Many businesses still abide by sales principles of yesteryear, with aggressive employee chasing sales under immense internal stress. SUE BARRETT explores the benefits of a more empathetic sales culture.
I want you to imagine a team of 10 salespeople, each of whom has their own well-defined sales responsibilities.
These ‘territories’ could be product-based or services-based, or perhaps defined by other terms, it doesn’t matter. Each member of the staff has sales targets. They have access to sales support and customer service.
Every month this sales team, including sales support, meets virtually and occasionally in person, to workshop their plans.
These meetings are used to look at what’s working and what’s not. These meetings are focused on moving forward and how to get better sales traction and deliver on results. It’s these monthly meetings where the magic happens, not just on the sales and deals front, but on the culture front.
Each member of staff is united around a common purpose, with a clear and easy to understand business strategy which is broken down into these individual territories. They know what they are selling to whom and why. This sales team culture has something extra that everyone abides by – the principle of “leave no one behind”.
In retail, we all face challenges from time-to-time – disinterested customers, struggles with closing sales, or perhaps personal circumstances are simply making it difficult to complete a busy schedule.
If it emerges that a salesperson is facing challenges, all the other staff and sales support work with that member to help them recover and get through that rough patch. Whether it’s coaching, mentoring, taking over the reins for a bit, making calls on their behalf, everyone is vested in getting that individual and the team to deliver. Sounds like an ideal work environment, doesn’t it?
By contrast, businesses that promote selling as a highly competitive, aggressive operation tend to run into surprising issues.
It’s easy to think of some business and salespeople cliches, popularised by films and television, which embody these kinds of work cultures. For example:
• All the salespeople compete with each other for the ‘top spot’ and the least successful staff members by volume are culled.
• Managers encourage a cut-throat, high-pressure, “take-no-prisoners” culture to drive their financial success.
• Customers are seen as targets and attempts to close a sale is referred to as “going in for the kill”.
• Customers are regarded as objects to be possessed or trophies to be placed in on a cabinet, shown off and admired like stuffed animals on a wall above a fireplace.
If you’re the kind of manager who promotes any of the above behaviour, or is still taking inspiration from films such as Glengarry Glen Ross, then you’ve found the right article. There’s a growing body of research that suggests these dog-eat-dog cultures are extremely harmful to productivity, retention, and the wellbeing of staff.
Unfortunately, this type of culture has been promoted, for too long, as the ideal sales team culture.
The cost associated with these toxic, high-pressure cultures include:
• Blow out in health care expenditure due to workplace stress. Long term issues with stress lead to higher chances of cardiovascular disease and even death from heart attacks.
• Employee disengagement including high absenteeism, more errors, lower productivity, lower profitability, lower job growth and lower sales performance.
• A lack of loyalty from staff members, and by extension, customers who correctly perceive an unhealthy work environment and choose to spend their money elsewhere.
The final point regarding loyalty was recently underlined by a report from the Harvard Business Review titled “Proof Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive.”
“Although there’s an assumption that stress and pressure push employees to perform more, better, and faster, what cut-throat organisations fail to recognise is the hidden costs incurred,” the report reads.
“This research on positive organisational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.”
The example shared at the beginning of this article doesn’t need to be a fantasy – it can become your reality.
The collegiate, collaborative, and caring approach taken by businesses who value their staff and encourage people to build genuine relationships with customers will have the last laugh.