Thursday, 31 January 2013

Sales Culture

We've been working with an engineering company to develop sales performance, and I've just been speaking to a company that delivers market research services. Each has, on the surface, a very different issue.

The engineering company wants to grow, but its sales team don't yet have the skills to work at a higher level than they already are. They are moving out of the local economy and coming up against national and international competitors who are stronger, slicker and smarter.

The market research company wants to grow, but its market environment has changed dramatically in the past five years. Where the sales team used to account manage agencies, they now sell direct to end users, where they are facing competition from new market entrants.

Whilst these two situations seem very different, they are in fact examples of the same underlying issue; that sales is part of a culture, and when that culture changes, sales behaviour must change otherwise you'll be out of business.


The engineering company wants to grow, and it can only do that in one of two ways; dominate the local commodity market, or change its approach in order to play in a higher 'league'. The problem with dominating the local market is that the local market is itself limited, and they'll still be exposed to national competition.

The market research company doesn't want to change, but its market has changed. It can either adapt or it can die, along with the intermediary agencies who used to be its staple diet.

Like any behaviour, sales is a set of skills operating within a person, and that person operates within a culture. High performance does not come from having the 'best' skills, or the most knowledge, it comes from having skills that are aligned within a person's attitudes and perceptions which are in turn aligned within a culture.

Traditionally, sales training has often been about 'closing techniques' and 'overcoming objections'. Sales trainers present themselves as charismatic, successful individuals who can inspire a sales team to close more deals. Sales training companies give free lifetime telephone support and a money back guarantee. And of course, the ten secrets to getting past the gatekeeper.

It's all nonsense, I'm afraid. Closing is not your sales team's problem. You'll never use the support (which is why it's free). You can't get past the gatekeeper, no matter how many manipulative tricks you learn.

Sales training has to cover three areas, otherwise it is doomed to failure.

1. Sales Tactics - the behaviour of the sales person once they are engaged with the customer

2. Sales Strategy - the rules, processes and support which operate around the sales team

3. Culture - the internal and external environment which dictates success

A good place to start is always to look at what your high performers are doing, because they are adapting, every day, in order to succeed.

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