Focus on World-Class, Part 10: Our culture supports continuous development

In this 12-part series, each post examines one of the 12 best practices identified in the 2017 CSO Insights World-Class Sales Practices Report. Today’s best practice: “Our culture supports continuous development of salespeople and sales leaders.”

Culture matters. A lot. Your organization’s culture is not only eating strategy for breakfast, as Peter Drucker said; it may also eat your just-planted enablement, development, and learning seeds. OK, we get that. But what is culture? It’s a term that’s often used but rarely defined.

Organizational culture determines how an organization is designed, how it works, and how it values its employees

The Business Dictionary has an excellent definition of organizational culture: “The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.” Organizational culture “is based on shared attitudes, beliefs, customs, and written and unwritten rules that have been developed over time and are considered valid.” Additionally, organizational culture includes “an organization’s expectations, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and is expressed in its self-image, inner workings, interactions with the outside world, and future expectations.”

Basically, culture, especially its foundation in shared attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, written and unwritten rules, impacts what we do or don’t do as an organization as well as all aspects of how we do it.

That brings us closer to the key aspects of the Top 12 practice we are discussing today: “Our culture supports continuous development of salespeople and sales leaders.”

This practice clearly shows that your organizational culture matters a lot when it comes to the continuous development of your salespeople, managers and leaders.

A learning culture works best for developing your sales force continuously

The key value in this culture is that people can learn new things, and that continuous learning is crucial for the organization’s long-term performance. Not less important, but often forgotten, is that learning cultures are not driven by perfection, but by learning along the way. That leads to a different attitude regarding failure. People make mistakes and organizations, led by people, make mistakes. It happens every single day. No one is particularly proud of it, but it is simply a consequence of the human capacity to make choices. Therefore, acceptance of mistakes is important. Only situations that are accepted as they are can become learning opportunities.

Celebrate wins, learn from losses, and learn from everything that’s changing around you

In my previous role, leading global sales enablement in a large IT services organization, we had to accept big losses in order to learn that we needed to change our how-to-sell approach completely and fundamentally. This was a few years ago when traditional IT deals turned into cloud services. Until that point, salespeople were used to talking about data centers, bits and bytes, capacities, service levels and so on. But a cloud service was not tangible, not at all, and this was difficult for the customers. One CIO looked at our proposal and simply said, “I don’t understand it.” Our sales team’s traditional behavior was to respond by offering a lower price. But the customer said, “I cannot even complain about the price; I don’t understand the impact of the solution.”

The biggest learning challenge in sales is still unlearning product pitches and learning how to translate and communicate capabilities into metrics and visions that are relevant and valuable for customers. What an offering MEANS to them is what matters. Enablement leaders must provide integrated enablement services that allow salespeople to learn value-based “how to sell” behaviors supported by the related internal and customer-facing content and tools.

Questions:

  • How do you perceive the culture in your organization?
  • How is this culture impacting your enablement efforts?
  • How does your sales leadership team actively promote the development of the sales force?

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