In sales, culture is everything — and right now, it’s everywhere too.
Sales culture has become one of the buzziest buzzwords out there, with think pieces popping up left and right about why culture matters.
Don’t get us wrong: it does matter. In a survey from Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees said they believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success.
The problem is culture has become a big, broad term that feels impossible to measure or quantify. But we’ve got good news: It’s not magic. It doesn’t just happen. There’s no unattainable “it” factor that some sales orgs have and others don’t.
Everybody’s got culture, and every sales leader has the power to turn theirs into a high-performing one, starting right now.
Best of all, you don’t need a brand new strategy or a great big budget. Instead, we’d argue that a high-performance sales culture really comes down to these 7 must-have habits.
7 Must-Have Habits for a Winning Sales Culture
- Your people
- Clear KPIs
- Intentional goals
- Coaching initiative
- Healthy competition
- Transparency and visibility
- Data-driven decision making
1. Your People
Let’s start with the basics…
It’s a no-brainer that a great team requires great people. You can do everything else perfectly, but if you don’t have the right people (in the right places), your culture will never measure up.
You’ll know you’re on the right track if each and every hire is someone who:
- Cares about the work you’re doing together
- Believes in the vision of your company
- Shares the same core values that the business is founded upon
According to a CultureIQ report, the 3 culture quality scores that have the greatest impact on employee satisfaction are work environment, support systems, and mission and value alignment.
Of course, other considerations are important too. But if your team doesn’t share a passion and excitement for the “why” of your company, you run the risk of forever having a sales culture that’s mediocre at best.
2. Clear KPIs
A sales org without clear KPIs is… well… chaos.
If everyone understands the metrics that indicate success and the activities that are directly tied to those metrics, your team is exponentially more likely to succeed. That means more wins, but it also means everyone is aligned and moving in the same direction.
So how do you define clear sales KPIs?
The first step is to ensure you’ve got “The Number” in place––the North Star revenue goal (be it quarterly or annually)––your team is trying to hit as a unit.
Next, reverse engineer your sales funnel by each opportunity stage—from closed deal all the way back to first meeting set. (Use a whiteboard if it helps!) This should make it easy to figure out the lagging indicators that are tied to closed/won deals.
Then, for every opportunity stage you’ve laid out, take a moment to:
- figure out the conversion rate between stages
- identify which activities drive those conversions
Once you know which metrics matter and which activities drive those metrics upward, you need to help your reps focus on those activities—which brings us to the next key component of a high-performing sales culture.
3. Intentional Goals
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: If your goals aren’t S.M.A.R.T., they’re stupid.
Every sales goal should be:
It’s impossible to create truly S.M.A.R.T. goals if you don’t have clear KPIs (see #2). Goals should be structured around the activities and metrics that get everyone closer to The Number. Otherwise, you’re setting your team up for failure (which tends to put a damper on your sales culture).
So you’ve got to set the right goals. You’ve also got to have the right mix of goals in place.
Individual goals are specific to each individual rep and are typically career-path driven. For example, an SDR may ask their manager how to become an AE. Their manager can then set goals, such as quarterly quota or objective goals, that give the SDR a clear path to career growth.
Also known as group goals, team goals are collaborative in nature. They rely on multiple people, such as the SDR team, or a cross-functional pod team of AEs, SDRs, and CSMs, working together to achieve something.
Typically, team goals are stretch goals with a juicy incentive tied to goal achievement. These goals drive teams to work together to go above and beyond what’s required of them individually. As a result, team goals tend to strengthen the bond among peers on the sales floor—and help the team become greater than the sum of its parts.
4. Coaching Initiative
Every sales org needs an effective, long-term coaching and development program. According to a global survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Association Resource center, the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching was 7 times the initial investment––with more than a fourth of participants reporting an ROI of 10 to 49 times.
While there’s a very direct correlation between effective coaching and win rates, a good coaching program can also work wonders for your sales culture.
Much like setting individual goals for your reps, taking time to develop your team, especially in 1:1s, sends a very clear message that you care about the success of everyone on your team and that you want to empower them to become better salespeople.
PRO TIP: don’t forget about your middle 70 percent. Many sales leaders make the mistake of spending too much time and energy on their top performers (who have less room for growth) and their bottom performers (who may not have the capacity to grow).
5. Healthy Competition
This is what everyone considers “the fun stuff.” And sure, contests, competitions, and rewards are fun. As a bonus, they can deliver some quick wins in a short amount of time.
But sales competitions are also a major culture-building opportunity—that is, if you run your competitions the right way and get creative with your sales incentives.
When running competitions, remember that only 10 to 25 percent of your team has a true shot at winning “best/most of” challenges, such as Most Revenue Closed. Your A-team is going to show up continuously, and others will not be acknowledged if these are the only challenges you run.
As a leader, your opportunity here is to continue pushing the high performers, while also finding ways to keep the middle 70 percent of your team engaged.
You can do this by running multiple challenges at once. In addition to a Most Pipeline Generated challenge, for example, consider also running team-based challenges. Team competitions not only align groups internally, but have the added benefit of engaging more people who otherwise may not have made it onto a leaderboard.
As for incentives, gift cards and cash may be practical, but to put it bluntly, they’re prizes of the past. Spice up your competitions by offering out-of-the-box incentives—something your reps really want but don’t need and would never purchase on their own.
For example, for two years running, Ambition has rented a billboard for the AE who brought in the most annual contract value inQ3. The winner chooses the location of the billboard and designs the billboard content.
6. Transparency and Visibility
As a sales leader, you should know where every person on your team stands in terms of performance. But your reps should have easy access to that information too, so they understand how they’re doing and how they measure up to their peers.
Be aware, this level of insight can be an incredible motivator. But there’s more to transparency than motivation. Being fully transparent with your team on all fronts (from expectations to goals to day-to-day progress) promotes trust and alignment on your team.
Communicating that information clearly—and whenever possible, visually—means everyone can recognize and celebrate wins. It also gives you the opportunity to course-correct privately, so you can get out ahead of issues before they feel insurmountable.
Both of these are huge culture wins, helping your reps feel supported and empowered on the sales floor.
7. Data-Driven Decision Making
No sales leader should ever have to choose between being people-first or data-driven. These are not mutually exclusive concepts—and we’d argue that relying on metrics actually allows you to be more focused on the success and wellbeing of your team.
Giving everyone access to clear (and clean) data means that reps can be comfortable knowing they’re on track to hit quota, or knowing when they need to ask for help.
And managers no longer have a chaotic last-day-of-quarter, pulling reports and crossing their fingers. They know when to intervene early to keep their teams focused on hitting the number. Data also takes the guesswork and subjectivity out of the job, making it a win for everyone.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to creating a high-performance sales culture, there’s no silver bullet. Savvy sales leaders know that it’s an ongoing, measurable process.
We’ve given you 7 essential habits of a high-performance sales culture. If you implement them and choose to commit, you can expect happier, higher performing employees who are there for the long haul.