Take a walk. Most likely, you will find the typical salesperson in a mall stopping you. He will try to give you something in return for your time to see his products or services. You may just smile and say “not interested.” But this matter most to the poor guy standing there, getting another round of rejection yet flashing out a weak smile.
What happen thereafter?
A bunch of them throw in the towel, swearing that the firm is out to cheat – and this job is doomed. The management looks at the situation, thought that these guys lack resilience and are big-time complainers. Hence, they just recruit another group of young and energetic folks. The cycle continues.
The wider question is this: is it a “hire and fire” sales culture or is there a nurturing environment where sales guys are being trained and well mentored? Are they allowed to experiment, fail once and encouraged to get back up again?
The truth is, organizations that didn’t spend time reflecting their internal sales framework end up wasting resources and time to try to get the best fit. They may end up one or two winners but most often, the output is disastrous. They operate as a sweatshop, like a factory churning out old parts.
It doesn’t reflect well on the corporate image. From the client’s perspective, the relationship has to be re-started again with a new business development person. Trust and confidence in him has to be developed. What can be closed within a month has to be realistically made possible after six months as the new guy fosters fresh ties with the client – and the client has to get comfortable with him. The unnecessary cost redundancies can be reduced greatly if there is a clear sales foundation in place that believes in nurturing potential salespeople – for example a practice of giving internal training and allowing room for them to practice what they learn.
On the flip side, if the organization is overly sales oriented but expectations are not well agreed by both parties; the salesperson will feel performance-pressured, thinking the higher-ups are not in touch with the ground. It can result in both ways – the fittest will be motivated to arise to the occasion, the pessimists feel that the targets are unrealistic.
It can also be argued that yes, 1) if salespeople under-deliver despite guidance, their job is on the line 2) if the salespeople hit their quota in the financial year, they are expected to maintain the same level of standard in subsequent years.
Hence, the management will promote the selected few salespeople who are the cream of the crop. Though there is a distinct difference between an individual Sales Performer and a Sales Leader but we’ll talk about it another time. The non-survival ones get kicked out. The middle guys do not feel confident in their position.
What you end up can be a culture of doubt, self-suspicion between one another and therefore a toxic sales environment of back-stabbing to be at the very top.
So, what makes a sales culture thriving yet conducive to bring salespeople to the best?
It boils down to the values framed by the management, the internal relationship and for salespeople to realize what’s in it for them internally. Is the firm positioned to sell at all cost, be client-centrist or decide the type of clients to work together?
Sell at all cost
An environment with salespeople who are told to sell whatever they can to make up their numbers. There will be a point where integrity and ethos are greatly undermined without taking the client interests in mind. A good example is the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008. Insurance agents direct clients to purchase plans that doesn’t suit them, structured products sold to clients that are highly risky without doing the basic needs analysis.
There will be intense competition within the teams internally, psychologically to see who will be the first to be successful because the bosses tell them to sell whatever in house they have in across their respective territories. The ones who are left behind look bad. Products and services are aggressively sold – and there will be the issue of sales sustainability. When the dust settles, the firm’s reputation takes big hit, considering the widespread regular complaints on social media. People are just trying to get quick sales, any sales here.
Decide the type of clients to sell
Imagine this. You are selling a product but you feel the other party doesn’t have the expected budget set forth. No negotiation, no concession – is either you take it or leave it. The salesperson has no choice but to walk away since there is no middle consensus.
In this culture, the value instilled in salesperson’s mentality is such that they can’t be too flexible. They have to be positioned as the leading market price marker – only target to the big boys because these guys has the cash to buy and not possible to offer solutions.
Hence, to charge a considerable amount to the client despite a slight discount given. The firm anticipates that they have a bigger budget to buy, hence will not budge further.
Theoretically, they are right.
In practical terms, it can be flawed because an operating budget can be sliced to different parts – sometimes, the expenditure is cut and the last they do is to spend on you despite reporting healthy revenue growth. It depends on how important is your product or service value.
So what does the salesperson get mostly in the end?
A handful of clients. A salesperson can’t be allowed to fail in this environment as the pool of clients is highly concentrated. Don’t forget there are competitors of yours fighting for the same pot. Concentration risk is a huge factor – and if the management doesn’t addresses but pressure the sales guys to perform, that leads to a self destructive culture.
Ideally, this is the best approach. The approach is consultative, trying to get into the minds of prospects to understand how they feel, what they are facing before the salesperson proposes a suitable solution. The sales cycle will not be too quick, time is allowed for client relationship to blossom and salespeople are encouraged to ask more questions first to uncover the real needs.
So, the expectation from the top bosses is not overbearing but cultivates a sense of teamwork, sharing and learning. Hence, the culture is that the sales guys are more approachable, friendly and thoughtful.
The downside is – if this is taken too extreme, potential prospects will take the salespeople for a free ride. Therefore, there has to be a balance in place – knowing a time to be assertive and a time to be in deep listening mode.
Understanding all three above is important. Find out where your sales culture fits well. The best solution is to a point where client-centrist makes the bulk of the culture.
A great sales culture is one that the salespeople are empowered to make decisions yet accept the decisions made by the management, respect the best practices underlined by the firm across offices and territories.
They can be individual performers yet has the aptitude to learn and grow by seeking advice from their peers. They are open to help one another to achieve a common group target set by the team leader. And the Team Leader imparts new knowledge to respective individuals, the Team Leader puts a set of common practice to follow.
To do this, a sales culture of celebrating failure but belief in continuous improvement is essential. It’s advised that leaders should be less micro-managed and their role is to bring up the strengths of each salesperson through mentorship or provide tools to enhance their skills.
For example, a good negotiator in the team can be a role model to mentor other colleagues. A good sales presenter can share his knowledge to others without having his ego take over him.
What define a successful sales culture depends on the robustness of an internal framework that will make salespeople confident, offer a platform for new ideas to grow the sales pipeline and senior salespeople whom are happy to provide their sales guidance, re-adapt to ever-changing situations happening on the ground.
It’s important, as a salesperson climbs the ladder, to understand the type of culture that’s best suited. Not 100%, at least to hit the minimum.
Unless the salesperson is able to change things (which is not always possible), an environment that’s belittling the salesperson’s confidence in a bad pressure-cooker box, will lead to a firm’s exodus of exceptional selling talent – and higher recruitment cost.