Why Having a Great Sales Culture is Important
You may not realize this, but the culture of your sales team is a reflection of you! As the manager of the group, you are the custodian of the sales culture and ultimately your team’s success. Over the years as an experienced sales leader, I have lost count of the number of times I have heard from sales managers, or executives in a software company say, “I wish I could get my sales team to step-up!”. It often occurs when the management team cannot see how they are going to meet their numbers and feel like they are left holding the “hot potato” of failure!
Here, we will share with you the top 4 changes you can make to enhance your sales culture, and reduce the chance of that nightmare scenario where you cannot see how you will make your number.
1. Understand the Role Emotional Intelligence Plays in Creating a Great Sales Culture
As a sales leader, the sales culture starts with you. You are the one that has the most significant impact on the culture of your team. So when you sit in a sales management meeting, and you feel the pressure of your management team upon your shoulders, the first step is to recognize what this pressure does to you, and to channel that pressure into a positive.
All levels of sales management and the executive leadership will benefit from this exercise, as they all feel that pressure, from the CEO down the leadership chain.
As human beings, when we are under stress, it is easy to intensify the feeling and pass it on to the people around you. As sales managers, the pressure you feel to make the numbers is something that, if you passed on to your direct reports, will only succeed in exasperating the problem. Some members of your team will freeze, and others will go into overdrive to start “doing stuff” that isn’t necessarily thought through or effective — but they feel the stress from you to “do more.” The problem becomes self-defeating.
What does this mean for you?
As a sales manager, you need to inspire your sales team and become an “umbrella” that protects the salespeople from the pressures you and your management team feel. High performers have a higher emotional recognition capability. If you want to increase your performance, and that of your team, you must be able to recognize your emotional state under pressure. In the paper, A Neuro-Cognitive Process Model of Emotional Intelligence, the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona, show that by working on the key aspects that control your emotional intelligence, you can do just that. Those who develop this recognition, are also seen to be more likable and approached situations with more cooperativeness, which translates into less stress passed on to the people around them.
2. Use Self-Compassion to Enhance Your Decision-Making Skills When Under Pressure
Science (An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits) shows us that self-compassion is an essential first step in understanding yourself. Self-compassion is about self-recognition and understanding; that you should cut yourself some slack; even when your team does not reach its number. Even though sales is your job, being self-compassionate and kind to yourself in times of stress makes you calmer and less anxious. It provides you with a sense of positivity and clarity. This inner calm is an essential ingredient of your sales culture.
Yes, this is contrary to what most of us believe, but we must recognize that we are 100% wrong when we are hard on ourselves. The most successful sales managers are those that can “cut themselves a break,” to develop calm and clarity of focus on what can effectively be done to improve the situation.
Try this sales culture exercise: “The criticizer, the criticized, and the compassionate observer.” This exercise is modeled on the two-chair dialogue studied by Gestalt therapist Leslie Greenberg. You will sit in three different chairs to help you get in touch with the often conflicting parts of yourself, experiencing how each aspect feels in the present moment. To begin, put out three empty chairs, preferably in a triangular arrangement.
Next, think about the last sales meeting where you felt under pressure from your management team – whether you are the first-line sales manager or even a CEO feeling pressure from your board on the numbers, this is as important.
Designate one chair as the voice of your inner self-critic, one chair as the voice of the criticizer, and one chair as the voice of a wise, compassionate observer. You are going to be role-playing all three parts of yourself – you, yourself, and I.
Self-awareness exercises will always feel a bit uncomfortable at first, but you will be surprised at what comes out once you start letting your feelings flow. Think about that last sales meeting, and then sit in the chair of the self-critic. As you take your seat, express out loud what the self-critical part of you is thinking and feeling. For example, “You didn’t get involved enough in the deal! Your sales team did not have a solid strategy, and that was your responsibility” Notice the words and tone of voice the self-critical part of you uses, and also how it feels. Worried, angry, self-righteous, exasperated? Note what your body posture is like; strong, rigid, upright? What emotions are coming up from you right now?
Take the chair of the criticized version of yourself. Try to think about how you feel when being criticized in this way. Then verbalize how you feel, responding directly to your inner critic, for example, “I feel so unsupported” or “I feel like I’m being made a scapegoat.” Just say whatever comes into your mind. Again, notice the tone of your voice? Is it sad, discouraged, scared, helpless? What is your body posture like? Are you slumped, downward facing, frowning?
Conduct a dialogue between these two parts of yourself for a while, switching back and forth between the chair of the criticizer and the criticized. Try to experience and listen to each aspect of yourself.
Now occupy the chair of the compassionate observer. Call upon your most profound wisdom, the caring you have for others. Now apply it to yourself and address both the critic and the criticized. What does your compassionate self-say to the critic, what insights do you have? For example, “You are loud, and are trying to get my attention” or, “I see that you’re terrified to lose your job, and you’re trying to help me, so I don’t mess up.”
What does your “compassionate self” say to the “criticized” part of yourself? For example, “It must be incredibly difficult to hear such harsh judgment day after day. I see that it is draining for you” or “All you want is to be supported to do your job well.” Try to relax, be open to each internal conversation. What words of compassion naturally spring into your mind? What is the tone of your voice? Tender, gentle, warm, supportive? What is your body posture like – balanced, relaxed?
After the dialogue finishes (you’ll know when), reflect upon what just happened. Do you have any new insights into how you treat yourself, where your patterns come from, new ways of thinking about the situation that is more productive and supportive? As you think about what you have learned, change your intention to relate to yourself in a kinder, healthier way in the future. Your old habits of self-criticism don’t need to rule you forever.
Now before you move forward, write down one or two steps that you can employ to initiate your compassionate self under times of stress. It will enable you to plan your activities, and add to your team’s sales culture positively, instead of adding tension and negativity to them.
3. Watch Out for Tangents
Your team has a specific responsibility within your sales organization and company overall. Likely the team has been successful at some stage in its evolution, and if it is a new sales team, then you should be taking lessons learned from the successes of other experienced sales managers in your organization to form the foundation of success for your team. Don’t copy everything though, because your sales team won’t need its manager if all that was required for you to do was to copy the actions and strategies of a peer. It is also guaranteed that the two teams sales culture will not be identical.
You should have a routine developed within your team and for yourself, and regularly check that the activities you focus on are positively supporting your sales culture. A precise method will help you under pressure.
When placed in these high-stress situations, as human beings we start to generate lots of questions of ourselves, and what we as individuals and our team members are doing in support of the overall goal. These become seeds of self-doubt. As sales managers and leaders, these manifest in many ways, leading to confusion, panic and the failure to see paths of resolution. We begin to ask ourselves so many questions, that we exhaust ourselves to the point where we deplete our decision making processes and become counterproductive. Studies by the American Psychological Association show that having too many choices can be detrimental to the task at hand, whereas deliberating options and then implementing the preferred ones would lead to better outcomes.
What can you do?
It is essential to prevent the common pitfall of “spinning.” There will always be those who have an opinion, don’t let them confuse you, or come between you and your goals. There are some simple steps you can take next.
Find a quiet place with your compassionate self in mind, and list out the actions you could take to change the situation for the short and medium-term. Your list might look something like this:
– Review current quarter opportunities that are close, and which are a “must close.” Be realistic, and not too optimistic in identifying the deals that can be closed. “Happy ears” don’t help anyone!
– Identify stretch deals currently in this quarter, and schedule the time to put a short, but clear plan in place to see if these deals can be brought forward. Don’t let panic be the driver – once you cross that panic line, your customer will recognize it, and you will lose all credibility.
– Get creative. You might not be the most creative sales leader in your company, but creativity fosters new ideas that can help you get out of a sticky situation. Find someone who you can talk to, a coach or mentor, who knows what is it like to manage a sales team, and come up with two short-term and two medium-term creative options. As an example, a medium-term option might be to offer an add-on product for next quarter only at a special discounted rate for customers buying more than $X of your products; or maybe you can add some services hours to ensure your customer’s success at no extra cost. There must be a deadline (which you must stick to), so you and your customer see a win-win to signing the paperwork this quarter vs. next.
To recap. Develop short and medium-term actions you can take to close the gaps and share them with your manager to gain support for executing on your plans. Then perform them with collaboration in mind! How you respond during challenging times is a reflection of your team’s overall sales culture.
4. How Inclusion and Belonging are essential to an Opportunity Review Process
Many sales managers when under pressure, make the mistake of turning sales meetings into interrogation sessions. This is a significant sales culture killer.
As managers, we are all familiar with the paradigm of the Carrot (reward) and the Stick (punishment) and have more than likely used them for both team and business management. The problem is as sales managers, we have historically flip-flopped between the two, almost on a whim, to the point that when something goes wrong, we either add a spiff to incentivize salespeople to do things differently, or we analyze an opportunity with the enthusiasm of the Spanish Inquisition! These can so quickly turn into a list of all the things that the sales representative has done wrong, which is, of course, humiliating, demoralizing and hugely unconstructive. It never fails to amaze me that we think that this will incentivize our teams to “do more” or “step up.”
Your sales team IS your brand, and if you behave this way, how do you expect them to deliver the quality of service required to solve your customer’s pain points with your solutions?
The answer is, they cannot. Do not continue to shoot yourself and your sales team in the foot (metaphorically), but instead use the much more effective approach of inclusion.
In the Deloitte Study “The Rise of the Social Enterprise” there’s an increasing emphasis on “inclusive growth” as organizations are being judged by their relationships with employees, customers, shareholders, and communities. Being inclusive in your Sales Opportunity Reviews is essential to your success and the teams’ success.
So what can you do?
Pick a strategic or “must win deal” and use a technique, like hub-and-spoke to strategize with a broad team in an opportunity review. Include, Customer Success, Technical Support, Pre-Sales, Product, Sales and Sales leadership, Consulting leader – make sure you have a representative from all of the critical aspects of your business that engage with a customer during their lifecycle. Each will have a unique understanding of customer demands, challenges and successes that can bring collective wisdom to your Opportunity Review.
There’s one key caveat – everyone in the room must have equal time to speak. Set that expectation up front, and manage the meeting so that everyone adds input into solving the problem of moving this key opportunity forward.
Be inclusive by creating the right environment, and managing the meeting, so each voice is heard. Also, action items should not be assigned to one person only. It’s a collective problem, and others in the room can and should take on some tasks to support the salesperson. Inclusion is a crucial ingredient of sales culture and should be a focal point of all deal reviews.
Now add belonging.
Belonging stems from a feeling of safety, it is a basic human need; psychologists call it psychological safety, and it is essential to great teamwork. There are many studies on the sense of belonging and psychological safety that show how performance increases by more than 300% when people feel like they belong. So why aren’t you creating a sense of belonging in your sales team? If you think it is “fluffy” stuff, it is not! Without it, you will not have the understanding that is required of a great leader nor the participation needed to achieve a positive sales culture.
In your sales team, find purpose. Work without purpose is hard work; whereas work with intent can be a joy. When salespeople know that what they do matters, it connects them to the organization’s success, it gives them meaning. So, what is your sales team purpose?
If you answer “making the numbers” or “selling our solutions,” then you have missed the point!
Your business solutions may be “bringing people together to excel,” or you may be “bridging the healthcare gap” if you sell to the medical industry. What is important is to understand your purpose and your value!
With this purpose, you can align and rally your team to the cause, even if you have low numbers, or are missing your goals. You and your team must have a higher purpose!
Even with a higher purpose, it is comfortable under times of pressure to highlight all the things that have gone wrong, but you must balance those with the good stuff you have seen. Every human being, salespeople included, deserve recognition for the good things they make happen, as life is too short for the alternative. Creating balance in your conversation does not mean everything is rosy! It says that you recognize the good, and build a foundation for the team to work on the areas that need improvement. The key to doing this is to replace blame with a sense of curiosity. (The Gottman Institute talk about Transforming Criticism into Wishes) to resolve conflict in these meetings, and to create a sense of belonging.
Belonging also promotes ownership. Not of property, but of the problem in front of you. It also encourages collective ownership, and that is where bright minds and creativity can flourish to solve the challenges that confront you and your sales team.
Make belonging an everyday practice in your sales leadership and your sales culture can only improve.
Creating a Great Sales Culture
To recap. It is imperative that you understand the role of emotional intelligence in your sales leadership style and how you manifest it under pressure. Use self-compassion to enhance your decision-making process, to clear your mind and evaluate a plan to close the gaps effectively. Going off at tangents is an easy mistake to make when you are under pressure – resist that temptation, and stick to a routine that helps you maintain your focus. Resist the urge to interrogate your sales team and their opportunities, and focus on creating a sense of inclusion and belonging.
Salespeople are human beings, who can only flourish in a sales culture that is designed to improve performance. It doesn’t just happen!