Sales Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

by John Waid, founder
C-3 Corporate Culture Consulting

Chick-fil-A produces twice as much revenue as any other fast food chain, and its restaurants are closed on Sundays.

When the founder of Chick-fil-A was asked why the company was so successful, he mentioned that the company’s success comes from its people, saying, “Putting people before profits is how we’ve tried to operate from the beginning.”

When sales managers are asked what makes for a great salesforce, they’ll often cite characteristics like great products and services, excellent strategies, sound processes and systems, and being in the right place at the right time. Although these elements are important, there is one secret that the really successful sales leaders have: Regardless of their particular industry, once the mindset is established that salespeople are in the “People Business,” then it almost does not matter what they sell.

Great sales managers begin by focusing on their salespeople.

Let’s face it: We are driven to push the salesforce for results – financial results. This focus on “money first” leads us to then look to the customers (where the money comes from) and – as a distant third, fourth or fifth – we then spend some resources on the salespeople.

This order leads to lower profits, upset customers and high employee turnover. What would happen if we changed the order to focus on employees first, customers second and money third?

Richard Anderson, the former CEO of Delta Airlines, realized that if his company was to survive (he helped bring two airlines, Delta and Northwest, out of bankruptcy) it was going to be because of the people. During his tenure at Delta, he focused his time and communication on the employees (who he thought of as salespeople for the Delta brand), making sure they followed the company founder’s values and behaviors. To do this, Anderson found an employee manual from the 1940s and rewrote it into what became the driving principles at Delta. This led to a rebirth as a sales and service culture … which led to record profits.

If you want to be truly successful, change your mindset to focus on salespeople/employees first. This drives customer satisfaction and, as a result, more profits.

Sales culture first. Structure second. Strategy third.

In recent business history, there has been a strong focus on developing a sales strategy, creating a structure to support it and (as an afterthought) creating a generic company culture that may or may not fit with the sales team. What has this led to?

As companies focused on getting things done, too many tasks were completed that did not fulfill the key element of sales strategy – which is to create a sustainable competitive advantage. While sales managers pushed to check off a daily To Do list, they created structures to support this frantic activity. After the strategy and structure were created (with little employee involvement), sales managers wondered why employees did not want to buy in or execute the strategy.

Make the sales culture the focus of your efforts and then build the structures and strategies to support that culture. A good culture to start out with is one based on the C.A.P. values of Curiosity, Accountability and People Skills.

Curiosity: Why do people buy? How can a salesperson add value?
Accountability: Has the salesperson done the work needed to support the customer and the potential sale?
People Skills: Does the salesperson genuinely enjoy helping customers solve problems?

Sales leaders first. Coaching second. Managing third.

A leader focuses on salespeople and sales culture. A coach focuses on sales processes. A manager focuses on sales strategies and results. It is important as a sales leader to focus on all three of these areas, in the order mentioned. People first need to be inspired and have a culture to live within; then they can flourish in a structure that grows and holds them accountable for producing great results.

There are currently too many sales managers, a few sales coaches and hardly any sales leaders. This heavy emphasis on managing the salesforce with quotas and “Beatings will continue until morale improves” attitude is creating salespeople who sell because they have to, customers who buy because they have to and profits that come in below expectations – because everyone is being forced to do something against their will.

When you lead first, coach second and manage third, you will have a salesforce that likes and is successful at selling, treats customers well and produces great results.

Another secret to having a great salesforce is to hire and promote well. As always, this is done with an emphasis on hiring people that fit your culture, growing their skills through with coaching and training, and then holding them accountable to reach the high levels they are capable of within your organization.

Remember: Sales culture eats sales strategy for breakfast. Adopt a culture-driven selling mindset.

John Waid is the founder of C-3 Corporate Culture Consulting, a keynote speaker and author of the book, Reinventing Ralph. With a specialty and passion for corporate culture, sales and global business, Waid believes culture is the engine that drives companies to better results, higher morale and increased profitability.

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