A Culture of Winning – Creating a Great Sales Culture and Sales Traditions

I believe that your people are your biggest asset.  And on a Sales Team your people – sales professionals – can be engaged or disengaged based both on your company’s and your Sales Team’s own culture.  I care personally about building a positive and high-performance corporate culture and Sales Culture that attract and retains A-players. And a great Sales Culture is a very powerful asset at the core of every Sales Team’s foundation and is part of the “organizational health” of your Sales Org.

But what exactly is a Sales Culture?  First of all it is a type of “organizational culture” that is directly related to the Sales Team and an “Organizational culture is the sum of values and rituals which serve as a glue to integrate the members of the organization” (defined by Richard Perrin who is a Partner at KPMG Consulting).

Interestingly, there is no “universal” way to define Culture – Wikipedia on Company Culture has some helpful insights.

Here is what I’ve personally thought about and wrote down from my own experience over the years:

  • A Culture is complex and somewhat intangible –  it is a “corporate personality” that starts first and foremost with your Core Values and the kind of people you recruit that align to these core values and therefore it represents everyone’s collective values, beliefs and principles – overall, it is the set of behaviors that your chosen team members therefore exhibit, accept, reward, tolerate or, even more importantly, don’t tolerate.
    • But there is more to this (which is why Culture is a complex topic) – the Culture embodies the codified core values of the team or the company, the vision, principles, norms, beliefs, interests, philosophies, creeds, expectations, social behaviors, attitudes, customs, traditions, rituals, symbols, assumptions, habits, team-accepted language, ways of doing things, ways of interacting with others, and acceptable conduct which is the actions that you celebrate or reward, ones that you tolerate and even ones that you don’t. Culture integrates all or most of the members of your organization and contributes to the unique environment of the organization both socially and psychologically.
  • The culture influences how much employees identify with the organization, the way people think and feel within the organization, how people interact internally and externally (i.e. with customers), the way they hire others for what they perceive as a “culture fit” and it also influences the acceptance or the resistance towards some changes. It even effects the dress code and the language and communication style in the organization. Culture is transmitted formally and informally and shared to a greater or lesser degree by all members of an organization who commit to working together.
  • The Sales Culture is the sub-culture of the overall organization – this was a concept advanced by Kotter in research in 1992 – it should be a co-existing and not a conflicting sub-culture.
  • The results of a sales organization depends very significantly on its sales culture – a Sales Culture is the one thing that can make the sales team successful as well as unique/special/attractive for new sales talent and recruits.
  • It is not something that can be left alone – it must be proactively designed and cultivated.
  • It also starts with the kinds of people you hire – start with recruiting and selecting the right people for your sales team to have these traits as part of the Sales Culture:
    • ­Hire responsible people with intangibles that they value: preparation, work, discipline, sacrifice, deep commitment to winning (use the Scorecard we have)

Several years ago, Dharmesh Shah, the Co-Founder of HubSpot referred to the culture as “The operating system that powers our organization”. Similarly, your Sales Culture powers your sales organization.

Also, the culture it affects relationships among the sales reps, regional Sales VPs and Sales Directors, managers, sales enablement employees, and even customers.  And all smart CROs / VPs of Sales care about proactively developing the right culture as they hire more sales professionals because the Sales Culture is one of the very critical effectiveness drivers of the performance and success of the sales team.  Also the Sales Culture affects the kinds of sales professionals that are attracted to work for your company (i.e. does your Sales Culture attract A-players in sales?) and how these sales reps will contribute to your company’s success over time plus whether they stay or leave.

But note that a culture does not stand still – it changes, morphs, shifts and grows over time and if you are not intentional about it and don’t guide it correctly then it may go in the wrong direction.  So a Sales Leader must be proactive about leading the sales culture and fostering it in the right direction.


How can a VP of Sales or a CRO proactively guide the Sales Culture?

Start with recruiting and selecting the right people for your sales team.  And you start by selecting people that are in alignment of Core Values.  For example – the Netflix Culture Deck said “the actual values, as opposed to nice-sounding ones, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go”.  Similarly, your sales team should embody your Core Values …and not just look at the them posted on a wall.

Also, make sure your team has the right traits that are aligned to your Sales Culture – for me it has always been:

  • the candidates you hire must align to your criteria on the Scorecard (which should be thought out well to fit your organizational Culture and needs) – part of that is clear alignment of Core Values
  • I also like to find people with positive energy
  • I build teams with professionals who have a deep commitment to winning
  • Also, intangibles: preparation, work, discipline, sacrifice

Finally, here are some Sales Traditions that I’ve used to build up a Sales Culture focused on rewarding performance, supporting the Sales Team’s Core Values and simultaneously ensuring we are having fun doing what we enjoy::

  • Create “The _{Our Company}_ Way” – define what is unique for your sales team to embody (e.g. think: “The Patriot Way“)
  • Cadence of Team Meetings – where we include celebrations of small and big wins
  • Captain of the Week – to support Peer to Peer and Team on Team training
  • Leader boards – linking to Trophies and Contests
  • Playmaker Award
  • Monthly MVPs
  • Sales Team Off-Topic Events – get to know your team members
  • President’s Club
  • Hall of Fame (2x or 3x President’s Club members)
  • Rookie of the Year
  • QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews) – not just updates but also celebrating the wins
  • Annual Kickoffs – also include celebrations and inspiration to kickoff the year
  • Role Models – invite great sales leaders or local business leaders to speak and inspire your sales team


How do you measure your Culture?

There is no definitive universal answer.  But here is what I look for:

  • By the “Core Values” you see displayed by your team in action every day
  • By how much performance you’re getting on the team
  • By the relationships and communication people working with each other on the team


What else? What are some other ideas on developing a great Sales Culture?