As published on Forbes.com
One of the most common questions I receive at my keynote addresses and workshops is how to infuse an organization with a culture of sales for growth. The top companies seem to just ooze an atmosphere of enthusiasm and opportunity. They attract talented employees, and those employees act as a magnet to attract the best customers. Eventually, you build a sales culture for growth across your organization. But, how do you build a sales culture?
It’s not like you can order a shipment of culture from Amazon. Or, can you? Amazon owns Zappos, and Zappos offers a free book about their culture. Robert Richman, co-creator of Zappos Insights and author of Culture Blueprint, provides one of the best guides to building culture in your company.
The Common Theme
The common theme across all of the culture gurus is that culture starts with values. Values do not reside within a division, a department, or a job title. They cut across the organization. If you want to build a culture for growth, recognize that you have to establish values that apply to everyone within your organization. This means that nobody can say, “That’s not my job.” Where do you begin?
Step 1 – Culture Comes From Within
Do not try to fix or impose culture. You build culture from the foundation up.
If you tell your team “this is the culture you have to implement,” rest assured it’s going to fail (or epic fail as my teenage daughter would say). Richman says, “Don’t just bring in a program. Ask your team what they think it means to have a sales culture. Your team needs to get their frustrations off of their chests and contribute their ideas. If your associates don’t feel heard and consulted, then you are trying to impose something instead of letting it come from within. They potentially might come up with a better idea than what you originally envisioned. At a minimum, your team members will feel like someone heard their ideas.”
You might be able to dictate a policy or procedure. However, building culture is a collaborative process.
Step 2 – Define Where You Add The Greatest Value For Your Customers And Team
Top performing companies do not strive to be everything to everybody. Generalists don’t build a brilliant culture. The companies with the best culture might offer competitive pricing, but they definitely offer unquestionable value. Work with your team to have them define the problems you uniquely solve for your clients. The list of problems you solve and why your customers would need what you do will not just come from your sales team. By sharing where your company adds value, your team will understand where they help your clients the most. You cannot build a culture of sales if your team does not believe in what you are selling. When you see impact, you can believe in what you are selling.
Depending on your organization, valuable input will come from your customer service team, project managers, paralegals, and administrative staff. Those who regularly interact with customers often know more about the impact you have on customers than your salespeople might know. This doesn’t mean you should exclude sales and marketing. But, don’t have sales and marketing drive the process. Some of the best ideas will come from unexpected sources.
Don’t just stop at how you impact your customers. Have an open discussion about how your company impacts your associates. Top performing companies have happy customers and happy employees. There is a great debate about which comes first, the happy employee or the happy customer. But, rest assured, that you can’t succeed in building a culture of sales without considering how you impact those inside your organization.
Step 3 – Include Every Department
In many companies, executives in certain departments seek to evade culture initiatives. The finance department and human resources departments can be instrumental in delivering culture across an organization. I just delivered a talk in Denver where the CEO sent his CFO so that his part of the organization had a better understanding of how his department could impact their sales culture. That is a clear sign of commitment.
The human resources department is critical, but maybe not where you think. Many organizations see the HR department driving culture. Instead, the most important task for HR is to identify and attract the best talent. The HR team needs the skills and passion to recruit top talent and “sell the company” to potential candidates. If the new candidates enter the company with a sense of culture, then it is easier to sustain and enhance that culture over time.
Building a culture of sales does not happen overnight. One initiative or meeting will not produce results. You have to engage your team to identify what culture means to them, and your team needs to bring the ideas and value from within. They have to believe in where you add value to your customers and internally for your employees. For the companies who have delivered on this vision, they engage talented employees, attract coveted customers, and earn the respect of their competitors and peers.
It’s Your Turn
Where have you seen culture initiatives succeed or fail? What companies inspire you to build a culture of sales? Do those companies push products or services, or do they communicate how they help customers? Take the discussion to Twitter and LinkedIn and share your thoughts.