Company Culture

7 Steps to Build a Winning Sales Culture

A positive, motivating environment is intrinsic to your company's profitability and longevity.
7 Steps to Build a Winning Sales Culture
Image credit: vladans | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Co-founder and president of Pipedrive
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Sales is a stressful job. As a former door-to-door salesman, I know all about the unique pressures that come with working in the industry. Rejection, quotas, competition -- just a day in the life of a salesperson.

A tough sales culture often is characterized by low morale, a deteriorating sense of mission and missed sales targets. The sense of having little control (or a lack of it altogether) can lead even the best sales manager toward bad results.

Culture is the foundation of every solid business. It reflects what you stand for, what you value and what you aspire to achieve. It defines your company's personality and shapes how you behave, work and communicate. Sales leaders have a responsibility to create a positive environment that keeps their teams motivated and engaged. This is not only pivotal to boost productivity, it’s intrinsic to your company's profitability and longevity.

Building and maintaining this culture is no easy feat, but the results are well worth it. Here are some strategies to establish a sales culture that motivates, inspires and drives success.

1. Hire for the right culture fit.

A company is only as good as its people. This certainly rings true when it comes to maintaining a winning sales culture.

At Pipedrive, we make character fit a large part of our hiring process. In my experience, it's not hard to teach new skills to people who are open to learning. It’s much harder to change their character. When you hire people with a negative attitude, big ego or poor work ethic, you run the risk of infecting your entire sales team. Experience and skills matter, to be sure, but a person who doesn’t embrace your mission will not be the team player you need to drive your overall success.

Don't make the mistake of trying to change people to become a good culture fit. Instead, focus on finding people who align with your culture and values. Culture shouldn’t be forced. It works when people feel they can be themselves.

Related: 11 Crucial Interview Questions to Ensure a Culture Fit

2. Set clear goals and expectations.

Clear communication about goals and expectations is a must for sales teams. Without it, your team is likely to lose momentum. Goals should be challenging enough to keep salespeople engaged, but also achievable.

When it comes to setting sales targets, data is key. Demonstrate where these numbers could come from as well as how your sales reps can get there. An activity-based sales plan really can help drive success here. Salespeople have little control over who buys and who doesn't. Activity-based selling involves setting achievable goals your sales team can manage.

Instead of asking a team member to make 10 sales, ask him or her to conduct 30 product demonstrations -- in line with an anticipated conversion rate. This approach boosts confidence and also will help keep performance on track.

Regular one-to-one catch-ups are key to monitor progress and identify any challenges and roadblocks. Position yourself to serve as a mentor and sales coach. People need someone to listen when they express their ideas, concerns and long-term ambitions.

Related: 6 Reasons Why Concrete Goals Are Essential to Entrepreneurial Success

3. Encourage learning and development.

Don’t let numerical targets monopolize your goals. Think about setting other targets to enhance a team member’s skills. Find out what motivates your employees on an individual level. What are each's strengths and weaknesses? Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) around these elements to maintain a focus on improvement.

Employees like to feel valued, and they'll appreciate your willingness to invest in their ongoing learning and development. Demonstrate your dedication to their professional growth, and you'll see a increased productivity.

4. Build a strong team. (And have fun!)

An element of competition is important. It drives us to achieve our goals, and the very nature of the sales business means rivalries aren't uncommon. When competition becomes cutthroat among team members, though, you've got a serious problem. Communication breaks down.

Your sales team should understand the company won't hit its revenue targets if only one or two people perform well. Similarly, it's your job to put in place processes to facilitate knowledge-sharing. Schedule team meetings to share success stories and challenges. Appoint specific employees as subject-matter experts to capitalize on individual strengths.

It’s also important to foster trust and good rapport among team members. Sometimes this requires taking a step back from selling to have some fun. Make time for team-building activities, treat the team to lunch or celebrate a successful week with a Friday hangout. Arrange these activities on company time. Your team will appreciate this fun and effective way to reward good work.

Related: The Unusual Team-Building Methods of Famous Bosses

5. Celebrate all types of contributions.

Always recognize good performance. Promoting a culture that openly celebrates excellent work gives life to more excellent work! It's noteworthy when reps hit their numbers and close big deals, but it's also important to honor other achievements. You might uplift a team member who makes client retention a priority or who provides an outstanding example of how to embrace company values. Every one of your employees wants to know his or her contribution really matters. These people are integral to a culture of success, so be proactive about giving them the respect and appreciation they deserve.

6. If you fail, fail fast!

There's only one certainty in sales: At some point, you will experience failure. Data shows even high-performing organizations close fewer than 50 percent of their prospects. Rejection is never easy, but it comes with the territory. You need to get tactical about it. Make sure your team understands failure is OK -- provided it happens fast and they learn from it.

No one in sales wants to hear ‘no.' Disqualifying an ill-fitting prospect early in the process means you can refocus on opportunities that are more likely to generate revenue. To fail strategically, your team must be empowered with the right tools. It’s crucial to identify patterns and standardize the reasons for lost opportunities. Analyzing the factors that lead to failure will help refine processes, boost productivity and create more wins in the long run.

Related: 4 Ways I Fail Forward on a Daily Basis and Why You Should Do the Same

7. Inspire passion and trust.

Communication is paramount to establishing a positive sales culture. It builds trust in leadership, among team members and in the company vision.

Share your company's long-term goals with your team. After all, you're asking your sales force to work collectively toward this vision. You want them to not only know the company's purpose but to identify with that mission and become committed toward fulfilling it. This requires communication from the top down. Your team must understand there is a bigger goal behind every sale and their work is a meaningful pursuit.

Sales leaders should strive daily to keep sales reps passionate and excited about what they are selling. Success often comes down to openness, communication and -- above all -- trust. A winning sales culture takes time and effort to build, but you will be rewarded with a productive and loyal sales team whose members are driven to succeed for your business.

Related: Your Team Will Succeed Only If They Trust Each Other

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