How to Avoid Creating a Toxic Sales Culture

By C. Lee Smith

Next to the talents of the people it employs, a company’s culture is its most important asset.

Am I exaggerating? Think about it. Your workplace culture can liberate and inspire employees to unleash and fulfill their talents. Or, on the dark side, it can stifle their performance and growth out of fear and skepticism. Your company’s culture is what keeps good people with you – because they want to be there.

On the other hand, a toxic culture can make the workplace a web of despair and excuses, where people feel under-appreciated, under-paid, and mis-understood.

With that in mind, here are at least three key ways you can avoid creating a toxic sales culture.

#1: Invest in your professional development as a sales manager.

Plateaus are not only career killers, they are culture killers – especially when it’s the manager on the plateau, willing to coast rather than strive.

If you don’t aspire, how can you expect to inspire? If your team doesn’t see you making a conscious effort to improve, why should they?

Your direct reports don’t care about the dues you’ve already paid. They work for you now. What matters is now. (And it’s not just millennials who think that way.) What are you doing to improve yourself right now, as a manager, as a leader, as a professional? Will your current skill set still be effective 3-5 years down the road?

Improve the manager and you’ll improve the team. You can’t talk salespeople into improving, but you can lead by example.

#2: Coach and develop your sales team.

If you want output, focus on input. Concentrate your efforts not on meetings and reports, but on how you coach and develop your team. Instead of perfunctory performance, set quantifiable goals for salespeople (that you both agree to in writing), and then measure individual performance against those goals – not just against revenue or production targets.

It’s about explaining “why” before you explain “how.” It’s about collaborating and taking joint responsibility for every member of your team.

A company culture wrapped around individual coaching and development is one where “team” doesn’t have to be defined. Your people live it.

#3: Cut bad hires loose without delay.

Being in a hurry to fill a position or compromising leads to bad hires. But hiring mistakes happen. It’s not that the person isn’t talented, or is incompetent, or is completely un-coachable (even if he seems that way). The person might be a good fit somewhere else. Just not here. Not in my culture.

The real trick in business is not waiting too long to fix a bad hire. A bad hire who’s allowed to fester will drag down the rest of your team. It will drain your time and energy and patience. A bad hire will pull your focus – and your team’s focus – away from growth and your customer’s needs. It will wound your company’s culture and decimate its momentum.

As complicated as it can be to let a bad hire go, the consequences of keeping him are much worse. So, document everything from day one. (You never know.) And follow the classic business advice: Hire slower, fire faster.

When you protect your culture, you protect your future…and the future of everyone you value on your team.

Want to learn three more ways you can avoid creating a toxic sales culture? Click this link and enter the password “toxic.”

Lee Smith is the president/CEO of SalesFuel – a firm he founded in 1989 with the mission to empower media sales professionals to help their advertisers make intelligent decisions on how to spend their marketing dollars. He is a graduate of Ohio University with an executive leadership certificate from Cornell University. He is also one of the world’s few (Jeffrey) Gitomer Certified Advisors for consultative sales.

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