Let’s take a look at two different scenarios.
The first is an individualistic sales team, desperate for commissions, with a massive turnover.
Half the team hasn’t met quota and works long nights, stressed and burnt out. The other half brags about their numbers, just happy that they aren’t the ones lagging.
Now, scenario two:
This sales team has more evenly matched numbers because team members help each other whenever possible. They’re cooperative, supportive, and driven by values, goals, and a fair base salary – not commission alone.
They celebrate each other’s victories and help each other’s struggles.
Which team would you prefer working in your organization?
A healthy sales culture is powerful and involves collaboration, fair compensation, and strong ethics. A positive culture motivates your employees, prevents burnout, and increases retention.
This article discusses what a healthy sales culture looks like, how it impacts your organization, and the top tips to influence a better culture in your company.
Feel free to skip right to our top seven strategies for building a strong sales culture.
Table of contents
- What is sales culture?
- Why is a healthy sales culture important?
- Who is responsible for your organization’s sales culture?
- 7 tips for building a healthy, performance-based sales culture
- A healthy sales culture starts with hiring great people
- ✅ A healthy sales culture starts with hiring great people
What is sales culture?
A sales culture is the values, habits, and behaviors your sales department embodies and promotes. A few words that could describe a sales culture are “competitive,” “supportive,” and “social.”
A great sales culture must apply to every team member, or it won’t endure.
We believe that a solid sales culture aligns with TestGorilla’s value of “acting with integrity.” This means treating colleagues and customers alike with respect and empathy.
You can apply this value to a sales culture by:
- Keeping your entire team’s interests in mind
- Using your position to do what’s best for everyone
- Treating others how you want to be treated
- Never selling someone something they don’t need
Katie Miles, a sales representative from Outreach, defines a great selling culture in this LinkedIn post.
A healthy sales culture emphasizes the best parts of your team. On the flip side, a toxic culture displays the worst.
So let’s see what we mean by “healthy.”
The attributes of a healthy sales culture
“Build and encourage a healthy sales culture.”
It’s simple enough, isn’t it? But what defines a healthy selling culture?
Here are the top attributes that make a sales organization’s culture positive and attractive.
|Healthy competition||Sporting competition and collaboration motivate employees without having them resort to mistrust and cutthroat tactics|
|Learning and development||Continuous improvement and growth ensure every member of the team is open to development|
|Fair compensation||A fair base salary eases concerns about commissions and lowers overall anxiety|
|Recognition||Regular recognition makes employees feel valued and boosts motivation|
|Low turnover||An organization with low turnover encourages and reassures employees, increasing their trust in the company|
|Accountability||A sales culture with solid accountability makes workers feel secure and encourages them to take responsibility|
|Clear goals and strategies||Clearing setting sales goals and strategies reassures employees and keeps things organized|
|A common vision||A shared vision motivates employees and promotes solid teamwork|
Our sales team at TestGorilla is a real-life example of a healthy, high performance sales culture.
We prioritize support from managers and colleagues to ensure the sales team has the resources to do their best. This includes useful tools, better sales leads, and more communication around internal developments.
Silvia, a member of our sales team, says that maintaining a good work-life balance when there’s a quota to meet would be impossible without a healthy sales culture.
She says that the key components are:
- A common vision
- A fair base salary
- Clear and actionable feedback
We believe that these components are not only possible to achieve and maintain but also more than recommended – they’re necessary.
Building a sales culture like this is exactly what our guide below is for.
The attributes of a toxic sales culture
So, what makes a toxic sales culture?
Here are the top factors that lead to a negative selling culture:
- Mistrust: Decreases employee morale and motivation, showing how important trust is in the workplace
- Individualism: An “every-man-for-himself” culture discourages collaboration and teamwork
- Exclusive focus on sales numbers: Putting too much emphasis on metrics like the number of deals causes burnout and pushes agents to prioritize quantity over quality
- Overworked agents: Too much to do and not enough time causes stress, burnout, and quiet quitting
- High turnover: A “revolving door” culture disengages and demotivates your team, causing more turnover
Andy Wallace, a manager and trainer, draws on his experience in power-based crime intervention to compare a toxic sales culture to early-stage abusive relationships.
He says they rely on manipulation, false urgency, and making false promises.
You should avoid a toxic sales culture like this at all costs.
Why is a healthy sales culture important?
A positive sales culture improves employee experience and job satisfaction, so it’s something all companies should aim for.
One study shows a 58% higher rate of voluntary turnover by sales professionals in 2021 than in the previous 12 months. Chris Cabrera, the founder and chief executive officer of Xactly, says that retaining this talent requires more than compensation; it requires purpose and work-life balance.
The report shows that the top reasons sales leaders left their positions in the last two years are:
- Work-life balance (20%)
- Lack of career opportunities (18%)
- Company culture (15%)
- Poor management (15%)
- Stress and burnout (12%)
The study lists culture separately, but at TestGorilla, we believe all of these things can be either a part or a consequence of your sales team culture. This means a positive sales culture is even more important than the original study showed.
A toxic sales culture also affects employee morale and engagement. According to Gallup, the companies that retain the most employee engagement prioritize excellent, employee-minded cultures.
It’s no wonder that a great culture is one of the top job-satisfaction factors.
Building a sales culture that promotes support and work-life balance creates a better place to work. This means that companies with the best sales cultures attract great new talent, too.
Who is responsible for your organization’s sales culture?
Who’s responsible for building a sales culture and keeping it healthy and positive? Let’s look at the main people who contribute to it.
Leadership and the C-suite
Top leadership, such as chief executives, help build a sales culture by taking the initiative to create workplace rules that encourage and foster that type of culture you want.
The C-suite can also build expectations around teamwork, healthy competition, and development.
Human resources and recruitment
The human resources department influences company culture more than any other business function.
First and foremost, human resources professionals and recruiters help hire the right people that align with company culture and promote positive behaviors, like teamwork and clear communication.
This is the first step in our guide.
Human resources can also evaluate the current culture to assess the major gaps and determine the steps to correct them.
Here are a few examples:
- If you’re promoting a fast-paced sales culture, try implementing lunch deliveries or buy the best software for your sales reps
- If you’re promoting more collaboration and support, encourage more peer-to-peer recognition
Another way human resources can help foster a better sales culture is through frequent one-on-one meetings. These meetings enable human resources to remind and influence sales leadership to promote positive behaviors.
Managers and team leaders
Senior leadership affects culture through sales coaching, mentoring, and one-on-one meetings.
This means that the 1:1 meetings between human resource managers and sales management directly impact the meetings between sales managers and team members.
Another effective way that managers build culture is by leading from the top. In other words, be the healthy example of the sales culture you want your team to have.
7 tips for building a healthy, performance-based sales culture
Creating a sales culture that boosts employee performance, morale, and motivation isn’t hard. We’ll help you get started.
Let’s take a look at the top strategies for nurturing a positive sales culture.
|The key – start by hiring the right salespeople||Use skills testing to recruit salespeople who have the right capabilities and align with your culture|
|Make sure your sales team has shared high-level goals and vision||Build and maintain shared missions that your sales team can fight for|
|Check that there are clear, realistic expectations for everyone on the sales team||Create realistic quotas and deadlines for your team to prevent burnout and encourage a better environment|
|Foster healthy competition||Ensure your team is motivated by healthy – not cutthroat – competition|
|Combat high turnover||Take steps to reduce employee turnover to create an attractive, healthy sales culture|
|Celebrate success and failure alike||Recognize employees’ success and reframe mistakes as learning opportunities|
|Never forget to maintain accountability||Uphold accountability to encourage a positive atmosphere and nip toxic behavior in the bud|
1. The key – start by hiring the right salespeople
Building a sales culture is all about the people, which means it starts with recruitment.
You can lay a solid foundation for a healthy selling culture by hiring candidates that naturally have positive values and apply them in their daily work.
Hone your hiring process to find the best candidates by utilizing online skills testing to assess hard and soft skills, as well as personality and culture.
Here’s an example of a skills assessment for a sales representative:
Skills-based hiring zeroes in on capabilities, reduces unconscious bias, and enables you to find the ideal candidate for your sales culture.
This enables you to hire people with the right sales skills and the right culture add values.
We believe it’s time to say goodbye to the CV and focus on pure skill and talent. Focusing on skills and culture rather than work experience and educational background greatly expands your talent pool and is still specific enough to help you find the perfect salesperson.
2. Make sure your sales team has shared high-level goals and vision
You can give your sales team a bigger reason to come to work with a shared vision and objectives.
Team goals and a collective mission help everyone feel like they’re contributing to something larger, not just their monthly paycheck.
High-level goals improve:
- Teamwork and collaboration
These goals can be anything, such as “improve sales by 20%” or “become industry thought leaders,” but they should be aligned with the overall business and marketing goals to ensure you aren’t working against yourselves.
A shared vision might be deeper and more abstract than a goal but equally important, such as “improve the hiring process in X industry.”
You can communicate group goals in various ways, such as weekly team meetings or email surveys. Keep your team updated on goals frequently via a group chat program like Slack.
You can also share relevant content with your team via Slack, like articles that further your thought leadership.
3. Check there are clear and realistic expectations for everyone on the sales team
One of the biggest pressures a salesperson faces is expectations, so a top way to improve your sales culture is to make goals clear and realistic.
You want to ensure that you set realistic quotas and deadlines each period. This promotes better performance and reduces undue stress. Unrealistic deadlines and expectations are a huge cause of employee burnout.
Taking the time to ensure everyone on the team has realistic goals also prevents thoughts of favoritism.
Bruno, a member of our sales team, says he’s happy that TestGorilla’s selling culture doesn’t have threat-based target achievement. It’s support-based.
He goes on to say that some sales teams are, regrettably, always scared of being fired for not hitting quota. The sales team at TestGorilla supports each other to make sure everyone hits their targets.
4. Foster healthy competition
Competition can still be a part of a healthy, high-performance sales culture. It helps engage and motivate salespeople to do their best.
Here are a few ideas to foster positive competition in your sales processes:
- Team-wide sales contests and incentives
- A mix of individual and team recognition and rewards (i.e., tying a portion, but not all, of the bonuses to overall team performance)
- Mentoring and coaching (i.e., pairing more experienced salespeople with new hires to ensure they aren’t left behind)
The important thing to remember is the difference between healthy and toxic competition.
Unhealthy competition is born from scarcity, fear, hierarchic relations, and the need to win at all costs. It’s generally based on insecurity because salespeople are desperate for commissions and recognition.
How do you specifically promote a healthy competitive attitude? We recommend encouraging sales reps to beat their own numbers, which shifts their competitive focus to themselves instead of others.
It also promotes a culture of continuous improvement.
You can also choose a “common enemy,” like an external competitor, instead of pitting salespeople against each other. Your reps will spend more time working together to beat another company’s numbers and not each other.
5. Combat high turnover
A sales team culture where people are there for years is a motivating green flag.
High turnover is discouraging for both current employees and potential candidates alike.
Here’s a handful of ideas to decrease turnover rates:
- Invest in onboarding: The onboarding process is crucial to whether or not a worker decides to stay; better onboarding increases the employee experience
- Offer ongoing training and development: Lending a hand in an employee’s development shows, rather than tells, them that they’re valuable and needed
- Build a defined promotion roadmap for your employees: Facilitate your employees’ career growth and make sure to offer a variety of opportunities; companies that excel at internal mobility retain employees twice as long
- Pay a fair, competitive salary: Employees shouldn’t have to rely too heavily on commissions, so paying them a fair base salary ensures they won’t search for another company
- Promote empathy: Empathy in the workplace increases trust, reduces stress, fosters camaraderie, and creates a place where people want to work
- Hire the right people: Selecting the right candidates early on ensures a better culture add and decreases turnover
Hiring salespeople using skills testing not only ensures they align with your company culture but also determines early on whether or not they have the skills to get the job done.
An overwhelmed employee may leave because they can’t handle the job responsibilities.
6. Celebrate success and failure alike
A solid sales team culture should prioritize recognition and appreciation.
Make sure your team feels appreciated for their hard work. Celebrate success with special lunches or parties, take the team out for dinner, or give them a shout-out on LinkedIn or the company intranet.
Regular appreciation has far-reaching effects, so nurturing this type of culture encourages peer-to-peer recognition to happen naturally. This means your salespeople support and appreciate each other.
Another important point is acknowledging and learning from failure.
Turn mistakes into continuous learning and growth opportunities, not excuses to chastise your sales team. Use open and honest feedback so salespeople can learn from their mistakes and not fear them.
Additionally, encourage leaders to share their failures to nurture a culture in which failure is a learning experience, not a catastrophe. A successful sales team is one that sees value in failure.
7. Never forget to maintain accountability
Encouraging and maintaining accountability builds a healthy sales culture.
Ensure everyone is completing their tasks, pulling their weight, and getting the right level of support. You can achieve this with a performance improvement plan.
Keep an eye on poor behavior like yelling, mocking, or excessive bragging. Toxic individuals should be kept accountable, or your team will believe that it’s acceptable, which could spread the behavior further.
Accountability is also important because if you do plan on reprimanding these toxic workers and do so suddenly and swiftly, they’ll be blindsided and never have a chance to correct their behavior.
We recommend open, honest conversations with your people that focus on performance and achievement. Ask them what they’ve learned and what they’re proud of.
Harvard Business Review says that the more interested a leader is in the successes of their employees, the more employees will be receptive to talking about underperformance.
A healthy sales culture starts with hiring great people
A positive sales culture that promotes support and teamwork changes a “bad job role” to a “great job role,” reducing turnover and burnout.
Building a winning sales culture starts with hiring the right candidates. Try assessing your next potential hires with skills testing to match them to your culture and job description perfectly.
To dig into this topic in-depth, read our guide on the perfect sales hiring process.
During your next hiring process, evaluate your new potential salespeople with our Motivation test to ensure they have the right motivators for your sales team culture.