“If you create an environment that inspires people in the good times and bad, they will figure out the right strategy and will do the right things from an execution perspective. I used to think strategy, execution and culture were a three-legged stool. Now I realize that if you create a great culture, the other two will follow.”
In a recent New York Times article Robert Reid CEO of Intact goes on to point out - “Almost everyone goes to work to do a good job. And if they’re not doing a good job, most organizations step back and say, “I’m not sure they’re going to make it here.” We think the opposite — that we’ve done something to let them down. We either haven’t taken them through the right process, or trained them appropriately. If somebody is not doing something the way you expect, you need to seek to understand what’s going on and help them.”
We thought this was an interesting idea for sales management to consider as they start a new year. Traditionally, we have talked a lot about best practices for sales strategy and sales call execution – we have positioned them as the hallmarks of sales success. But if we consider Reid’s point perhaps we have put the cart before the horse. Perhaps sales teams would be even more successful if greater emphasis were directed towards putting in place a culture that supports individual excellence.
At a minimum we thought it was worth a look. So what might sales management do to help put in place a more supportive culture? Let’s take a look:
- Help people learn versus telling them what to do. When it comes to establishing a culture of support one of the biggest traps for sales managers is coaching to their favorite plays – that is suggesting what they did in a similar situation. First, that was then and this is now – a lot has changed in the world of Sales. Second, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, so your sales rep may not be able to pull of that play that was so successful for you.
- Reward creative attempts as well as results. Today sales reps must function in a very disruptive buying environment. To succeed they must try out new ideas; they must improve what they are doing and also do some things they are not doing. This requires risk. Sometimes they will get it right; sometimes they won’t. But a manager should create a culture where taking a well-planned risk is rewarded.
- Encourage team efforts. Customer expectations are changing. Today customers are looking for sales reps to be trusted advisors versus product facilitators. In many cases the sales rep alone cannot reasonably supply the desired expertise – hence the emergence of the team sale versus the lone-wolf model. But effective teams do not just spring up on their own; they require a culture where team efforts are encouraged, trained, and rewarded.
- Provide sales a seat at the table. This is where top management needs to come to the party. It is hard to imagine that one can optimize a culture that supports Sales unless Sales has a seat at the table. This step is also practical because too often top management puts a lot of time into planning company wide initiatives that tend to fail when it comes to execution. A better alignment between strategy and Sales is one step for minimizing that problem.
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