What’s the Best Culture to Drive Sales Performance?

Since we cleared the fog around sales enablement last week, let’s now turn to another question I’m asked a lot: What is the best culture to drive sales performance? Is it a sales culture we should aim for? And whatever it is, what does it mean for sales enablement?

Let’s first have a look at the data from our 2018-2019 Sales Performance Study. We identified the three main criteria that differentiate high performers from average and low performers using our Sales Relationship Process Matrix (SRP Matrix). Click here to check out the full SRP Matrix results. One criterion was dynamic alignment of the selling processes to the customer’s path, which we also see in our 4th Annual Sales Enablement Study. Another criterion was that salespeople met or exceeded expectations regarding the capability to provide insights and perspectives. And the key criterion was culture. Not a sales culture – no, a customer-centric culture was the undisputed winner.

High-performing organizations are about twice as likely to have a customer-centric culture compared to average and low performers.

More than half (50.6%) of the high-performing organizations (level 3 in SRP language) reported having a customer-centric culture. And if this number does not convince you, these will: only one-quarter (26.4%) of the medium performers (level 2) and only one-fifth (20.2%) of the low performers (level 1) reported having a customer-centric culture.

Having a customer-centric culture showed strong correlations on both dimensions of the SRP Matrix: The customer-centric culture correlated to higher levels of relationship and to higher levels of process maturity. In fact, having a customer-centric culture allows high-performing organizations to effectively move up and over on the SRP Matrix.

Customer-centric cultures show the biggest positive impact on performance compared to all other cultures: They help improve win rates by 6.8%, compared to the study’s average win rate of 47.3%.

No other culture achieves better win rates than the customer-centric culture. Only a service-oriented culture leads to win rates slightly above average, whereas all other cultures, such as process, product or sales cultures, lead to win rates below average performance.

Sales cultures led to the lowest win rates, with only 44.4%, which is 6.1% worse than the study’s average. Process-oriented cultures show the same tendency and led to win rates of only 45%.

Before we discuss what this means for sales enablement leaders, let me share a few insights regarding the process culture and the sales culture:

Process cultures showed a tendency to be internally focused and forget the customer. If there is too much focus on process rigor and not enough attention on the nature of the modern buyers’ buying behaviors — which are usually not linear but happening in iterations — the actual useful ideas of process maturity don’t pay off, and the risk of increasing seller and buyer misalignment increases.

If you are currently working in a process-oriented culture, make sure the customers and their customers’ path are always the primary design point of any sales process and sales enablement efforts. That requires ensuring that the internal selling processes are not only formally but also dynamically aligned to the customers’ path to ensure that changing buyer behaviors can be quickly adjusted in a flexible manner.

Sales cultures didn’t always lead to the best relationships. The study showed that sales cultures were more often associated with being an approved vendor or preferred supplier only. And these are the lowest two levels of customer relationships. Only 13% of sales cultures were perceived to be at the top two levels of relationships: strategic contributor and trusted partner. So if a sales culture is centered around aggressively pushing products rather than solving the customers’ business problems, it leads to the bad results mentioned above.

You may want to think about different ways to become more customer-centric as a sales enablement leader. Here are five ideas to do just that:

  • If you have a charter and a governance model in place, initiate a discussion on company culture. You could use your regular sales enablement advisory board to initiate this discussion. What’s the culture in your organization? How is it perceived? What’s the intention of your sales leaders, and why? Develop ways to reinforce the desired culture and keep your leadership team accountable. Their behaviors matter most.
  • If you don’t have a charter yet, create one from scratch. Developing such a business plan requires lots of senior executive conversations to align the sales enablement strategy to the business strategy. It also opens an opportunity to share the need to make customers the primary design point a) from a sales enablement perspective and b) based on the sales performance research mentioned above. Educating your senior executives this way and getting this principle written down in your charter allows you to adjust your priorities accordingly and impact the culture.
  • Get clarity around the relevant customer paths. If those don’t exist yet, map them out with your customers, marketing, customer experience and sales operations. It’s a must-have prerequisite for sales enablement success. For more details, click here.
  • Assess your current selling processes, and align them to the customer’s path. Are they flexibly designed to facilitate iterative and nonlinear buying behaviors? Do your processes include the buyers’ steps and gates they have to go through along their customer’s path? If not, focus on the customer’s path. Develop with your customer the main customer paths that are relevant for the different buying/selling scenarios. If that’s defined, make sure the steps and gates your buyers have to go through are reflected in your internal selling processes. That’s what we call a dynamic customer’s path alignment. Only one-fifth of organizations practice that, but they improve their quota attainment by 8.9%.
  • Align your sales enablement services to the customer’s path to drive customer engagement. This is the main scope of any sales enablement initiative. What are the actual enablement services provided to address the selling challenges and to make sure the desired goals are achieved? I have written in greater detail about aligning enablement services to the customer’s path, especially content services. Check out this one here to learn more about customer engagement’s role in sales enablement. And this one here explains the details regarding the role of content!

If you haven’t already, take a look at our new book, Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. It contains lots of “how-to” information to address the challenges mentioned here.

Questions for you:

  • What’s the culture in your organization?
  • Have you ever assessed the implications of your culture on performance?
  • How would you impact the culture in your organization?

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