What makes a great company? Its products? Its customer service? Its sales expertise? The management team?
While each component is essential, we need to look beyond individual elements to something all-encompassing that drives a company to achieve.
It’s the culture.
A good company culture guides, supports and encourages a workforce to excel. Of course, it takes leadership to drive a company’s culture. But it can only blossom with employee participation and buy-in. In other words, a company culture isn’t imposed. It develops organically from the chemistry between the management and workforce.
“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company,” explains Brittany Forsyth, Shopify’s chief talent officer, “and have everyone live true to them.”
That’s all well and good when your sales force works in a traditional workplace – sharing office space and meeting face-to-face. Unfortunately, in today’s virtual workplace, all or many of your inside salespeople may be working remotely.
Businesses need a strategy for building a strong, remote sales culture that is encouraging and supportive, even when your inside sales team is scattered across the country or around the world.
It’s not as easy as you might think; in fact, you may be surprised by some of the decisions we made in the months after the shutdowns were lifted.
Why Company Culture Matters, Even in a Remote Workplace
We tend to think of inside sales reps as being reasonably autonomous. They log in each day and get to work on their call list. But it’s not entirely true.
When they work remotely, they lose out. Here’s why. When reps are in the same space, there’s more communication and collaboration. Coffee breaks are social activities when friends meet up for a few minutes to chat. There are opportunities to drop by a manager’s office and discuss a sales situation or share a problem.
However, when everyone is working remotely, it takes more effort to jump online and chat with a colleague or discuss a sales challenge with the boss.
Over time, you risk your remote sales reps becoming too self-focused. They think less and less about their role within the company and more about their own situation.
As we observed during the shutdown, when hard-working reps lose a sense of company, they are less likely to go the extra mile. If they hit their personal sales goal, they are less apt to hustle for the rest of the quarter or share leads and insight with others on the team. In other words, they are working for themselves, not the company, their department or team.
And when that sense of company and sales culture is lost, you can expect more problems in the future:
- Reps fail to be as enthusiastic with customers and prospects, leading to longer sales cycles and below-average close rates.
- Increased turnover is possible among sales reps who need more personal connection.
- As the word gets out, it’s more challenging to attract the best, most talented reps.
An unhealthy sales culture can cost you talent, sales, revenue and growth.
You want your reps to be top achievers; you just don’t want them driving their own sales to the company’s detriment. In sales, it can be a fine line between me, me, me and us, us, us. And that “me” culture can be tough to manage remotely.
6 Elements of Sales Culture for Inside Sales
Creating and maintaining a robust inside sales culture is critical to our business. That’s why, earlier this year, as the pandemic slowed down, we opened our doors and brought our reps back in-house as quickly as we could do so in a safe way.
Of course, as you likely have discovered, business leaders need to be more flexible. Some employees will need to work remotely. Others may want to split time between home and office.
But wherever the work-anywhere model goes, establishing and maintaining your sales culture remains critical. So here are a few thoughts based on our experiences. I have organized these thoughts around the six elements of the sales culture model as defined by the O.C. Tanner Institute:
Purpose: It’s up to you to think through your central purpose – whether, for example, your objective is to help clients achieve success or become the de facto product/service in your industry. Your reps must understand what they are working for. Some tips:
- Encourage feedback and make sure everyone buys into your purpose.
- Make your mission or purpose a regular topic of discussion at meetings and even during the onboarding process.
Leadership: You want to provide your sales teams with the benefit of your guidance and trust, without micromanaging. But above all, you need to lead by example. If you are having trouble getting remote reps to communicate and collaborate, you need to lead the way.
- Hold regular team meetings.
- Call, email and videoconference individuals to check on progress, provide encouragement and mentor, as needed.
Opportunity: Look for every opportunity to function as a department and a company. Don’t let reps become isolated and too independent. Share ideas, collaborate and just shoot the breeze as a sales department.
- Reward flexible thinking and agile behavior, especially when it’s shared with the team.
- Make your onboarding experience as much about understanding the culture and getting to know the team as it is about your products and services. It’s particularly challenging to create a sense of culture remotely. When possible, try to bring new employees into the office and surround them with their peers and support network.
Success: Celebrate successful deals, but don’t overlook the failures. Inside sales reps can learn as much from those that got away as from the big sales. Similarly, don’t punish individual failure when a rep pushes the envelope or takes a calculated risk and falls short. You want to build a team of confident leaders who know how to win.
Appreciation: Appreciation comes in many forms. It’s the respect you show when addressing a rep or making a request. It’s a public acknowledgment for a job well done. By letting employees know they are valued, you build morale and maintain a sense of company.
- Encourage competition and cooperation with a sales leaderboard that tracks individual and team performance versus goals.
- Recognize your reps when they help other team members.
- Provide perks for a job well done. Even small rewards, such as a gift card, speak volumes.
Well-being: As we confront a global health crisis, keeping people healthy and happy is more important than ever. To do so:
- Make online meetings fun and social.
- Provide the tools such as Slack, Paper, Asana and Monday.com that encourage collaboration and feedback.
- Create after-hours Zoom get-togethers just for fun and social interaction.
High-tech, high-touch is not only for your customers. When creating and maintaining a sales culture, you need to take an active role, delineating the company’s purpose, defining the culture, leading by example and providing opportunities for people to work together. It’s also essential to focus on the human need to be appreciated, be acknowledged for their successes and to be healthy and happy.
Sabrina Ferraioli is co-founder and vice president of global sales at 3D2B, which provides B2B customer acquisition solutions to high-technology companies worldwide.