The Culture Club

I was talking to a client of mine the other day, a senior head of sales and one of the best I know at building teams and who truly understands corporate and sales culture.

He was bemoaning the fact that in his search for a senior sales leader to work for him he couldn’t find anyone who could truly articulate to him what sales culture is and more importantly could demonstrate how they had implemented a culture in their past jobs.

It got me thinking about how I would describe it? It’s one of those subjects that most people acknowledge exists, have a stab at talking about, but few convince me that they truly understand.

Driving Culture 

Every sales leader is very comfortable talking about their achievements and drilling down into the tactical reasons around how they focused on their key metrics and how they drove their teams to hit those numbers through monetary incentives. That is obviously one element of building and driving culture. In addition, they talk about building a team ethic, largely through celebrating achievements together as a team.

But none of those ideas separates one sales leader from another. What are the extra elements that make companies and teams really great? I started thinking about where I had experienced strong corporate and sales cultures.

Is the Culture Philosophy Really That Important?

In my 25 + years working within large global organisations, there seemed to be a mixed acknowledgement and thought process around culture. I remember talking to one CEO of a major global provider in the market who told me that they didn’t believe that it was incumbent on the management of the firm to create culture, but that it had to be allowed to evolve of its own accord.

Now, this is a philosophy that most people would not agree with and it’s not surprising, (in my opinion) that that company had a poor sales culture. In many other firms, it wasn’t something that was talked about by many sales leaders, bar the putting up of some generic posters on the office walls detailing the mission statement and values of the business.

When we break down what sales cultures are, isn’t it all about creating a set of behaviours among your people that underpin the firm’s goals and beliefs? That cannot be done with graphics and mass mailshots to the sales team, extolling them to ‘shoot for the stars’ or any other variation of business-speak nonsense.

The Three Areas That I Believe Shape Cultures Are:

The Vision

It must come from the leader, looking his people in the eyes and telling them how they are going to move forward; they must set the vision. The best sales leaders I know can brilliantly paint a picture of where the team is heading, detailing the signposts and difficulties on the way and culminating on where they will end up. Within this plan, they must detail exactly the actions that will lead them to success at the end of this journey.

Crucially they will also make that team understand how fantastic they will feel when they reach their destination. They detail the market position they will be in, how far the competition will be behind and what a great feeling that will give them. The monetary rewards for the team then almost become a secondary element to the team atmosphere that will be created by being on that journey. Everyone should be so excited about that destination and because each stage has been clearly laid out, they should also understand exactly where they are at any given moment along that path.

Great People

When all is said and done it is ONLY about great people. None of this stuff works without them. The understanding of what one looks like, the measurement of whether you have them in your team and the planning and execution of going out to the market to recruit new ones.

A clear and coherent recruitment strategy is vital and the best leaders I know ensure that a substantial portion of their time is set-aside to it. They are clear about the type of person that will fit their culture. They plan how their firm should be represented in the market place to candidates and they also ensure that when someone is in the process everyone who interviews that person is constantly reaffirming the culture of the firm.


Business is changing constantly and the culture you have must be constantly assessed to ensure that it is working to the benefit of all. This requires regular one to one dialogue with your key people. Unless you truly understand where they are on a regular basis you face the danger of that culture slipping. Training and learning must also form a key part of your plan.

It is important to not be seduced by early successes. Particularly when someone first takes over a team, there is often a positive fillip that energises the people short term but is not sustainable. There should be a relentless focus on the whole subject with a totally honest approach to where the people in the organisation are.

I don’t have all the answers and am sure many people will have different views about how you create culture. The important element of this is that leaders must have a coherent plan and clear thoughts about what it is.

If they do, they will certainly, at the very least, please my client if they are ever asked the question, “can you explain how you develop a strong sales culture?”