High performing teams nearly always start with a great culture.
Once, company culture was seen as “smoke and mirrors”; free pizza and meaningless team-bonding exercises. The world of work has changed. Now more than ever, culture has direct business outcomes tied to it.
Today, successful businesses need a culture that is engaging, empowering and relatable for all employees. No matter their role or circumstance. That might sound simple when your sales force works in a shared office space, but remote working is no longer a concept — it’s a business reality. In fact, 16% of the world’s companies are now 100% remote.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at the importance of a great inside sales culture and five things we’ve learned over the years.
What is inside sales culture?
Inside sales culture is the mindset, attitudes and behaviors your business embodies. It is a clearly defined, organizational identity, with employee participation and buy-in to that chosen identity. A high-performance culture demands the effort, execution and growth needed to be successful, while ensuring both employer and employees are aligned with core values, goals and mission statements.
A successful sales culture is built on clear goals, strategy, actions, feedback and trust. It’s often mistaken for team quota targets or a mission statement PDF. Culture is created through consistency and authentic behaviors. It’s a feeling, rather than a set-in-stone policy.
“Culture” itself is a blanket term. Any number of things can go into a “cultural framework,” from how team members collaborate and how feedback is issued, to how success is defined and the incentives that are attached.
Why does sales culture matter?
Sales culture is unique because there’s no direct metric tied to it. There’s no way to quantify “good culture.” This is unlike every other aspect of inside selling. In the same vein, it’s highly unlikely that a business can quickly simulate a “cultural framework” and have their sales team instantly buy into it. Culture is not something that can be “ripped and replaced” from team to team, it needs to feel authentic, inviting and engaging to work.
That said, culture is so vital to results that taking time to build and cultivate your company culture will be rewarded with performance. Teams are far more likely to engage with their work if they feel a clear belonging, especially if they can see the value of their role within the cultural framework. This at-work engagement means greater levels of productivity, which in turn drives better ROI/ROE for any business.
When sales culture aligns with employee demands, they’re more likely to feel comfortable and valued, reducing attrition and boosting retention rates. Not to mention, strong culture is a key advantage for hiring. In fact, studies show a third of employees would pass up the perfect job if the culture wasn’t a right fit.
Team culture is also one of the top indicators of employee satisfaction, and one of the main reasons that almost two-thirds (65%) of employees stay in their job.
Sharing & collaboration are key
Transparency at all levels is crucial to a sales culture. That doesn’t change if it’s hybrid, in-office or remote. By sharing knowledge and insights openly, sales teams create a culture of free conversation that drives better results and return on effort.
Instinctively, sales teams can adopt a culture of competitiveness between reps. While healthy competition is no bad thing, it’s important to stress that a strong inside sales team is built on unity. The successes of a single sales rep won’t be enough to carry an entire team. If a specific call script, email or tonality outperforms what everyone else is doing, encourage that to be shared. Culture starts at the team level and better collaboration is critical to that concept.
There’s no reason to hide knowledge and performance data from peers for personal pride. We’re not competing, we’re combining.
Coaching and training are essential to any high-performing sales team. Culture should be established on day one when new reps join your sales floor — and training has a big part to play in that.
Now more than ever, people invest in the opportunity before they invest in the business. When team members see that a leader or business is prepared to invest in them as an individual with the right training, their confidence skyrockets. Modern recruitment is all about career progression, and making sure every person has the right roadmap in place to grow.
This is more challenging in the remote model. Without face-to-face interaction, it can be difficult to build authentic relationships during induction. Visibility is the key to overcoming this. Ensure each newcomer (and existing team member) is given the time to feel seen and heard. This can be through light 1:1s on areas of focus or just check-ins to discuss their own challenges. Once sales leaders grasp this, they can better judge where to place coaching time and budget.
Set the mission and pace
Training shouldn’t focus solely on tech stack or making appointments. Culture starts with a shared vision — a motivator to engage, work and achieve. In the modern world of sales work, sellers look for a bigger reason to turn up than a wage or common commission incentives. A shared vision isn’t a prerequisite for success, but it helps to keep reps motivated with a clear sense of purpose, encouraging unity and collaboration.
For this reason, training has to be about who you are as a business and brand. It needs to focus on your history, your objectives and how teams are expected to work together. What are your KPIs? Where does your product fit in the market? What’s happening in your industry? Establish this from top to bottom.
It’s equally important to create a vision that keeps reps excited by their work — and where they fit into the puzzle. Understand individual aspirations and how you as a business can ensure that every day they spend with you as a business is a day toward their goals, not just toward your own.
Address high rep turnover
Culture and retention work hand in hand. If you don’t have retention, you can’t set culture. A cultural identity needs to transfer to work; it’s a habit. If people keep leaving, you have to keep re-establishing it. It never becomes authentic or natural.
Constantly losing salespeople is a major red flag for prospective employees or newcomers. Finding and training new salespeople can be expensive and if that roster keeps changing, team relationships are weakened and morale falls.
It’s important to build a structure for coaching, support and check-ins between leaders and their teams. This should last through each person’s tenure with the company, not just at the beginning. Regular 1:1 check-ins give sales managers a view into their people. At the same time it helps team members to feel seen, supported, and encouraged to use their best work ethics and sales skills.
Equally, be sure to build a clear strategy for employee growth. Reps feeling stuck or limited by their choices is a huge driver of turnover. Make it known where there is scope for individual growth in your business, then be clear about what’s required to achieve this.
Recognize and incentivize
Paying below-market rate will undoubtedly decrease retention and breed a toxic culture. Keep your on-target earnings (OTE) at least in line with industry rates — or above.
It’s not all about the money. High-performing teams need to establish a culture of winning. Reps should feel that their own personal successes align with the objectives of the business.
It’s easy to lose sight of the long-term impact of your culture by focusing on activity metrics and close rates. For a true ROI from your sales reps, they need to feel incentivized, recognized and stimulated. As part of your culture strategy, include how you intend to motivate sellers through compensation plans and career progression that reward effort, results, initiative and innovative thinking.
Reps should be passionate about the contribution they make to their team and business. If they can’t see that, they won’t feel a sense of responsibility and ownership of their work. The more diluted that becomes, the less motivation there is to make people want to do well outside of their own commission or earning potential.
Culture starts at the team level. It doesn’t matter whether you’re part of a Fortune 500 company or a small business; if you want to build a constructive, cooperative and unified culture that your team members want to buy into, you need to follow four key principles:
- Be transparent and open
- Check in often
- Give credit where it is due & incentivize
- Promote feedback & teamwork
Aimée is one of Harte Hanks Demand Generation’s talented Customer Success Managers, assisting our high-growth partners with their optimization or implementation processes to deliver continual returns on investment from their inside sales activities.