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!

Seven Questions: Are They Leadership Material?

How do you know if a candidate for a sales management role is leadership material?

Sales managers have the pivotal role in a business.  They stand at the junction where a company’s strategy and sales execution meet, and their ability to lead and coach their teams has a profound impact on business results. [Read more…]

Social Selling: An Evolution, Not A Revolution

Social selling gets a lot of attention these days. If one were to do a Google search right now on “social selling,” that engine will return roughly 687,000 results, many of them containing best practices for selling to buyers who are heavily engaged on social media.

[Read more…]

Leading Sales Millennials

A new generation of revenue creators, Sales Millennials, is on the job today, rising through the ranks, and with them comes a marvelous opportunity for those who coach and lead them.

Based on my birth year, 1970, I am a member of Generation X. I actually consider myself a generation-straddler, though, as all of my siblings were born between 1955 and 1963, at the tail end of the Baby Boom. [Read more…]

Revenue Growth Hacks for 2015

Revenue growth is a nearly universal objective for small and middle-market businesses, and there are a number of different paths that companies can pursue to achieve revenue growth.  There are also at least as many traps and obstacles along the way.

I’m frequently asked to give my point of view on the best path to revenue growth by the leadership teams of small and middle market companies.  Before I prescribe, of course, I diagnose.  I typically ask questions to clarify and confirm some things about the current state and also about their future, desired state.  Important questions that I will tend to ask first are…

“Can you define success for this coming year?  How much revenue growth do you want to achieve and why?”

In the course of these discussions about future revenue growth, some common issues and opportunities arise.  One of the more common issues that we have to confront is the fact that small and middle market companies have limited resources with which to pursue growth.  We are forced to focus only on those ideas that offer the most benefit while mitigating the risks associated with stretching for growth.  Some of these ideas are more ingenious and creative than others.  We’ll call those ingenious ideas “hacks,” and they are crucial weapons in the fight for revenue growth that might just be relevant for you.

Did somebody say 'hack'?
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you consider your company’s plan for revenue growth in 2015, consider applying some of the revenue growth hacks that we’ve identified and applied elsewhere for very positive gains.

Attack the Discount Monster! — It may be an obvious point, but discounting to win in B2B sales has a direct impact on revenue.  Some companies aren’t even aware of the extent to which their sales team discounts to win new business.  I’ve personally witnessed relatively successful businesses operate without a handle on how much discounting goes on, to whom those discounts are being offered, and why.  They literally give away large chunks of their revenue based on an assumption that the only way they can win is by knocking down the price of their offerings.  In reality, instead of discounting, they should be focused on creating more value for customers throughout the buying process.  How much more might your company be able to drive to the top and bottom lines simply by attacking the discount monster that lurks within the sales organization?  Let’s consider a simple process for attacking this issue and increasing revenue simply by holding onto more of it:

  1. Focus on the early-stage opportunities in your sales pipeline.  It is in the earliest stages of a sales opportunity’s development in which your sellers can raise the importance and relative value of your solutions in the eyes of the buyer.  Plan to help customers understand the scale, cost, and impact of the problems you can solve for them BEFORE you propose solutions, and you will likely reduce or possibly eliminate the need for a discount to win.
  2. Propose your offer to the buyer, and hold firm to your price.  If you can’t hold firm, then look back at your process and why your customer doesn’t fully see the value of what you have to offer.  If necessary, go back and revisit problems and their impact and the potential value of the solution before repositioning your offer.
  3. Commit to avoid discounting as a means to overcome value gaps in the customer’s mind.  Focus on the “benefits” side of the equation instead of the “cost” side.

Focus Where You have the Best Opportunity to Differentiate (and try to avoid those opportunities where you do not.) — Dismiss opportunities where you cannot win, even if they look like big revenue opportunities.  They are a waste of time and they cost you money!  Don’t over-invest in selling opportunities where your only point of differentiation is price.  Following is an illustration of what I mean:

  • A middle-market firm, NewCo, has a huge sales opportunity worth roughly $1 Million over the next couple of years.  NewCo and several of its competitors are invited to participate in a competitive bid and bake-off.  All of the competitive solutions are very similar and the customer’s procurement process is designed specifically to narrow down all of the differences between competitors until there is only one difference left, price.
  • NewCo has another sales opportunity to pursue at the same time.  The NewCo sales rep has been in dialogue with key players involved in the decision making process for the last few months.  It is likely that competitors will be invited to offer a proposal, but the NewCo sales team clearly has the inside track.  The deal is worth roughly $500K, and NewCo has an excellent chance of winning without offering significant concessions and discounts.

Assuming NewCo has limited resources with which to pursue these opportunities, they have to choose which one will get priority attention and a full complement of resources.  To which opportunity should resources be applied?  If you’re thinking it’s the second one, then you just might be a revenue hacker.

Prioritize opportunities where your company can deliver a product / service / solution successfully and easily. — Sell what you’re good at delivering.  If your sales team is more inclined to offer highly customized solutions instead of your core offerings, then your company’s ability to deliver its products and services is likely taxed.  Answer the question, “What are we really good at delivering?”  Once you know the answer, direct / encourage / coach your sales team to fill the pipeline with opportunities that look like that.  The less that your delivery organization has to strain to deliver customized solutions, the less they will need to drag sales and revenue producers back into the fray.  Revenue generators unencumbered by delivery or operational responsibilities are better enabled to deliver revenue growth.

Those are my top three revenue growth hacks for the coming year.  What sorts of ingenious things will you do to drive revenue growth?  Please offer your idea in response to this post.  The best hack will earn a special shout out from yours truly in a follow up post to come in early 2015.  Thank you again for your time.