breadth of their business pipeline.  There is one issue, though, that seems pervasive and particularly pernicious, and leaders will complain about it in a variety of colorful ways like, “I think our pipeline is full of…” (fill in an appropriate noun such as “fluff,” “garbage,” “pie in the sky,” “pipe dreams,” “bologna” or “beans”).

 In short, these leaders don’t trust what is in their own pipeline.

Have you ever felt that way?  Do you have concerns about the validity and the true, economic value of your pipeline?

If so, consider what you and your sales team do proactively to ensure a pipeline full of well-qualified and validated new business opportunities.  Do you have a process?  What do you do to vet new opportunities as they come into the pipeline?

If you are starting to sweat just a little bit, then my questions are achieving the desired effect.

Allow me to turn down the heat and propose a few, simple ideas that have worked well for us and for our clients (who, by the way, include some incredibly gifted and successful people – like one of the best known private equity firms in the world).  First, we recommend that you have a process for sifting out the garbage, the pipe dreams, and bologna from your pipeline.  Like so many things associated with professional selling and sales leadership, this sounds easier than it actually is, so I will offer some guidance on the process.

  • The process should be part of your regular operating rhythm or cadence.
    • You can schedule “early-stage opportunity review” sessions with your salespeople just as well and easily as you can schedule late-stage reviews and pipeline / forecasting meetings.
    • If you only have time to accommodate one type of opportunity review on a regular basis with your team, choose early-stage reviews with them over late-stage reviews.
    • Start by putting regular, early-stage opportunity review sessions on the calendar with your team, and treat those sessions just like they were customer meetings.  Don’t blow them off, and only reschedule them if you really have no other choice.
    • Leverage your best coaches / sellers in the early-stage opportunity review sessions.
    • Treat these opportunity review sessions as opportunities to clarify and coach rather than to inspect and preach.
      • Remember, our objective is to determine whether opportunities are real or not, moving forward or languishing, good bets or bad ones.
      • A parallel objective is to help salespeople improve their approach to winning a piece of business.  We are effectively killing two really big birds with one stone… qualifying and validating opportunities while also ensuring that salespeople are set to execute the best possible strategy.

Once you’ve taken steps to better qualify, validate, and clean up your pipeline, we can safely predict that your level of confidence in the pipeline will increase.  Once your pipeline confidence reaches a more acceptable level, you will be in a better position to objectively assess whether your pipeline is the right size, shape, depth, and breadth.  You will be better equipped to judge whether more marketing and demand generation is required, for example, or perhaps whether you have the right resources in place to deliver once you capitalize on the opportunities that have survived the process.  In the end, these few simple steps can help you to run a more effective business.  All it takes is a decision on your part to make a change.  Will you make this small but important change?

I’d love to hear from you, especially if you decide to do what I am suggesting.  Please either contact me, or write a comment in reply to this month’s article.  I will look forward to receiving your thoughts.

Why Cadence Matters

Establishing a formal cadence or operating rhythm for a sales team is Job One for the sales leader.

[This article is the first in a series of five articles authored by Matt McDarby and John Golden, authors of the recently published white paper, “Five Fundamentals of Effective Sales Management.” Look for the remaining articles in this series to be posted on the United Sales Resources and Focused Revenue Results websites in the coming weeks.]

It’s been a long time since my days as a high school quarterback, but one of the lessons I’ve carried forward from those days is that a quarterback can affect the performance of his offense simply by maintaining a steady and quick pace from the huddle to the line of scrimmage.

I remember it as if it were yesterday.  My coach used to give me a signal from the sideline to get the team moving more quickly to the ball, we’d break out of the huddle, run up to the line, setting the pace for the defense before they set it for us.  We had consistently better outcomes (i.e. more first downs, more scores) as an offense when we amped up our pace and maintained that pace for a full drive versus when we did not.

In a similar way, a sales leader can positively affect the performance of his team by setting an appropriately aggressive pace and maintaining that pace or rhythm for as long as is required to achieve the desired outcome.  Many sales organizations refer to this predictable pace as their “cadence.”

Image courtesy of Sailom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Image courtesy of Sailom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Every great performing sales organization with which I’ve worked has committed to a certain operating rhythm or cadence to enable effective behavior to take hold.  A sales team that follows a set cadence, in which it focuses deliberately on what is ultimately most important, and does not stray from that cadence, is going to be a successful team.

In the absence of a well thought-out cadence that spans from the top ranks of the organization down to field sales people, things such as early-stage opportunity planning, call planning, and proper focus on what is important to customers will predictably fall by the way-side.

Think about it.  How many organizations do you know that have made a commitment to be more customer-focused or more intent on creating and delivering customer value?  I imagine quite a few.  How many of those organizations have actually mandated that their leaders, their middle managers, and their field force adapt their calendars and change their daily routines to reflect that customer focus?  How many of them require that their people get together on a regular basis to identify ways to create more value for customers in the way that they sell and engage?  I bet the answer is, “Not many.”

In the end, the lack of a proper cadence boils down to a problem of management.  Managers who do not set the tone for their teams by establishing a cadence whereby they focus on the right things with the right frequency are doomed to patchy performance at best and at worst…failure.  Will you choose to establish a cadence for your team or not?

If your answer is, “Yes,” consider whether it would be useful to have a cadence checklist, along the lines of the following:

  • To establish an effective sales Cadence, do the following:
      • Meet with your team to discuss what will be required of the entire team to ensure the business outcome you seek to achieve;
      • Identify high priority discussions / meetings that the team must incorporate into its schedule going forward;
      • Identify discussions / meetings that the team may be having right now that are no longer of high value to the team or its customers;
      • Commit to a cadence with your team that ensures focus on high priority / high value items (e.g. early-stage opportunities, strategic account planning) at the right times and the right frequency.
      • Agree to treat important meetings (i.e. opportunity reviews, pipeline meetings, account planning sessions) as if they were important customer meetings.  Do not cancel them. Try not to reschedule them.
      • Stay true to the cadence that you agree to with your team.

Let me know your thoughts about establishing a cadence in the way I’ve described it above.  Offer a comment in reply to this post.  You can also send a direct message to me if that is your preferred method of getting in touch.  Thank you very much, once again, for your time!