Sales culture eats strategy for breakfast

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Create a sales culture for increased profits, faster revenue growth and better salesforce retention.

February 5, 2020

Don’t you wish your salesforce sold twice as much as your competitors, your business was extremely profitable and your salespeople and customers loved you? Is this even possible? Chick-fil-A produces twice as much revenue as any other fast food chain and they are closed on Sundays. An investment in Southwest Airlines in the early 1970s of $10,000 dollars was worth close to $12 million in 2000 — the highest return of almost any company in a 30-year period — and it’s a low-cost airline in a very competitive industry. Zappos shoes went from start-up to being bought by Amazon in 10 years for more than $1 billion. These companies all have at least one thing in common.

When sales managers are asked what makes a great salesforce, they often cite great products and services, excellent strategies, sound processes and systems and being in the right place at the right time. Although these elements are important, there is one secret that the really successful sales leaders have.

When the founder of Chick-fil-A was asked about their success, he said it comes from its people. Regardless of your industry, once you establish the mindset that you are in the “People Business” then it almost does not matter what you sell. The mindset of the great salesforces starts with focusing on the salespeople and their attitudes and behaviors.

Here are three mindsets to work on with your sales leaders to have much better employee and customer loyalty and amazing financial results.

Salespeople first, customers second, money third

Let’s face it, we are driven in companies to push the salesforce for results, and in many cases, financial results. This focus on money first leads us to then focus on customers (where the money comes from) and then as a distant third, fourth, fifth or more, we spend some resources on the salespeople.

This order is leading to reduced profits, upset customers and high employee turnover. What would happen if we changed the order in which we focus on these three elements to employees first, customers second and money third?

Richard Anderson, former CEO of Delta Airlines, realized that if his company was to survive (he helped bring Delta and Northwest out of bankruptcy) it was going to be because of the people. At Delta he focused his time and communication on employees (who he thought of as all selling the Delta brand) and making sure they followed the company founder’s values and behaviors. Richard found an employee manual from the 1940s and rewrote it into what became the driving principles at Delta. This led to a rebirth in a sales and service culture which led to record profits.

Change the order in your mindset to focus on salespeople/employees first; this drives customer satisfaction and as a result more profits.

Sales culture first, structure second, strategy third

For at least the last century, the focus has been on sales/company strategy, creating a structure to support it and finally (as an after-thought many times) creating a generic culture. What has this led to?

As companies focused on getting things done, too many strategies were completed which did not fulfill the key element of strategy, which is to create a sustainable competitive advantage. While sales managers pushed to get things done, they created structures to support this frantic activity. After the strategy and structure were created (with little employee involvement) sales managers wondered why employees did not want to execute the strategy and why restructuring the salesforce was not working.

Make your sales culture the focus of your efforts and then the structures and strategies to support that culture. This will lead to highly productive and happy salespeople who customers love and buy more from. A good culture to start out with is based on the C.A.P. values of Curiosity, Accountability and People Skills.

Sales leaders first, coaching second and managing third

A leader focuses on salespeople and sales culture, a coach on sales processes and a manager on sales strategies and results. It is important as a sales leader to focus on all three of these areas, in the order mentioned, as people first need to be inspired and have a culture to live, then be in a structure that grows and then be held accountable for producing great results.

There are currently too many sales managers, a few sales coaches and hardly any sales leaders. This heavy emphasis on managing the salesforce with quotas and a “Beatings will continue until morale improves attitude” is leading to salespeople who sell because they have to, customers that buy because they have to, and profits that come in below expectations.

When you lead first, coach second and manage third you will have a salesforce that likes and is successful at selling, treats customers well and produces great results.

A secret to having a great salesforce is to hire and promote well and this is again done with an emphasis on hiring people that fit your culture, growing them with coaching and training and holding them accountable to reach the high levels they are capable of.

John Waid is the founder of C-3 Corporate Culture Consulting and author of the book, “Reinventing Ralph.”