Innovation Junkies Podcast

Four Keys to Creating a Client-Focused Sales Culture

“In this episode, the Jeffs talk about four keys to creating a client-focused sales culture. They dive into establishing a process and a regular cadence to review sales performance, defining and refining the culture of your organization, and how to address and swiftly correct recurring issues.

Jeff Standridge (Intro):
Are you ready to change the trajectory of your business and see massive improvements? Each week we’ll share strategies and practices to generate sustained results and long lasting success in your organization. Welcome to the Innovation Junkies podcast.

Jeff Standridge:
Hey guys, welcome to another episode of the Innovation Junkies podcast. My name’s Jeff Standridge.

Jeff Amerine:
Hey, and this is Jeff Amerine. Glad to be back for another awesome episode with you, sir. What are we going to talk about?

Jeff Standridge:
Hey, we are talking about sales culture and having a common approach to sales. In fact, the four keys to creating a client focused sales culture in your organization. Jeff, I know you’re big on culture, just organizational culture as am I, but maybe talk a little bit about culture as it relates to sales from your perspective.

Jeff Amerine:
Well, yeah, I think it’s incredibly important. I think that part of that culture needs to be you have to understand the personas that you’re looking for and the kind of culture that’s going to resonate with them. There are different roles within sales that need to be fulfilled. There are people that are really good hunters, that are constantly good at prospecting and turning up new activities and their culture has to be that constant grind of prospecting, as we’ve talked about in other episodes. There’s also this persona of farming and the culture around being able to take in an existing account and grow it. Those farmers are really good at it.
I mean, having the culture that approaches the market aggressively, empathetically, I think empathy is a big part of being good at sales and it’s an important part of the culture, but I’d be interested in what your thoughts are. I know you’ve thought about it in terms of a science as much as an art.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah, we talked about this in another episode. I use this phrase, “nothing happens until you sell something”. One of the first keys I think to building this sales focused culture is to ensure that everyone understands that nothing happens until you sell something. Without a sales function, without a function within the organization that’s generating consistent and regular revenue, everyone else in the organization’s not going to be able to put food on their table. Making sure that everyone understands that, I think is number one, certainly.
Then there are ways that you do that. You document your sales processes and you train everyone in the organization on those sales processes, even if they’re a fulfillment person or they’re a back office person, or they’re a support person in some capacity, they need to understand what the sales process is for a couple of reasons. Number one is it continues driving that stake in the ground that sales is important. If you train everybody in the organization on what the process is, you’re continuing to reinforce that message. Number two, having to train everyone on it requires that you have something documented. Then when you have something documented, you can actually begin to improve upon it. But not until you document it and standardize it, can you actually make improvements.
First of all, make sure everyone understands that nothing happens until you sell something and one of the first ways you do that is by having a sales process that you’ve documented, that you regularly and consistently train everyone on.

Jeff Amerine:
It’s got to be something that is more than lip service. I think that idea or that concept of everyone sells applies from the CEO, to a person that might be in any other function that has some kind of contact with the client. They either know the key things that the company does in a way that would be a lead to a salesperson, or there’s somebody that understands the process well enough that they can hand it off to those whose job it is to make the whole thing work.
It’s vitally important. I’ve seen organizations where they’re so siloed the engineers are like, “Well, all we do is engineering. We don’t get involved with the sales process,” or, “All we do is accounting,” or, “All we do is whatever.” The best organizations I’ve seen, it really felt like everybody understood that they were in the customer satisfaction and the problem solving business and it didn’t matter what their function was. They were involved in sales in some way, they were representing that brand. They were constantly talking about what they did and they were happy to do so. It makes a real difference. That culture that values sales and it understands that you’re only there in terms of your why statement for the benefit of providing something useful to that customer, that can make a lot of difference.

Jeff Standridge:
Yeah, I completely agree. Another way that you ensure that you’re building this client focused sales culture is that you report on sales activity on a regular basis so everyone in the organization has some kind of visibility into the deals that are in the pipeline, the new deals that have gotten closed, the gap that exists between where we are today and where we need to be in terms of sales activity. That’s vitally important as well, is you’re giving them actual visibility into the actual selling process and then you’re actually celebrating those sales. Everyone is involved in the celebration of new wins that come in the door. You’re not just celebrating the salesperson. They may be front and center because they’re the one who perhaps closed the deal, but in the best sales cultures, you’re also recognizing some of the top supporting cast that actually made that deal come to fruition as well.

Jeff Amerine:
Absolutely. One thing I’d be interested in is, as you think about that process, there can be, I guess, gaming of the system can occur at times in a way that is counterproductive. What I mean by that is I’ve worked in organizations where it was pretty binary. Either it was a zero, or it was 100% that it was going to close. Until you got to the point that you had a signed contract, it was suspect up to that point. But I’ve seen other methodologies where, depending upon which gate you’re at, your percentage of a close increases as you go.
What’s your take on that? I know you’ve got a lot of wisdom around that kind of methodology, because I think it speaks to the culture of the organization.

Jeff Standridge:
There are innumerable ways that people can game the system. How my team and I tended to get away from that is we created a “closest to the pin” award that basically said, “Okay, we’re going to track your forecast.” I was in a publicly traded company at the time and so we had to report our results on a quarterly basis. I had all of my sales people, they forecasted what they were going to do for the quarter, the very first week of the quarter, based upon everything they knew about their book of business and their pipeline and the number of years of experience they had, they had to forecast. Then they had to update that forecast every single week in a weekly sales meeting, where we had all hands on deck going through everyone’s pipeline and just talking about the major changes from the prior week.
It was a 30, 40 minute call and we talked about the major changes from the prior week and they had to update that. There would be some weeks they would be down a few $100,000 and some weeks they would be up a few $100,000 and jockeying back and forth if you will. But then at the end of the quarter, we awarded the person who was closest to the pin, the person who delivered the closest to what they said they were going to deliver in week one.
That means not the overachiever, because what we didn’t want is somebody who sandbagged and then came in strong at the end of the quarter because we had to scale our resources up or down based upon what the collective forecast was. If we had people who were always coming in as heroes, sandbagging throughout the quarter, and then coming in the last two weeks and blowing it out, well, they may not have the resources to actually deliver that revenue because we had to take personnel actions based upon what they were telling us that they were going to deliver.
Likewise, if they were over-interpreting or over-forecasting what they thought they were going to have and they were coming up short, well, that brings a whole set of different problems. So we always rewarded closest to the pin because accuracy is important in sales forecasting and that set a tone that tended to minimize the amount of sandbagging that occurred or the game playing that could happen throughout the quarter.

Jeff Amerine:
Accuracy becomes part of the culture in that sense.

Jeff Standridge:
Very much so, accuracy becomes part of the culture.

Jeff Amerine:
Sometimes that’s not talked about a lot, if you sandbag and end up not being able to deliver, you’re short resources, that can be not as big a problem as having no sales, but still a big problem. You can end up losing those customers that you worked hard to get.

Jeff Standridge:
That’s exactly right and both are problems. I mean, make no mistake about it. A better problem is to over attain than under attain, but an inaccurate forecast, regardless if it’s a low inaccuracy or a high inaccuracy, both of them have their own sets of problems that come with them.

Jeff Amerine:
I’d be interested in your thoughts too, because it’s such a hard position to fill. How do you hire for culture and then how do you hold them accountable? Most sales people realize they’re going to be accountable. They’re going to be performance incentivized and whatnot. But how do you do that? It’s hard to get it right and then sometimes when you know you don’t have it right and you can’t coach them up, what do you do then?

Jeff Standridge:
That is one of the most difficult things to do. You and I both agree that if you’re not hiring and firing every position in your organization relative to the core values, then your core values are really not core values and you’re not going to have the culture that you ultimately want to have. That being said, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was to fire a rainmaker because they just didn’t live up to the core values of the organization. What I mean by that is we had to make a decision that the culture of our organization was more important than the amount of revenue that they brought into the organization.
That’s a difficult thing to do, but you do that a time or two, and you see the positive impact afterwards. The organization will survive losing that rainmaker because you’ve protected the culture of the organization that you’re actually trying to create and develop and grow and nurture. It’s a hard decision to make and a lot of sales leaders don’t make that decision. A lot of CEOs don’t make that decision. But I promise you, it’s the only way to build the right kind of positive sales culture that you want is you hire and you fire and you coach, and you promote according to not only job performance, but also according to the degree to which they live the core values of the organization. Otherwise, it’s lip service.

Jeff Amerine:
Yeah, that’s great. Super good thoughts on that. As a follow on there, I really like what Wickman says in Traction about, “Did they get it, do they want it, do they have the capability?” Then he also talks about, “Are they in line with the core values of the organization?” I really think that some of that common sense evaluation of sales staff is critically important because it is a difficult position to fill and it’s difficult to retain the best people. Culture is king, for sure.

Jeff Standridge:
Absolutely, absolutely. The last thing is about making it easy and necessary for everyone to assist the sales process and to assist sales people. A guy by the name of Jan Carlzon, who was with Scandinavian Airlines back in the ’80s or so, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, wrote a book called Moments of Truth, where he actually looked at every point of interaction that they had with a client. Every place that a client touched their organization or someone in their organization and he identified those as moments of truth. These are the moments where we can either wow our customer, or we can leave them lackluster, or we can totally drive them away. It was not just with sales people, it was every touchpoint within the organization.
One of the ways that organizations can do this exact same thing is go through the exercise with every department in the company and identify their moments of truth. Points where they actually interact directly with the customer or indirectly through another employee who’s engaged with the customer. Once you identify those moments of truth, then you’ve made it easy and necessary for everyone in the organization to assist with the sales process and to assist with sales people. Those are critical to building that high performing sales culture.

Jeff Amerine:
Great stuff, Jeff. I mean, I think this is helpful advice for one of the most critical functions in any business, no doubt about it.

Jeff Standridge:
Good stuff. This has been another episode of the Innovation Junkies podcast. Thank you for joining.

Jeff Amerine (Outro):
Feedback from listeners like you helps us create outstanding content. So if you liked this episode, be sure to rate us or leave a review. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to get the latest growth and innovation strategies. Thanks for tuning in to the Innovation Junkies podcast.

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