Organizational leaders not only model the culture, they are responsible for designing policies and procedures that are aligned with and reinforce the underlying culture of the organization. The sales culture is then shaped by the decisions made by sales management regarding training, recruitment, performance measures, incentives, rewards, and recognitions, and the overall structure of the sales force.
Sales training defines the skills and knowledge that are required to meet individual and business performance targets.
Training also helps define and perpetuate a culture because it offers a shared learning experience. Salespeople go through various training program levels in their career learning the ropes with their colleagues. This shared experience is important in the socialization process. Additionally, the content of the training with respect to company policies, procedures, expected behaviors, dos and don’ts, and the like, define the norms and values that compose the sales culture. Unlike employees in other departments of the company, salespeople most often come in contact with their own salespeople with little cross-functional interaction on a day-to-day basis. Sales training then is an important mechanism in building and perpetuating culture.
Many of the organizations we met with said that recruiting the “right” people was one of the more important responsibilities of management to support the culture. Selection criteria, profiles, and testing are a few of the many recruitment tools that organizations utilize to ensure they are picking the people that will best “fit” the culture. By creating a profile of a successful salesperson and a series of requirements and interview items, one participating organization was able to target sales candidates that best fit their cultural mold. If teamwork is an important cultural attribute of a sales force, recruiting the competitive rouge may lead to a bad fit. The culture dictates and at the same time reinforces the kind of person the firm wants to attract.
Selecting the right people and training them helps to facilitate the belief systems and organizational context of the culture. Managers also can guide behavior, decision making, and everyday activities through establishing performance criteria and incentives to perform. Clear standards regarding how salespeople should behave and measuring those standards defines what salespeople are expected to do, what they will be held accountable for, and what they should regard as important—all critical factors required for a strong and successful sales culture. As well, establishing performance standards and incentive programs aligned with the culture helps to monitor salespeople’s comprehension of the values being disseminated and rewards them for conforming to the culture.
Sales cultures become more effective as more members of the culture conform to the values and norms. Measuring performance against cultural standards will ensure that individuals understand how they should behave and what is expected of them. Measuring the sales performance of cultural-driven activities, along with recognition and reward systems that provide incentives to conform to cultural standards, will lead to more influential cultures.
Incentives, such as reward and recognition, reinforce what’s important as well by defining success and demonstrating how the organization recognizes accomplishment. Individuals like to be rewarded and recognized for performing well and respond in such a way that they continue to try to meet and exceed expectations of performance. In this way, incentives, however they are defined, are important tools that managers use for building strong sales cultures. As one company undergoing a culture change noted, “The first step to changing the culture was measuring productivity, changing compensation, holding salespeople accountable, and documenting and addressing both good and bad performance.”
Finally, managers define a culture by how they structure or segment the sales organization. Organizational design—putting people in different positions with different responsibilities— defines the organization’s priorities regarding its focus on effectiveness or efficiency, customer targets, allocation of resources, and overall sales strategies.