9 Characteristics of a Healthy Sales Culture

Successful sales teams are often known for things like consistently meeting quotas, low attrition rates, consistent pipeline of prospects, etc. When these business elements are in place, your sales department is likely to succeed.

But facilitating a strong and healthy sales culture isn’t as cut an dry. Unlike other critical tasks, your organization almost certainly doesn’t have an instruction manual on how to do it.

So let’s drill down on what exactly a healthy sales culture looks like. Here are nine essential characteristics of a healthy sales culture and some concrete steps you can take to get there.

1. The sales department knows how to use data strategically.

While sales leaders today don’t need to be data scientists, they must develop an understanding of critical metrics. More importantly, they should be able to use data to generate insights and strategic initiatives. While data alone shouldn’t dictate all decisions, it can suggest areas for improvement.

Sales leaders who have a sophisticated understanding of sales data will be able to impart this knowledge to their teams, who in turn can use data savvy to improve performance.

As sales data expert Thomas C. Redman explains, there are certain hallmarks of data-driven sales cultures. Data-driven sales departments use data to shape decision-making at all levels and are willing to use data to deepen their understanding of sales processes and customers.

Here are some ways sales leaders can incorporate data acumen into departmental culture:

  • Invest in quality data. If you can’t trust your data, any insights you receive from it are worthless. Make sure you have the right tools to give you the data you need.
  • Work to learn new skills in data analytics. Invest in new technologies and hire experts as necessary.
  • Use data to implement a reliable system for sales forecasting.
  • Develop an understanding of variation. Over-reacting to normal fluctuations can lead to strategic errors.
  • Be willing to re-evaluate past decisions in light of new data. Data should allow your sales department to be agile.

Data savvy is not just auxiliary to your operations, but should change the way everyone within the department makes decisions. 

2. Members of the team are always willing to learn new things and improve.

Even if your team seems to be performing well, there are always greater heights. The best sales cultures encourage a desire to learn among all team members, from the most senior salesperson to the newly hired SDR.

When your sales culture is focused on self-improvement, there is general excitement about meeting if not surpassing organizational goals. High-performing sales representatives are invested in helping others to improve, and team members are dedicated to addressing their own areas of weakness.

Suggestions for creating this type of sales culture:

  • Schedule regular training sessions for the entire team. Take care to ensure that training isn’t merely perfunctory, but adds real value to your sales representatives. Make use of teaching tools such as gamification, interactive activities, and smart use of technology.
  • Provide your sales reps with opportunities to learn from sales experts outside of your team. Sponsor membership to professional organizations, send representatives to conferences, and bring in engaging speakers. This can help reinvigorate burned out sales representatives.
  • Institute a formal mentorship program. Make sure all mentors are enthusiastic about their duties.
  • Identify members of your team with leadership and coaching abilities. Provide explicit training on how to be an effective sales coach. Then, encourage them to assume a coaching role in both formal and informal capacities. Make sure these coaches are rewarded for their work through promotions and bonuses. This demonstrates that you value coaching.

3. There is a department-wide strategy that evolves in accordance to business needs.

On some level, the mission of every sales department is the same: to sell product. But the highest-performing sales departments develop sophisticated strategies—and are capable of pivoting when market conditions warrant change. Your sales department should be well integrated into the larger business strategy.

To improve the sales team’s alignment with the overall business strategy, take these steps:

  • Sales leaders should consult regularly with leaders from other departments.
  • All members of the sales team should develop a comprehensive understanding of the market you’re in and keep abreast on new developments in the industry.
  • Lower-level sales managers feel empowered to offer strategic insights based on their experiences. They have an eye towards the bigger picture of organizational success, not just the day-to-day grind of selling.

4. The sales department operations are aligned with marketing.

The health of your sales culture doesn’t stop with your department. Marketing and sales often have a contentious relationship, but any disconnect between the two departments hinders you from achieving true sales potential. When building your sales culture, pay attention to how your team relates to marketing. Even if you have a general sense of collaboration, there are plenty of steps you can take to improve cooperation between both teams.

It is particularly important for sales and marketing to coordinate business strategies. Best practices include:

  • Good relations starts at the top. Sales leaders should model collaborative relationships with marketing leaders.
  • Hold regular meetings between the marketing and sales leadership teams. Ask different junior level sales representatives to attend the meetings so that they become familiar with the marketing department’s members and activities.
  • Have the departments work together on meaningful projects that clearly advance the goals of both teams.
  • Set up shared technologies such as an email list, Slack channel, or Google Drives folder. Having channels to share information creates the sense that sales and marketing work together.
  • Take steps to align marketing and sales in terms of your technological processes. This will help pass along qualified leads to your team.

5. Sales representatives are empowered and self-motivated.

A sales department is at its best when team members are intrinsically motivated to succeed. They come to work eager to contribute. Even when suffering a disappointment, sales representatives remain confident in their abilities and become even more motivated for the next deal.

When your sales culture promotes empowerment and self-motivation, the positive effects multiply. Not only will sales be up, but you’re also likely to see lower employee attrition rates. Given the high costs associated with hiring and training new sales representatives, this is a major benefit for your organization. Yet encouraging sales representatives to feel strongly motivated is tricky. 

To keep team morale high, sales leaders need to actively encourage sales representatives to stay motivated and focused:

  • Develop trust with all team members, and encourage them to develop strong relationships with each other. When team dynamics are strong, sales representatives are motivated to show up and do their best.
  • Take sales representatives’ personal preferences into account when managing them. Know your team members’ individual career goals—this can help you to motivate them appropriately.
  • Offer sales representatives rewards that are appropriate to their interests and individual personalities.
  • When sales representatives succeed—even if it’s just a small win—publicly acknowledge the success. This lets them know their contributions are valued.
  • Grant your team some measure of autonomy on the job. When people can make critical decisions for themselves, they feel more ownership over their work.
  • Show sales representatives that paths for advancement within your organization exist for them if they perform well.
  • Acknowledge negative emotions when they occur, but learn how to best get your sales representatives back on track after a crushing disappointment.

Motivating sales representatives doesn’t necessarily require investing a lot of resources into incentives, but it does require a close attention to interpersonal relationships and management style.

6. Transparency is apparent at every level within the sales department.

The healthiest sales cultures are highly transparent. Even when sales are down for a quarter or two, this information is openly available and discussed within the organizations. When transparency is part of your culture, team members feel empowered to discuss important issues with their managers, even things that are somewhat uncomfortable.

Of course, many organizations aren’t quite as transparent as they’d like to believe. Here are some actionable ways to promote transparency in sales:

  • Keep team members updated on significant developments within the company. Err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Encourage collaboration when appropriate. Team members should see themselves as allies, especially if you do enterprise sales.
  • Quarterly results and metrics should be publicly available at your company. If there is cause for concern, discuss it openly with your team.
  • Meet regularly with members of your team, and don’t back away from asking direct questions about their performance and relevant issues. Make it clear that you’re here to help, but need to be fully informed.
  • Develop the cultural expectation that senior managers also need to be fully accountable and transparent.

7. A healthy sense of competition runs throughout the team.

The best sales representatives are naturally competitive. They know where they stand in relation to peers and always want to ascend to the top. A sense of healthy, friendly competition motivates even lagging sales representatives and keeps everyone engaged. As a result, culture of healthy competition is necessary for high-performing sales teams.

Some ways to promote a spirit of healthy competition among your team:

  • Prominently display a sales leaderboard, making sure that it is updated daily.
  • Make sure that your compensation and promotion structure rewards top performers appropriately.
  • Hold sales contests regularly. Contests can be simple one-day affairs, or more complex competitions that span months. Depending on how you structure it, contests can also be a great way to build camaraderie on your team.
  • Incentivize behaviors that result in sales. For example, try running a contest for numbers of calls made or demos scheduled.
  • Publicly recognize successes both big and small. Even simple acknowledgments can satisfy the human need for recognition—and motivate others to step up.
  • Celebrate wins as a team. Individual successes are great, but when you can recognize team-wide accomplishments, that’s even better.

8. Open and honest feedback is an expectation.

Thoughtful and constructive feedback is necessary for a successful sales culture. As a sales leader it’s your job to ensure that feedback is a cultural expectation.

Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Provide team members with regular opportunities to provide feedback on their managers. Share this feedback with managers as appropriate.
  • Members of the executive team should practice giving constructive feedback themselves. This enables them to give better feedback to others.
  • Establish a system for providing regular feedback to all employees, and clearly communicate it to them. Let your team know what competencies they will be scored on.
  • Offer opportunities to receive feedback outside of formal performance evaluations and encourage your employees to seek feedback informally. As a general practice, it’s helpful to document informal feedback through email or another channel.

9. The sales team shares a common vision and purpose.

While you attend to the operational details that promote a healthy sales culture, don’t overlook the importance of a shared vision. When employees feel as though they are part of a larger goal, they feel more motivated and connected to their work. Try asking your team members “what’s our organization’s mission?” If you aren’t hearing similar responses, you have work to do.

Clearly communicate your organization’s mission and values to all members of the team, from the first interview onwards. Subtly remind your sales representatives of the mission during tough times through strategic use of motivational anecdotes. When done well, a sense of shared mission animates and unifies your team.

James Meincke

James is the Head of Marketing @ Demodesk, the intelligent meeting platform for remote sales. Previously he was the Director of Marketing at CloserIQ.