Good Sales Culture – Seven Criteria to Apply

November 18th, 2018

There are seven criteria you can use to determine if your sales culture is healthy.  From having realistic expectations to prospecting, ongoing education and a rhythm of accountability, this article outlines the seven things that create a healthy and effective sales organization.


Everyone wants to know what is expected of them, and ideally, each person on your sales team has direct access to information that tells them how they are doing.  You want a culture of self-management – the combination of people knowing what is expected of them, along with easy access to data that tells them how they are doing.

Clear expectations should come in two formats; 1) realistic goals to attain, and 2) individual business plans.  First, establish SMART sales goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic and Time-bound.  If you have a mature salesperson with a good track-record, his/her sales goal should be higher than an up-and-comer. In addition, if you have salespeople targeting different sectors of your business, make sure their goals are properly aligned.

Have each person create and submit their personal Business Plan.  This is a plan that works the numbers down from overall dollar sales goal to number of prospects needed to achieve the sales goal.  This process factors in close rate, average sale, number of opportunities in which a proposal is provided, and perhaps some other metrics.  In any case, the Business Plan outlines prospecting goals that if achieved will support achievement of the overall sales goal.

In addition to working the numbers from sales to prospecting, the Business Plan should also include what prospecting strategies will be implemented, what referral sources will be targeted, and an overall activity plan to achieve the sales goal.

Clarity of the Target Market

If you are targeting everyone, you are targeting no one.  Don’t ever hire a salesperson and say “now go get them”. The question is “who is them”?  The leaders in the organization are obligated to clarify the target market – to inform the sales team who they should go after and why.  This pertains to the direct customer as well as referral sources.

A seasoned salesperson may not need this kind of clarity, but I’ve see far too often when there is a gross lack of clarity about who the ideal customer is and how to find them.  Getting real specific and finite are keys to effectively defining your target market.

If it is not clear who your target market is, your sales organization has a sickness – and that sickness causes your salespeople to drift in the marketplace without a clear direction to go.

Prospecting to fill the pipeline

Do your salespeople know exactly what to do to find the best prospects, and are you constantly assessing the effectiveness of your prospecting activities?  If you can respond “yes” to both these questions, you’re in good health. Otherwise, you’re sick – suffering from “shallow pipeline disease”.

Your salespeople should have 3-5 weekly prospecting activities that are stated in the SMART goal format…something like, “make enough prospecting calls to engage in 5 discovery conversations”.  Or, something like, “contact 5 existing customers and ask them for a referral”.

If you haven’t defined these weekly prospecting activities, get your team involved to determine what they are.  In my experience, the people who know the market and are out there mixing it up, can come up with some great ideas on prospecting strategies.  Every time I’ve worked with sales teams to identify their prospecting activities, they’ve come up with some great ideas.

Ongoing education

Are your salespeople involved in some type of ongoing education about their products/services and their sales skills?  If not, you’re failing to invest in your people.

Product/service training is critical, but it must include a sales element – not just focused on the features of the products/services.  When doing product/service training, don’t forget discussions about the features, advantages and benefits of the products/services. A “feature” is something that describes a certain element of the product/service.  An “advantage” is how a particular feature addresses an issue that your customers might have. A “benefit” is how a particular features addresses a specific problem your customer reveals.

When doing product/service training, don’t stop short of talking about how it works and the unique features it might have.  Spend a good amount of time talking about why the features are attractive to the target market.

Now let’s talk sales skills training.  While sometimes it’s most effective and efficient to send someone off to “sales school”, it doesn’t always require that one-time event.  In fact, too often these one-time sales training classes don’t have long lasting effects.

With so many great sales books out there, use one of the books as ongoing sales training curriculum.  In every sales consulting engagement I’m involved in, we take a few minutes at the weekly sales meeting to discuss a chapter in a sales book.  This group sharing approach has made a strong impact on how people communicate and sell, and how they continue to develop their abilities.

Accountability Rhythm

Does your sales team participate in rhythmic accountability discussions?  If not, your missing out on creating a high-performing sales culture. Rhythmic accountability comes in two formats; 1) weekly accountability sessions, and 2) monthly one-on-one meetings.

Weekly accountability sessions typically occur during the weekly sales meeting.  It is a time when each person on the team reports on his/her 1) overall sales performance, 2) weekly prospecting goals, and 3) any individual commitments made during the prior week.  

Monthly one-on-one meetings should occur regularly.  The agenda should be the same each meeting, and should start with a review of overall sales performance during the last month.  Next should be a review of the individual’s sales pipeline. If overall sales are good, and the pipeline remains robust, congratulate the person.  If on the other hand, sales performance and/or pipeline aren’t good, there should be a discussion around prospecting activities and what’s going to change to improve results.

Minimizing non-sales activities

What percent of your salespeople’s time is devoted to prospecting, being in front of a sales opportunities, developing proposals and closing deals?  If it’s more than 80%, keep that going. If not, you’re possibly missing sales and/or sub-optimizing your sales team.

Good salespeople want to sell, they aren’t detail-oriented and they don’t like paperwork.  They don’t want to do administrative tasks. Don’t ask your salespeople to be delivery people.  Imagine a good salesperson burning up windshield time to deliver a product to a customer – it’s sickening to think of how much revenue that salesperson could generate if his/her time was in front of a customer selling.  

If you don’t know how much non-selling tasks with which your salespeople are burdened, measure it.  It might shock you.

Motivated salespeople

There are two critical elements to this part of a high-performing sales culture.  They are 1) the right people – duh, and 2) a sales incentive compensation plan that effectively rewards and motivates the right behaviors.

Good salespeople have a certain DNA, and any sales leader wants a team of natural born salespeople.  It’s not easy to find them, but they’re out there. Most of the people in sales interact positively and effectively with others.  That’s easy to assess during job interviews. What’s far more difficult to assess is the person’s “fire in the belly” – the combination of drive, energy, sense of urgency and inherent motivation to achieve great things.  In my experience hiring salespeople, the “fire in the belly” element is very difficult to assess. Consequently, we use personality assessment tools to measure that factor.

A healthy sales culture has salespeople who know the product/service, interact comfortably with customers, generally follow the rules, and have that “fire in the belly”.

The second element is an appropriate sales incentive compensation plan.  Have you outlined the behaviors you want to reward? Have you thought about how you want your salespeople to behave on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis?  These are the foundations of an effective sales comp plan.

When you throw an incentive comp plan in front of a good salesperson, he/she will determine how they are going to maximize their earnings and honestly work the system to their advantage.  Depending on the environment, a sales comp plan should make a major impact on overall earnings. In my book, a “major impact” is 40% or more of total comp.

Make sure you have a sales incentive comp plan that maximizes the behaviors you think are best, and minimizes the collateral damage that might occur as your salespeople seek to maximize their earnings.   


Take a look at your sales organization through the lens of the criteria described above.  Assess your sales organization around expectations, clarity of target market, prospecting activities, rhythmic accountability, ongoing education, minimizing non-sales activities, and ensuring you have the right people rewarded with a good sales incentive plan.


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