Five fundamentals for creating a customer-centric sales culture

6th Feb 2014

The phrase 'sales culture' often conjures up negative connotations, reflecting an organisation's heavy-handed, high-pressure, Boiler Room-style approach to selling. 

However, the term is increasingly being applied in a more positive light, as businesses strive to instil a more positive ‘culture’ across their sales divisions to reflect the importance of building long-term relationships with customers, rather than just shaking them by the ankles until their pockets are empty. 

Customer experience’ and ‘renewal’ are now phrases leading the means by which sales teams develop, especially in technology-driven sectors where businesses are shifting towards subscription-based models and where customer retention is becoming all the more vital.

So how does a business go about actually nurturing the right kind of sales culture to better retain and provide for its customers? Steve De Marco, the vice president for sales at Xactly, spoke with MyCustomer to share the five factors he believes represent the cornerstones of a sales culture that works and maintains customer loyalty, long-term.           

  1. Build positivity. Hire positive people.

“It’s actually really important that a positive culture is defined early on in any organisation. And by positive, I mean something that is based on reward and merit, not fear.

“It all starts with the type of people you hire and the way you train them and drive their behaviour. Hiring good, ethical sales people that have a lot of energy is vital. Rather than thinking it’s their job to extract money from people, it’s to provide a service that people find valuable enough to pay for. That’s a subtle but important difference.

“Firstly, because they are the first exposure customers will get to a company, and secondly because the way they treat the customers in that sales process is the way they feel they will be treated as a customer. So if they have a negative experience because you have a negative sales culture and you have maybe, arrogant sales people or unethical sales people, it’s going to be difficult to sign that customer up to buy anything from you in the future.

“Positive sales culture is important for a number of reasons, but not least because it’s the first exposure your customer is going to get of you and it had better be a positive experience.”

  1. Manage expectations through communication. Resist blame.

“It starts at the top, with the CEO. It trickles down to executive teams. Setting goals and expectations is key, but then making sure there is accountability for those expectations. So that trickles down to sales directors then managers, who should be very clear on what their goals are and how to meet them.

“Then, it’s about providing a very positive, two-way line of communication. So everyone is feeding back information about whether goals are achievable; and if not, why not? It’s not a dictatorial setting, it’s a collaborative setting. Bosses shouldn’t see themselves as bosses. They should see themselves as the people who set goals and direction, and then provide employees with every resource and tool required to achieve.

“And if they don’t accomplish those goals, the boss should be just as much to blame. If not more to blame than the folks underneath them. But the actual act of blame and blame culture can resonate down through an organisation to its customers, so it’s far more beneficial to develop an atmosphere based on teamwork and collaboration.”  

  1. Don’t sell to customers. Support them.

“This is pretty straight-forward as a philosophy, but is actually something that’s creating a seismic shift in how sales teams define their culture.

“Renewal is so much more important nowadays, and this subscription idea puts a lot of power in the customer’s hand after they’ve signed up with you. You have to keep them happy year after year, so it’s not even about selling anymore. It’s about supporting. If you don’t now offer support to customers after a sale, you’ll lose loyalty. This is probably one of the biggest changes I’ve seen since I started selling.

“You now have customer success organisations that are just as large as sales organisations, because their job is to keep customers renewing which is now just as important as the selling in the first place. The cross-over is huge. Sales people need to think of themselves as much as customer service reps, staying in contact across channels and ensuring the experience is good. If they do this, they’ll improve the perception of their organisation and be a part of a more positive culture.”     

  1. Bridge the generation gap. Create a team.

“Today we have three generations that can make up our sales teams. There’s Generation Y, who are just entering the arena. Then there’s Generation X, the mid-managers who have been in the game a while, and then the Baby-Boomers who are coming back because of the economy; maybe they can’t retire, so they’re actually coming back into the workforce. So, one of the big challenges of sales leaders and building a good culture is how you deal with an environment that’s going to be conducive and positive for people from three different generations.

“You have to understand what people from each generation care about. Generation Y (or millennials) also want to know that if they work really hard and achieve their goals, what the next step will be for them. So put in place very specific development and projection plans, so they know where they can go and what they can achieve, and what the result and reward will be for them.

“But then Generation Y also care about things like flexible work time, or providing organisation and means for multi-tasking. A lot of people think multi-tasking is a bad thing, but Generation Y are very good at it; technologically astute, for example. We have some very sophisticated sales tools, but Generation Y millennials can use all of them, and are great at using LinkedIn, Facebook, networking tools at the same time. So give these guys multiple tasks! 

“Saying that, good sales reps can take advantage of these tools, regardless of the age. It just so happens that millennials are very good at it. But smarter, more experienced reps will learn and adapt. They have to. Sometimes it can be a rude awakening to know that you are an old dog that needs to learn new tricks, but one great thing you can do is teaming up people from these different generations; combine their goals so that they work together.

“What the millennial gets by doing this is really good, ethical and sound best practices learnt from someone with years of experience, and what the experienced rep gets is a young energetic person who can teach them how to use new tools. Together this can lead to a really positive environment rather than a negative one. If you can create that, you’re going to achieve a very loyal, hard working group with a great culture to boot.”

  1. Understand your regions. Don’t create a ‘one-size-fits-all’ culture.

“A lot of companies risk alienating themselves in certain regions by trying to instill their culture and the way they do things in different countries. The most important thing is you want to hire within the country that you’re focusing on in order to get the right knowledge you need.

“You have to cross-pollinate culture and ideas though. Give local reps a feel for your culture too to risk alienating them from your overall message. It’s really important not to just try and export a sales culture though, because you really run the risk of being unsuccessful if you try and do this.”

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