How to know when your sales culture is broken and how to fix it.

January 15, 2021
12:15 PM
Mike Arsenault


At many of the organizations we work with, culture is the lifeblood of the company. If a company can create a culture that brings out the best in its people, they have a higher probability of successfully navigating the challenges that come with revenue growth & scale.

If you’ve ever spent time with a sales team, then you know how much culture can impact performance. In the ebbs and flows of good quarters and bad quarters, keeping a culture that breed’s productivity, enthusiasm and accountability is one of the biggest challenges in front of company leaders in 2020.

The ability to detect when a culture is broken seems to be a “superpower” of sorts. It goes beyond reviewing the sales numbers. Great leaders seemingly have a sixth sense or gut feeling that things aren’t right, others see their team checking out and being less engaged which is a more obvious symptom. I call this “Culture Crush”…when salespeople have lost their fire and are not giving their all. Every CEO, Sales leader or business owner will face this at some point in their company lifecycle but few will know why it happened at all. In my experience Culture Crush typically happens for 3 main reasons.

1. There is a disconnect between company goals and sales goals.
All sales people are emotional beings by nature. Like an engine they need fuel to keep them going through the good, bad and ugly of their selling time.

Giving them a quota and compensation plan simply isn’t enough. They need to have a clear understanding of how their goal connects with the broader picture of the company’s growth. Without this they may lack the foresight to stay engaged when times get tough. You will see sales people become less engaged, show up to work later and in time...sell less.


2. Marketing and Sales lack alignment.

Trying to achieve a symbiotic relationship between sales and marketing can seem like an impossible feat. In the day-to-day hustle of running a company most of us settle on letting these 2 departments happily exist as a separation of church and state.

But like all relationships, if either side doesn’t have a clear understanding of their needs, processes and goals, it is only a matter of time before there is dissention in the ranks. The result is typically an “US versus “THEM” approach to working together. This kills productivity and staggers over all results.

3. Do you smell that?….Your culture has gotten stale.
Having a set it and forget it approach to your sales team is not a long-term strategy. Sales people require effective leadership and engagement to avoid becoming bored and complacent. As much as you might feel that a “killer comp plan” should be enough…it’s not. Teams need a handful of lively moments and change to break up the monotony of their day-to-day. This is especially the case of inside sales people. After a few weeks of sitting at the same desk making calls and doing product demos, some variety to keep things fresh goes a long way.

4. Your people are not evolving.
You’ve hired your people but are you investing in them for the long term? Every employee wants to feel like their employer is vested in their success. To be successful salespeople need a healthy mixture of dedicated leadership, tools and skills development. If you are lacking in any of these 3 areas, the sales culture can evolve to “just another job” and not a place to build a career.

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So what can you do to mitigate your risk against a broken sales culture?

Connect the dots
The best leaders help sales people understand where their contribution is having an impact. As human beings most want to feel a sense of purpose with the road ahead. That way ,when things are hard they understand that their work is not just about them. They have a level of accountability not only to their Manager but also to their company, fellow employees and customers.

Their role becomes more than selling a product. It’s purpose evolves into adding value to customers and impacting company growth. Their actions help pave the way for other opportunities where the entire team wins. Understanding their purpose and how it plays into the big picture goes a long way.

Integrated approach to revenue growth.
This lines up similarly with aligning sales and marketing. Focus on achieving an integrated approach to revenue growth. Make sure Sales & Marketing have clear goals and there is no mystery to the rules of engagement. The best teams create a cadence framework for communication and knowledge share. Be diligent making it a weekly or bi-weekly commitment. Lastly when doing your annual or quarterly planning create some shared goals between the 2 departments get them working together as a team.

Stay Fresh.
Create a schedule that incorporates a mixture of friendly competition, communication and spotlight on the small wins you see on a weekly basis. Celebrate activity metrics, new sales even birthdays…anything to give the sales floor an energy boost. In my time, I’ve always liked changing the seating plan 2-3 times a year so reps gain access to other people on their team. They can hear how their peers sell and manage their day. A great form of passive learning and team building.

Invest in your team.
From a skills perspective, this can be as simple as implementing an internal training regimen to get better at product demos or purchasing. Alternatively purchase a training program from a company that can have an impact on your current skill gaps. Doing something is always better than the status quo. 


Fractional Leadership
If you don’t have the cycles to spend with sales and aren’t ready for a full time sales leader, consider fractional or virtual leadership. Fractional leaders give you access to senior talent on a contract basis. These options can be a great opportunity to fill in any gaps you may have as you focus on other areas of your business.

Whatever you decide to do moving forward, remember when it comes to people management, effort directly equates to impact. If you are facing any of these or other challenges you can get more insight on ways to impact your revenue growth here.

Author: Mike Arsenault

Mike Arsenault is an executive leader and sales growth expert. He works with B2B leaders on transformational change to drive revenue growth, facilitate international expansion and build high performing sales teams. Mike’s work has impacted sales organizations globally by helping them navigate the unique challenges that come with building and scaling growth-focused businesses.


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