Building a SaaS sales team with a winning culture
In sales, you can measure just about anything these days. One of the only things you can’t? Culture.
And if you can’t see your culture’s success on a report, how do you know if you’re doing it right? Some metrics — like rep attrition, engagement, and productivity — will give you hints, but your culture isn’t defined by any one KPI. It’s far more complex.
Ultimately, your sales culture will define and drive your success (or lack of it), so you’ve got no choice but to get your culture on the right track.
Signs of an unhealthy sales culture
Sometimes, to get where you want to be, you have to look at where you don’t want to end up — with a toxic culture that drives your team away.
A poor sales culture often has:
– High sales team turnover rates
– High levels of burnout
– Unhealthy competition
– A confusing or punitive comp plan
According to data from LinkedIn, job transitions among sales professionals were up 26% in the fourth quarter of 2021. Frequent changes among your sales team are disruptive to your culture and costly for your bottom line. Beyond the expense of hiring replacements, the cost of the lost knowledge and the ramp time for new reps is significant.
All that change puts extra pressure on those who stay, piling more stress onto people in an already mentally demanding job. A 2021 report by the Sales Health Alliance showed that 58% of salespeople said they struggled with their mental health.
Those who face the most significant pressures — like account executives, account managers and frontline sales managers — are faring the worst. Around two-thirds of each group reported poor or fair mental health.
A sales culture rooted in unhealthy competition can contribute to the poor mental health of your team. While pitting your team members against each other might seem motivating on the surface, creating a competitive environment based in negativity is bad news for your culture and your sales success.
In a study by HBR, researchers found that employees who were offered negative consequences, like losing a bonus, were more likely to experience anxiety and resort to unethical methods to make a sale.
When the researchers presented outcomes positively, telling participants they would earn a bonus for good performance, subjects became excited instead of anxious — and more likely to engage in creative behaviors that would seal the deal.
Salespeople are always going to keep a close eye on their compensation, of course, and clarity is a big part of an effective compensation plan. A 2019 Gartner study showed that only 24% of sellers felt they could easily figure out their variable compensation packages. If your team doesn’t understand how to maximize their paycheck, they’ll become distracted and unmotivated — and drag your whole culture down with them.
The recipe for a healthy sales culture
In contrast, a healthy culture is one that positively empowers every team member to do their best — for themselves, for the team and for the company as a whole. There are clear paths to success and meaningful motivation to excel. There’s also:
Low employee churn: Keep your employees engaged and working as a team by holding attrition down. Beyond compensation and benefits, make sure you’re nurturing an environment your team won’t want to leave.
Healthy competition: As the HBR study showed us, people will give you their best when you create positive incentives for them to do it. Negative competition only breeds toxic behaviors. Instead, create a collaborative setting that encourages your team to support each other in reaching individual and team goals.
Hype and encouragement: Feedback that’s encouraging is more motivating than feedback that demeans your sales team and saps their confidence. Gallup found that salespeople who got coaching that focused on their strengths saw an 11% higher volume of sales and a 6% higher closing percentage. Focus on what your team members are doing well, and you’ll get even more of it in return.
“We set up a company-wide Slack channel that automatically posts every deal that comes through,” Sydney LaSala, Sales Enablement Manager at Hired. “Each time the revenue bot announces something new you’ll find tons of people — not just in sales but across the company — giving kudos to the reps credited on the deal. It’s been a great way for us to not only give credit where credit is due but also acknowledge the teamwork that goes into each deal.”
Support: While positive feedback can work wonders for your sales team, what employees want most is your support through frequent, meaningful feedback, even if it’s not always positive. Gallup found that employees who got this support were almost four times more likely to be engaged — another sign of a healthy culture.
Ownership: Giving your team ownership over (and accountability for) their sales goals and performance is empowering. Micromanaging isn’t. When goals and expectations are clear, your salespeople will feel more confident in managing their sales process on their own. Be a coach, not a taskmaster.
A clear comp plan: A fair compensation plan is easy to understand and the same for everyone across the board. (Bonus: A simplified comp plan is easier for you to manage as the sales leader.) Align your plan to your overall revenue goals so that everyone can see how they’re contributing to the success of the team and the company. Design your compensation to encourage your best performers — not punish your worst.
Learning and development: The team that learns together earns together. When you invest in training for your team, you encourage more development because it becomes a team-building activity that can help rally a struggling group. Insisting that only your lowest-performing team members get training is divisive and brings down morale. There’s always something new to learn in sales — and there’s always room for everyone to improve.
Getting your sales culture right
Improving your sales culture isn’t something that happens overnight, but as a revenue leader, it’s your responsibility to make sure it happens ASAP. Your team’s personal well-being and retention — and especially your revenue — depend on it.
“We have six core values at Hired that we introduce to team members on day one,” said LaSala. “These values include ‘people first,’ ‘strength through inclusion,’ and my personal favorite, ‘one team, one dream.’ By instilling values that favor a sense of belonging, people feel valued and flourish.”
Address your sales culture one step at a time:
✅ Design positive, healthy competitions that encourage and incentivize productivity and creativity.
✅ Find the root cause of employee turnover and address the issue head on. Talk to your team — they probably know exactly what the problem is.
✅ Structure and book ongoing learning and development for your whole team.
✅ Dedicate time for your team to collaborate, strategize and support each other to help close deals that are stuck.
✅ Restructure your comp plan to be clear, straightforward and aligned to your revenue goals.
✅ Introduce more accountability into your processes and find more opportunities to give your team meaningful feedback — and hear them out too.
✅ Define processes for handling underperformance like missing targets or poor use of sales technology and reporting tools. Keep it positive, not punitive.
✅ Spotlight and reward successes and encourage your team to celebrate others’ achievements. Let them learn from and inspire each other.
✅ Find new ways of communicating as a group, especially for remote or hybrid teams. Keep lines of communication wide open (and make sure they go both directions).
A better sales culture starts with you
A sales culture that helps you retain top salespeople and hit your targets takes hard work to create and consistent, ongoing energy to maintain. You can’t measure your success on a dashboard, but if you put in the effort, you’ll be rewarded with a happier, more successful team — and maybe even have a little more fun at work yourself.
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