5 Reasons Why Culture is Actually Important in Sales

Jun 4, 2014, by Brittany Allyn, Happiness Officer

Dear Brittany,

I work at an established company. Everyone is hardworking and smart, but sales culture is lacking. There isn’t a sense of community or collaboration. Does this make a difference, and what are some ways to change that?
-Lonely Salesguy

1. Culture is key to hiring.

I think people are starting to forget that culture doesn’t mean having a ping-pong table in the office, or getting free lunches every day. Quickly defined, culture is sharing a similar passion for the company’s success. Culture is the similar belief system of a particular group. And at the end of the day, all of the amenities in the world can’t buy that. If a person is not a culture fit, they will not mesh well with the team and be an integral part of the company’s success. A fun game of ping-pong won’t make a person buy into the company’s values. A decorated office will also not change a person’s inherent drive to succeed.

Our CEO TK thinks it’s the single most important thing when building a team.

“It means more than the ability to close, and even more than their experience as a salesperson.”

I’ll be honest, at first I was a little shocked he didn’t say it was a person’s track record for closing deals. But, as I researched about culture this week, I’ve found that it really is the one thing that trumps everything else.

So, what’s one personality trait we should first look for when hiring for culture fit? Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) thinks one of the most important qualities to look for in an employee is being self-aware. He says, "I think if someone is self-aware, then they can always continue to grow.” Growth and drive to succeed are two very important qualities to look for in a salesperson.

2. It’s the foundation for all skills.

Skills can be taught, but values cannot. When building a sales team or interviewing, make sure you know what values are important to you. Dependability is a very important quality to look for in a salesperson because it correlates with teamwork.  It’s good to ask questions around responsibility for this very reason. Were they on a sports team or have they had a job that involved teamwork at a young age? Some questions to ask yourself when interviewing for culture fit:

  • Would you want them to sit next to you in the office?
  • Would you grab a drink with them after work, just the two of you?
  • If they were the only person in the office on a Saturday, would you still want to come in?

You know when you’ve made a good culture hire when a person just starts at a company, and you can’t even remember what it was like without them. When they feel important to the team right away, that’s a good sign of culture fit.

3. It can help you win.

I’ll be bold but say it, if you have a strong culture with a group of people that are passionate, you can destroy your competition. When you value the same things, it’s easier for your sales team to move in a similar direction. Ideas can flow better and get you ahead of the game.

Culture is when people have a similar perspective on what the company means to them. TK says, “Everyone has personal goals, but we help each other because what it does best, is help everyone get to the same goal.”

Tony Hsieh sold Zappos for $1.2 billion dollars to Amazon and attributes much of the company’s success to culture. He says, “We want people who are passionate about what Zappos is about - service. I don't care if they're passionate about shoes." In other words, aligning the same values is key to creating a great company culture.

4. It completes the team.

It’s important NOT to get stuck on the idea that culture means everyone has to be the same. Similar values and similar personalities are different things. Diversity is key to building a strong team for productive debates. Otherwise, groupthink and innovation can decrease.

I like to think about each person’s “superpower.” A person’s superpower is the one attribute, big or small, that they really excel at. Are you really good at networking on social media? Are you good at finding pain points right away on the phone? Are you very compassionate and good at connecting with people? These are all very important qualities to have on a team, but not everyone can have all three. So pick three people that excel at each one (or whatever values you're looking for).

Also, people that have different superpowers can fill in the missing holes in a company’s culture for the better. For example, do you need more extroverts, or more creative thinkers? Simply stated, while culture fit is an overall feeling, different personalities should not be confused with fitting in.

5. It helps build resilience and trust.

I went to a meetup in the San Francisco last week and listened to some of the best VP’s of Marketing in the city. Even though Marketing and Sales is different, I still learned the same key takeaways when thinking about Culture. Elise Bergeron (VP of Marketing from Relate IQ) gave great advice on how culture can help build a company’s resilience.

“People need to believe in what you’re doing. If they do, it’s better to recover from misalignments.”

I thought this was excellent insight for boosting morale when something doesn’t go as planned; which often happens in the start-up and tech world.

ToutApp does a daily stand up everyday to talk about each person’s highlights/lowlights. Elise’s team does #moments where the team goes around and talks about the special moments of the week. Both are similar concepts of boosting morale and getting the team together. Elise says, and TK agrees, both are vital to a company's success.

With small startups, it’s easy to talk to your colleagues on a daily basis. However, as teams grow, that starts happening less often. Rafael Alenda (VP of Marketing from New Relic) says you must, “Come from a point of trust.” Meaning, if you don’t get to talk to each and every co-worker, build a team and culture where you can trust from a distance. And finally, I think JD Peterson (VP of Marketing from Zendesk) put it best when facing our 100+ person room,

“The reason why were sitting up here at the end of the day (the reason why we stay at our jobs) is because of the culture.” 

Everyone nodded their heads.

A lot of times culture fit is a gut feeling, and that’s okay. You know the inner workings and small details of your company, and your gut should let you know if you can see someone fit in. Focus on a person’s “sparkle.” That je ne sais quoi feeling you have when meeting someone. Often, if you feel sparkle, it means you can see their potential to do great things at your company.

So, Lonely Salesguy, if there’s one sentence I can leave you with it’s this: If a person has sparkle and is a great culture fit (along with technical abilities of course), then you have your next Salesperson. Go help build a kick-ass Sales team!

That's everything I've got.
-Brittany

What else would you like to know about Sales? Ask me here or tweet at me!

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