Although there’s a strong parallel between creating a winning culture in Sports and Sales, winning cultures come in all shapes and sizes. There’s an important yet subtle distinction between creating a winning culture centered around winning at any cost and winning the right way. The difference between the two is often overlooked and dealt with reactively rather than proactively. The solution typically involves recruiting the right people that fit your organization’s culture, ongoing coaching and training, and how your leadership team communicates their vision, sets expectations, and deals with discipline.
As the Business Owner, Visionary, or Integrator, I want to equip you with new concepts that help you create a Winning Sales Culture.
Winning a single championship is the goal of most teams, but winning back-to-back titles is the goal of only one team each year. Last year, the Georgia Bulldogs football team won their second consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Football Championship. Winning back-to-back NCAA Division I Football Championships is so rare that since 1950, it’s only happened five other times: Oklahoma (1955-56), Texas (1969-70), Alabama (1978-79), Nebraska (1994-95), and Alabama (2011-12).
Unfortunately, while winning back-to-back titles, Georgia’s football program developed a massive imbalance between strong on-field performance and terrible off-field behavior involving poor decisions, infractions, arrests, accidents, and even injury and death. Shockingly, Georgia’s starting QB, Stetson Bennett, and their starting DT, Jalen Carter, were their most recent arrests and the team’s 8th and 9th in the past 12 months.
If winning national championships is the goal, where did Georgia go wrong? According to Georgia’s coach, Kirby Smart, the breakdowns occurred at the individual level. That’s an interesting perspective, blaming the players, but I don’t buy it. The range of failures points to a lack of leadership, poor communication, and the coach’s inability to set expectations of excellence on and off the field while holding players accountable.
Of course, Georgia is not alone. Cultural imbalances and breakdowns are common in sports. They date back millennia to the Greeks, Romans, and early Olympians. More recent sports teams and individuals encountering cultural failures, including doping, betting, and cheating, are all too common. Unfortunately, the list of athletes dishonoring their sport, legacy, and honor is long. Nearly every sport has at least one, and some sports have many examples of athletes or coaches who have fallen from grace. Here are a few to stoke your memory:
Cycling – Lance Armstrong’s Doping Scandal
Ice Skating – Tanya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Kneecapping Scandal
Olympics – Chinese, Soviet, and Russian doping. There have been 442 positive doping tests spanning many different countries at the Olympic Games from 1968 to 2020. Statistica, Feb 9, 2022
Creating a Winning Sales Culture
Improving your Sales Culture can be challenging but critical to your long-term success. On the surface, a business can act like the Georgia Bulldogs football team – performing well on specific metrics but masking others. For example, it could be achieving its sales goals but struggling with low customer renewal rates, high employee turnover, or lack of engagement. There’s always room for improvement.
Start by asking yourself this critically important question about your current Sales Culture:
Do we have a Sales-driven (customer-centric) or an Operations-driven (company-centric) sales culture?
Next, ask yourself questions about the direction of your Sales Culture – where is it now, where do you want it to go, and how are you going to get there? Once you’ve answered these questions with your leadership team, you can correctly develop the framework for creating a winning sales culture.
Winning Sales Culture Components
Over the years, I’ve found that the most common and most powerful steps to creating a winning Sales Culture include the following components:
1. Hire the right people.
Invest in HR systems & assessment tools to identify the best salespeople for your company and sales culture.
Hire a professional recruiter to find top-caliber candidates and insist they use your assessment tools.
2. Goal Setting & Compensation.
Benchmark and align Sales Comp plans and Sales Targets/Quota annually.
Use sales compensation plans to encourage, reinforce, and drive the right behaviors.
3. Rewards & Recognition.
Develop separate but complementary Rewards & Recognition programs to support the main Sales Compensation plan to encourage teamwork while reinforcing desired behaviors.
Publicly recognize top performers — electronic leaderboards, whiteboards, whatever works.
Publicly recognize desired behaviors. Encourage nominations for spot awards & gift cards.
Keep it fresh and fun with Sales Contests and Team Events. Create friendly competitions, letting your team members come up with their internal team names, themes, and soundtrack. Encourage some light-hearted, friendly trash-talking!
Create a Wall of Fame in the Sales area featuring top sales performers monthly. Post names along with their monthly results and stick with it. You’ll create a sales legacy for your top Sales Reps, and in a few years, it’ll be fun to look back on all the Reps who were, at one point, Top Dog.
4. Sales Coaching vs. Sales Training.
Sales Coaching and Sales Training are very different and must be done in parallel. Sales Coaching is usually informal, unstructured, typically undocumented, and done frequently. Sales Training is often more formal, structured, documented, and done less frequently. Be sure to develop an annual sales training plan and budget to establish a structured way of identifying gaps, and developing action plans, while preparing the next generation of sales leaders (vs. a set-and-forget one-time event). Sales reps will view your investment in Sales Training as a positive investment in them and their careers, improving retention.
5. Performance reviews.
Establish 6- to 12-month performance reviews depending on the type of sales role. Address and manage sub-par performers promptly. Use a 90-day Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) process to allow corrective measures to be pursued; this is the professional and fairest way to address sub-par performers. Exiting an under-performer needs to be managed carefully due to its potential impact on the Sales Culture you’re trying to create.
6. Manage the Sales Culture.
Managing the Sales Culture is one of the most challenging dynamics a Sales Leader has to execute because it’s intangible, unpredictable, and hard to see. Hire a Sales Leader who embraces a positive sales culture and works hard to improve it. To get it right, ask for feedback often. Encourage teamwork at every stop. Try to understand what makes every member of your sales team tick. Knowing their preferences can help you better understand how to manage and motivate them.
Creating A Winning Sales Culture is a Journey
Sales Culture is one of my favorite sales topics. There is no easy path to victory when creating a Winning Sales Culture. Remember, it’s not always about the championships; it’s also about character. We must remind our young athletes and professional salespeople that you can have both – they are not mutually exclusive. You can achieve your dreams by following the rules, demonstrating good sportsmanship, and treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself. But in the end, it’s up to the Business Owner and Sales Leader to collaborate on creating a Winning Sales Culture that works for your business.
If you’d like to elevate your team’s Sales Performance, let’s schedule a confidential meeting today!