Before every Sales 2.0 Conference, we host a dinner for our speakers. The conference host, Gerhard Gschwandtner, has made a tradition of starting each dinner by posing a single question. Over the course of two (sometimes three) hours, we work our way around the table and everyone gets an opportunity to introduce him/herself and answer the question.
The question from last night was: “Tell us about a corporate culture that has inspired you,” and it elicited a steady stream of intriguing, moving, provocative, and inspiring answers. As you might imagine, many speakers cited specific companies. Here’s a sampling from my notes.
Zappos — for adopting happiness as a culture and achieving success by hiring not for skills, but for attitude.
The Olympics — for attracting high achievers that want to win and set world records (hear more on this theme from Tristam Brown, Chairman & CEO, LSA Global, during his Thursday presentation, “What Sales Moves Make the Biggest Difference?”).
CooperVision — for consistently checking in to ensure that its activities are aligned with its stated corporate values by asking, “Are we being dedicated? Are we being friendly?” (hear more about CooperVision from Perry Cole, who’s presenting “Unlocking Sales Force Effectiveness That Drives Business Results” today at 3:05).
G Adventures — for “embracing the bizarre” (its company motto).
Accenture — for “how smart” the people are.
Outward Bound — for being “mission driven.”
Nordstrom — for customer service.
USAA — for starting every meeting by reciting its mission statement, and living those values.
Southwest Airlines — for providing a great customer experience without having to be asked, and empowering employees to meet customer expectations without navigating red tap or management hierarchy.
ExactTarget — for leadership that gives employees something to believe in and removes obstacles to success.
There were also a few speakers who told very personal stories. One speaker, for example, shared that his father used to own a small hardware store in India; his dad would wash the nuts and bolts so that customers wouldn’t have to get their hands greasy. Another related how he visited a local grocery store with his daughter recently, and the cashier asked if she won her soccer game, since she had been wearing a soccer jersey the last time she visited the store. It made his daughter’s face “light up like a Christmas tree.”
Many of these stories focused on the inspirational aspects of successful corporate cultures — cultures that are driven by love. On the flip side, we also talked about some corporate cultures that are driven not necessarily by love, but by aggression. These companies lack the touch-feely, media-friendly stories about happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. They’re hard-driving, aggressive, sink-or-swim environments. Personal fulfillment is something to pursue on your own time, not corporate time. And, frequently, these companies enjoy just as much success — at least in terms of revenue — as their love-driven counterparts.
The sales profession in general can seem to swing naturally in the direction of aggression. Beat the competition. Make your number this month (or else). Why haven’t you followed up with this prospect? What do you mean, the deal fell through? The purpose of a business is to make a profit, and sellers are on the front lines. Perhaps, then, it makes sense that many sales organizations are managed by intimidation, fear, swagger, and narcissism.
If you’re interested in this question, I encourage you to check out Breakout B (“Multiply Your Impact with 3-Dimensional Coaching”) tomorrow at the conference, being led by LaVon Koerner of Revenue Storm. I recently collaborated with LaVon on a white paper (still forthcoming) and gained a lot of insight about the benefits of leveraging positivity and metrics to run a winning sales organization.
Thanks to all the speakers who came to the dinner and shared their insight. You helped set the stage for a great two days here in San Francisco.
What corporate culture do you admire, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Lisa Gschwandtner is Editorial Director of Selling Power. Follow her on Twitter @SellingPower20.