The pace of change in sales markets has been relentless. What sellers sell and how they sell it can change on a dime. As a result of this change, most workers (59%) say there’s more pressure and disruption at work today than in years past. And the pace of change has made work more challenging for the majority (60%) of workers.

Sales organizations are constantly changing their sales structure to adapt to disruption, whether it’s shifting to a hybrid model to support remote selling, addressing new customer buying preferences, embracing new selling models and/or updating compensation structures. However, these changes often don’t have an effect below the surface.

It takes more than a series of restructuring initiatives to build and embed sustainable change in an organization. Making change stick requires sales organizations to align transformation with their business objectives and their overarching purpose. In short, the foundation that supports change — as well as growth — is sales culture.

Why it’s challenging to drive cultural change in sales organizations

Any time a company makes a strategic change that requires people to do things differently, it needs to address corporate culture. Culture drives the execution of strategy. Yet, most sales organizations fail when it comes to cultural transformation because they face three significant obstacles.

First, culture is a challenging concept to grasp because it’s intangible. It means different things to different people. Few organizations ensure top-to-bottom alignment when it comes to defining their culture.

Second, changing the behavior of one person is difficult enough. Multiplying and sustaining change across an entire organization is even more challenging.

Finally, attempts to transform corporate culture are often met with cynicism. And if initial changes aren’t sustained, people can snap back to old habits that undermine the new culture.

The four principles of culture transformation

Given these challenges, sales leaders that follow these four principles of transformation find the most success:

  1. Create shared meaning around the concept of culture at the individual, social and organizational levels
  2. Align the sales culture to the business strategy
  3. Identify the key levers that will help implement culture change
  4. Demonstrate self-awareness and commitment to lead the transformation

How can sales leaders implement each of these principles?

1 Create shared meaning around the concept of culture at the individual, social and organizational levels

Korn Ferry defines an organization’s “culture” as “how things get done.” More formally, it’s the combination of organizational inspiration and purpose, motives and beliefs of individuals and the norms and patterns of interactions of groups that drive behaviors and results. In short, culture is an organization’s DNA. In sales, leaders rely on their culture to ensure their selling behaviors align with company values and business objectives.

Based on our research, organizations seeking to change their culture must address three dimensions:

  1. Individual: Motives and values
  2. Social: Relationships and networks
  3. Organizational: Purpose and meaning

At the intersection of these dimensions is a shared meaning about what the organization’s culture truly is. Sales organizations that focus on developing a collective culture have a powerful lever that aligns the individual, group and organizational levels, thus creating a high-performing sales culture.

It’s easy to see why. Sales professionals are most likely to be deeply engaged in their work and committed to their organization when their individual motives and values align with the way that relationships and networks operate in the organization’s overall purpose.

2 Align the sales culture to the business strategy

When culture and business strategy are in sync, employees execute the strategy, not because they’ve been told to, but because they want to. The power of this alignment shows up in results. Businesses that align culture to strategy see a 117% greater return on investment than those that don’t. They get a 145% higher return on their assets and a 56% greater return on their equity.

The starting point on a journey of changing the sales culture is understanding the organization’s strategic requirements. What culture is needed to deliver short- and long-term results?

We recommend collecting qualitative and quantitative data from diagnostic assessments, interviews, sales results and more. Leaders can then use this data to pinpoint areas where their current and desired culture are misaligned. The most effective businesses then focus on the cultural aspects that could accelerate or derail the business strategy.

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3 Identify the key levers that will help implement culture change

Leaders can then define the behaviors required to help their organization succeed. It takes focus and discipline to isolate the behaviors that need to become core practices for the sales team. Training and coaching can embed and reinforce these behaviors.

Then, prioritize the implementation of the levers that will produce the most impactful culture change. For example, effective organizational and team structures make new behaviors possible. They enable decision-making, communication, knowledge transfer and other critical elements that hardwire the behaviors, habits and mindsets needed for a cultural transformation.

In other words, any changes that take place need to make it easy for people to behave in the right way, even if they don’t receive explicit direction.

4 Demonstrate self-awareness and commitment to lead the transformation

During a recent sales transformation project, we surveyed sales reps about how they perceived their work environment for flexibility, rewards, responsibility, clarity, standards and team commitment. Reps who stated their sales leaders displayed positive change behaviors and messages had quota attainment rates 10% higher than reps with leaders identified as showing behaviors that were negative or neutral toward change.

These results show that building a sustainable sales culture starts at the top. The best leaders of culture display intuitive awareness of what does and doesn’t work in their teams. They model the right attitudes, use appropriate management styles and send consistent messages to the salesforce about the positive results of change.

Note that “leading” can also be knowing what to delegate. Many sales teams create their own “sales culture initiative” to define key behaviors that align with strategic principles and then model them for the entire salesforce. This approach can encourage sellers to adopt the new culture.

Cultural transformation is an ongoing journey

Sales culture transformation is a journey without a final destination. When sales leaders undertake transformation in the right way, it becomes a process of continuous improvement and adaptation. This transformation can lead to increased employee engagement and improved business performance for everyone across the entire sales organization.

To speak with Joe DiMisa or one of our sales experts, please contact us here.

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