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Lucas Hamon Dec 15, 2021 6:01:36 PM 7 min read

How to Identify & Fix Toxic Sales Culture

Is toxic sales culture hamstringing your efforts to grow your business?

Does your sales team seem a little 'off' to you?... or maybe a lot off? Are they in perpetual conflict with your marketing investments? Are opportunities that your company should be landing slipping through the cracks?

If so, Sales Enablement could be the answer.

Let's explore how to identify signs of a toxic sales culture and how Sales Enablement can help.

The best way to determine whether you have a toxic sales culture is to talk to those selling your products or services.

1) Performance discussions result in excuses & finger-pointing

When you engage in discussions about sales performance with your team, do the conversations quickly result in excuses and blaming?

This is a tell-tell sign that something is wrong... And there are so many things that could be contributing to this kind of toxicity.

We had a client whose sales leader kept insisting that we create custom fields in Hubspot that allowed him to place blame on marketing if the lead we generated through their website didn't convert into a meeting after he called them.

Do you see the problem?

In growth, 'blame' is a four-letter word. It's counterproductive.It's saturated with hyperbole and misdirection... and there is NOTHING objective about it.

As business leaders and champions of growth marketing, we shouldn't allow opinions to dictate policy, but that's exactly what we'd be doing by allowing him to have this lever.

Let me share an example.

Recently, I took a connect call (the first 20-minute point of contact where we suss out whether a more in-depth Discovery call is warranted) that didn't go well. I don't normally take these, but the prospect who came through our website and booked the appointment chose not to use the calendar she was presented after requesting the appointment, but rather, through my email signature link after she found my email to ask me a question.

I should have immediately assigned it to one of my salespeople, but hindsight is 2020 as they say.

Here's where it started to go awry.

I ended up being late to the meeting by 20 minutes. I emailed her 10 minutes beforehand to let her know I was tied up and that I'd be 20-minutes late, but it's not a good look either way.

The conversation did not go well. Her answers to my questions were one-word responses. She had unrealistic expectations--she wanted to be break-even on day 30, but to date she had $0 in sales, 0 collateral, 0 resources... So, I'm trying to piece together how she got to the goal of breaking even on her growth investments on day 30, and all I'm hearing are that her previous agency investments were incompetent, and she kept peppering me with requests to just send her a strategy, which is bad news. We have a template to create strategy--not a templated strategy. Growth marketing doesn't work like that. She wanted a proposal to learn how it worked, but couldn't muster up the energy to answer a few questions to provide context.

Halfway through the call one of our phones cut out. I could hear her, but she couldn't hear me.

After we reconnected and about 10 more excruciating minutes, I politely bailed, stating that it didn't seem like a match. She cut me off before I could finish so it could be her idea.

She even mentioned how me being late and the call dropping was unprofessional, to which I agreed. It was.

But, if you had to break it down, what would you say was the reason that deal failed?

In reality, there were MANY reasons, including:

  • Culture mismatch
  • Expectations mismatch
  • I was late to the call
  • Somebody's phone dropped the call
  • They were too early-stage for us
  • I didn't pass the call to one of my SDRs

There is no single reason why this went nowhere.

Finding a suitable scapegoat isn't an effective solution in Growth Marketing

The reality is that it didn't close. We don't need the intricate reasons laden with bias from Sales to tell us that. Nor do accepting those reasons as truth (or even placating insecurities coming from the sales team) help us in any way. Doing so hurts your investments.

I know that may seem strange.

But let's be pragmatic. Just like in your business, there are good opportunities and there are bad ones.

Culture mismatches are non-starters for us. So are expectations that aren't grounded in any sense of reality. And most early-stage pre-revenue startups (particularly bootstrapped startups that fit this category) that haven't even proven product viability aren't ready for growth.

So, even if I hadn't fumbled during the call or been late... and even if those are the reasons why she was contentious and didn't give us a chance, that still doesn't change the fact that we weren't a match.

Going back to our friend who wanted to create the blame-lever, he wanted to categorize leads that lacked budget as being leads that weren't properly qualified by marketing. He also couldn't get over the concept of having just one Closed LOST column in the deal management tool. "LOST" felt like it was his fault.

But that isn't the point of that category. It's there to identify deals that didn't become customers.

That's it.

2) There is no objectivity in sales reporting

The vast majority of the situations I'm invited into lack any amount of clarity or objectivity when it comes to understanding the sales formula. The CRM (if there is one) is a mess, and usually only addresses one side of the sales funnel. Nothing is integrated with marketing. Often, marketing doesn't have great tools or fully engineered tools either. And since we're dealing with old school sales processes and sensibilities, we're measuring performance based on activities they think you want to see, reluctantly entered into the CRM.... not actual results or outcomes.

Our friend who wanted the custom field to lay blame with marketing for every deal that imploded wanted that built into a dashboard for management to measure accountability.

Our accountability... not his. Not sales.

Yet, Growth Culture is transformative and requires shifting from outbound to consultative, and if he didn't champion the changes in process, it was doomed to fail. 

How do you know if your reporting is objective?

Because you know ALL of this:

  • Your lead-to-deal ratio
  • Your deal-to-customer ratio
  • Your new-to-close time
  • Which channels your best deals come from
  • WHY deals don't close
  • Which tools impact success
  • How to measure the impact of your investments

 

3) Investments in growth don't seem to impact sales

If nothing else, you can identify a troubled sales culture by simply noticing that investments in growth don't have an impact on sales outcomes.

Maybe they're not championing your vision (and maybe this is because your vision isn't clear or realistic--or maybe they're not right to work for your company). Maybe the process is jarring. Maybe your proposals are overly complicated. Maybe your work-product isn't up to par. Maybe the investments are simply not "bringing it."

Regardless, if you keep stepping on the gas and you don't go any faster, something is broken with sales.

THE FIX: Sales Enablement

Sales Enablement is about three things:

  1. Alignment with marketing
  2. Process improvements
  3. Being properly equipped

Sales culture is the cumulative effect of these three components coming together (or in the instance of toxic environments, when they don't).

1) for the alignment piece, I like to give sales a seat at the table from day one. They sit in on our growth collaborations, provide useful insights to the customer experience, and have a chance to object to the changes that are coming.

2) Different growth investments often require more than tactical execution. They need strategic underlays. For example, leads generated through inbound marketing require inbound sales methodology in order to close. Most businesses I talk to looking for inbound leads don't consider this coming into our conversations. When you make heavy investments in growth but don't give sales the tools they need to succeed with those investments, you're going to create animosity in them, marketing, and yourself. 

3) Being equipped means having a sales tool that puts sales first, management second (check out this CRM). Adopting methodology is easier to do when you equip sales with tools that put that methodology at their fingertips. For example, we will typically re-engineer the sales tools to highlight MQL and SQL protocols, upload a series of customized templates for the sales and pipeline cycles, and setup functional dashboards that elevate opportunities and insights on their end while providing insightful activity metrics for management.

 CONCLUSION

Sales enablement is a transformative method of giving your sales team structure, support, and synergy with marketing. By addressing the issues that cumulatively weigh them down, you'll foster a much more positive and energetic sales environment.

There really is nothing quite like that moment when salespeople start succeeding with the investments you make with them. They'll become your biggest, most loyal advocates, and they'll close more deals faster.

Cick HERE to learn more about Sales Enablement:

Sales enablement services

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Lucas Hamon

Over 10 years of B2B sales experience in staffing, software, consulting, & tax advisory. Today, as CEO, Lucas obsesses over inbound, helping businesses grow! Husband. Father. Beachgoer. Wearer of plunging v-necks.

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