6 Steps to Creating a Killer Sales Culture


The five of us would sit in the cafeteria every day, eating lunch together. Everyone in the company knew who we were. There was an energy you could feel. We were a small team, but a team we were. We were at 200% of quota. We had secured 90% of the market. We devastated the competition. We were thought leaders in our space. We all loved going to work. We were aggressive, intelligent, accountable, creative, responsive, fun, and knew how to sell. That was until they broke us up.

We were the victims of our success.

We were killing it, while other sales teams weren’t doing so well. While we were consistently over quota, year over year, the other sales team struggled to make the number. This was not lost on the executive team and that’s when the decision was made. Let’s put Keenan over the under-performing team and move the head of the under-performing team to the performing team.


Yeah, whatever.

With in 3 months it was clear to everyone, except the executive team this was a colossal mistake. The underperforming team rejected my approach, my style, my expectations and my efforts. They didn’t see themselves as underperforming, in spite of what the numbers said, and they weren’t going to change. I was unable to replicate the culture. The performing team regretted losing their leader and more importantly didn’t understand why change was required if things were working. The new leader didn’t embrace the same behaviors or have the same expectations of the performing team as I did. He didn’t maintain the culture. Within 12 months of the change, I was gone, one of the members of the performing teams was gone and the culture was never the same again.

There have been some market changes, however the company has yet to replicate the success it had during the times when the culture was phenomenal and everyone was bought in.

Culture matters.

I came to see in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game — it is the game.

Louis Gerstner, Former CEO IBM

I read Built to Last in the late 90’s and it changed my view of business forever. 50% of success, whether it’s in sales, business, sports or family, comes from culture and if you aren’t deliberate in building culture and maintaining it, you will fail. Period!

Culture can be anything you want it to be. You get to decide, but it must contain these 6 things:

Vision: What does it mean to be apart of the group, the team etc? What is it you’re trying to create. What is the “point” of the culture and the team.

Why?: Why are you doing what you are doing? Why does it matter. Why does the vision even exist? Get to why and constantly reinforce “why?”

Behaviors: What behaviors are expected? How do you expect people to behave? What behavior do you want to reinforce? How are people supposed to act?

Goals: How are you going to measure success? How will you and the team know you are being successful? What results are you looking for?  The key here is to make sure they align with and empower the culture.

Consequences: I know this one sounds rather harsh, crazy uh?!  We live in a world were the word consequences conjures up negative and harsh thoughts, but when it comes to developing and maintaining a “cult like culture” there must be clear and definitive consequences for not conforming to the culture. Cultures can’t and won’t survive without everyone embracing it to the fullest. The minute a behavior contrary to the culture is allowed to persist, the culture is in demise, and almost impossible to turn around.

Rewards: Reinforcement is the name of the game here. It’s not enough to just set expectations. Reinforcing the expectations is critical. Spend time thinking about ways to reward the behaviors you expect from the team.  Rewarding behaviors is different than rewarding results. We’ve become good at rewarding results. That’s easy. Aggie makes quota, Aggie get’s rewarded. Rewarding behaviors on the other hand is different. Aggie busts her ass and flawlessly sells the biggest deal ever, but loses it in the end to the competition, rewarding her for how she sold the deal as representation for how deals should be sold is more valuable than rewarding only for the result. Make sure you find ways to reward behaviors.

As a sales leader, it’s your job to build and maintain a productive sales culture. You get to pick it, but pick you must.

Is your sales culture an aggressive, get it done at no cost culture, where alpha dogs are rewarded? Or, is it a training culture where those with the greatest command of the market, the products and the industry are celebrated? What behaviors do you celebrate? FYI, achieving quota is NOT a behavior. HOW one achieves the quota is what you need to be focusing on.

Cultures are funny. They exist whether or not you create one. You have a culture.  The question is, is it the one you want or the one you have?

Every killer sales team has a killer culture, period.  Every shitty sales team, has a shitty sales culture.  It’s that simple.

If you haven’t been deliberate in the development of your sales culture, it’s not too late. Spend the time solving for the 6 challenges above and you will be on your way.

Don’t wait, get it done now. The number and your sales team will thank you!