You are browsing the archive for Sales Culture.

12 Sales Trends for 2014 – The Thinking Sales Organisation

December 19, 2013 in Education in Sales, Sales Culture, Sales Driven Organisations, Sales Research

As 2013 comes to a close we firstly wanted to thank all our loyal readers for their continued support of our work. We also thought you would like to get a sneak peek of our Annual 12 Sales Trends Report for 2014. With the unprecedented changes we are experiencing as a result of the digital revolution and the commoditisation of quality we can no longer manage sales by processes and numbers alone – it’s become a thinking person’s game.   As a result, the Barrett Consulting Group’s annual Sales Trends Report for 2014 has selected the theme: “The Thinking Sales Organisation”.

Barrett-Sales-Trend-Report-2014Sales operations are complex systems that involve many variable outcomes making it almost impossible to predict, with any degree of certainty, what will happen. Nothing in sales has ever been predictable. Now, with rampant change, that unpredictability has increased in pace and impact. That is why this Sales Trends report focuses on a number of important variables that will impact the success or otherwise of sales operations in 2014.
The following is a sneak peek of each of the 12 sales trends. You can purchase and download the detailed 49 page report of the 12 Sales Trends for 2014 at www.salesessentials.co/shop now to see which sales trends will have the greatest impact on your sales operations in 2014.

Sales Trend 1 – Sales Management Will Look to Drive Costs Out of Sales

In 2014, sales managers are going to come under increasing pressure to drive costs out of sales. While being effective and generating more business will continue as the main focus of selling, cutting cost out of sales and selling at better margins are going to be the two primary challenges, as management looks to squeeze profits in a market that is somewhat stagnant. As a result there are likely to be five major focus areas including: sales managers redefining sales territories; looking for new and more efficient ways to service low-value customers; and a shift away from volume as an indicator of sales success to a combination of volume and value.

Sales Trend 2 -  Telesales will have to make dramatic changes

telesales-need-to-rethink-operationsWith the increasing demands of more sophisticated buyers, telesales operators, who have traditionally focused on the uncomplicated sale of easy-to-understand commodities, are going to have to increase their knowledge base and learn to sell solutions to buyers who are more demanding, more knowledgeable and with higher expectations. This shake up means a radical re-think for telesales operations. Smart companies will see their telesales teams as a vital part of their overall sales operation. Some may even bring back in house those telesales teams that were previously outsourced or off shored.

Sales Trend 3 -  Sales Excellence Managers will find their real role

Smart companies are dispensing with their sales excellence operations and incorporating it back into the sales management function.  This sales trend will see sales managers, who are and have always been responsible for sales excellence, face pressure to resume this responsibility and deliver sales excellence. In the process sales excellence managers will either revert to their original role of sales training managers or find themselves being deployed elsewhere in the sales operations chain.

Sales Trend 4 -  Sales Training Methodologies are going to change

Sales training is not going to disappear; however, it will change its shape. As the market becomes more complex and competition more virulent salespeople will need more, not less training. But they will also have less time to be trained. These two forces – increased competition with the need to up skill salespeople and less time for training – will make identifying different training methods key to success.  The trend in 2014 will be for companies to reduce the cost of training whilst still developing their salespeople. Blending e-learning with class room work and in-field coaching is going to become the focal point of training in the new year.

micro-sales-segmentationSales Trend 5 – The move to Micro Sales Segmentation

The complexities of selling in 2014 are going to demand a re-think on the part of sales managers. Relying, as they have in the past, on marketing’s broader brush approach to segmentation is not going to cut it anymore and sales will have to re-assess how it goes about segmenting target markets.  As sales is learning, becoming tighter, almost micro market focused, defining the most attractive segments is the function of strategic sales in 2014. Getting it wrong can end up by costing the organisation too much.

Sales Trend 6 – The low carbon economy sales opportunities

barrett-solar-install-smallDespite many governments lagging behind in terms of creating and endorsing low carbon policies and industries, forward thinking organisations are taking the lead on creating low / no carbon businesses and partnering with each other. And it’s not just big business, there is a growing number of SMEs (small to medium enterprises) driving change too. There are massively big opportunities for innovation and product/service development in a low carbon economy as well as social evolution.

Sales Trend 7 -  The normalizing of Social Media in Sales

This sales trend is seeing businesses really ramping up their use of social media and in much more sophisticated ways. Rather than seeing social media as a tack on to the marketing budget, smart businesses are now creating their own social media departments who are actively working with sales, marketing and other departments, in concert, to create real-time content that is engaging, relevant and interactive.

brain gearsSales Trend 8 -  A radical shift in sales mindset

This sales trend is all about the radical shift in the sales mindset that currently is underway in organisations as prophesised by the Cluetrain Manifesto 15 years ago.  Smart companies are moving from competition to collaboration, from ‘me’ to ‘we’.  They are involving everyone across their business to be meaningfully connected in some way to the customers.

Sales Trend 9 -  Procurement need to be solutions salespeople too

This sales trend highlights how the skills, knowledge and mindset of procurement professionals are being expanded to include the capabilities of highly competent solutions sales professionals.

The latest whitepapers, running commentary threads on Linkedin Procurement Groups across the world, and Procurement Conferences and education bodies are all pointing towards procurement coming of age as a value creator and provider. No longer can procurement rest its case on ‘lowest cost’, ‘cheapest price’ or ‘supply of goods and services’; it must assume responsibility for the creation and delivery of real value beyond a price and general supply.

sales-strategySales Trend 10 – The Legitimisation of Sales Strategy

This sales trend will see Sales Strategy become the hot discipline of business in 2014 and beyond as business leaders work out how to move their sales operations out from under the shadow of Marketing and being a purely tactical function to being a strategic operation that works across the entire business value chain delivering real value and real growth.  Sales Strategy will begin to be studied by those charged with managing a sales team as well as other management disciplines to ensure sales and organisational success.  Along with business and marketing strategies, sales strategy will take a lead position at the C suite.

Sales Trend 11 – Learning to sell in the Asian Century

We are already even more reliant upon China for our prosperity than any comparable economy, at more than one quarter of our exports. We are China’s number one destination for foreign investment and a leading beneficiary of the education aspirations of its growing middle class. Yet many of us remain deeply ambivalent about the world-changing economic transformation of China and underestimate our need to be prepared.  Smart companies are recognising the need to develop deeper engagement with their Chinese counterparts – in universities, industries and governments. More Australian salespeople will need to study China, travel, live, work and speak Chinese.

enlightened-sales-personSales Trend 12 – The Enlightened Sales Person

This sales trend is seeing a new kind of sales person emerging in our midst.  Smart companies are becoming aware that they need a new kind of sales person, especially at the higher levels of business.  Customers, particularly in the Australian market and increasingly worldwide, are looking for a collaborative, more enlightened approach to selling, where they can work with sales professionals who bring their in-depth knowledge an understanding of how solutions can be applied and who work with their customers who also have an in depth knowledge of their own business and challenges.

For the detailed version of the Barrett 12 Sales Trends Report for 2014 please go to www.salesessentials.com/shop to purchase and download your copy there.  You can also get complimentary downloads of the detailed Sales Trends Reports for 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 here.

Finally, on behalf of the team at Barrett we wish you, your families and teams all the very best for the festive season and look forward to reconnecting in the new year.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

The History of Sales Methodologies

October 11, 2013 in Business Acumen, Complex Selling & Transactional Selling, Education in Sales, Sales Culture, Sales Excellence Acadamy, Sales Research

Have you ever wondered just how many sales methodologies are out there and which ones work and which ones don’t?

Maybe you haven’t given much conscious thought to this subject but then again maybe you have.  Either way, if you are in sales or run a sales team or business and want to be more effective and successful it’s critical that you know what sales methodology will work best for you and your customers.

Unfortunately, the business world has been littered with more dubious sales methodologies than there are effective ones. Our business, at Barrett, is to help our clients improve their sales operations, and so we are constantly examining the various sales methodologies on offer and in use.  We need to be able to decipher what will work and what will not.  That is why for the better part of a year Dr. Peter Finkelstein, Barrett’s Head of Sales Strategy, has been researching the history of sales methodologies of the last 200 years including the current day.

Barrett_whitepaper_OCT13-200x284His research has culminated in our latest whitepaper: ‘The History of Sales Methodologies – why some work and other don’t’ (which you can access for free). It’s a fascinating read and if nothing else it will help you make more informed decisions about what sales methodologies work and which one is best for you and your customers.

So what did Peter find?

Well, you may have noticed that every now and then a new book on sales and selling appears in stores that claim to contain the secret to sales success. Many of these books (and their associated sales methodologies and training programs) promote themselves as being the very latest, revolutionary approach to selling that, according to the authors, will change the organisation’s performance (and its salespeople) and miraculously improve sales, profits and success.

The research raised questions: Are these sales methodologies are really new? Do they really represent a revolution in selling? And do they actually work or not?

In short, whilst many different sales methodologies have been introduced in the last 40 years, most are simply repacked versions of sales methods developed decades ago. The only real revolution in sales methodology (that the research could identify) took place in 1968 when Xerox Corporation created an internal sales training program and methodology to combat still competition in the photocopying industry.

Don Hammalian lead a team at Xerox Corporation that ultimately developed an entirely new approach to selling – a sales methodology that became known as Needs Satisfaction Selling. Prior to this milestone in the development of sales professionalism, there were many attempts at developing a sales method. Whilst some had limited success, if only for a period, most were flawed and couldn’t sustain the rapidly changing sales climate.

Needs Satisfaction Selling, encouraged salespeople to interact with their prospects and customers and involved them in the sales process. Up until then salespeople were taught to tightly control the sale and direct the focus of the sales interaction – essentially viewing prospects as the target of their endeavours. Now with the advent of Needs Satisfaction Selling salespeople were encouraged to ask what was important to buyers and then to introduce benefits of products and services that satisfied those needs.

Today, needs satisfaction, as a sales methodology, may not seem revolutionary. But when one considers that until that period selling methods were based on the use of verbal tricks (Barrier Selling – a method of asking a series of leading questions to which the response was logically “Yes”, and then trapping the buyer into agreeing to say yes to a request for an order); the appeal to emotions (Mood Selling – amongst other tactics, the use of children to pull at the heart strings of customers as the salesman pleaded for the support from a customer in order to earn enough to feed his child); Pyramid Selling (in which customers were incentivised with discounts to demonstrate their fondness for a new gadget); Formula Selling – a canned presentation which took no notice of the customer as a person, but simply spewed out a pitch in order to catch customers unaware;  and many other methods, one can see why needs satisfaction was so revolutionary.

The use of Information

help-customers-with-information-overloadWhilst, in the early days, salespeople were the primary source of information for customers, the role has changed. Today salespeople still have a role to play regarding information, but instead of being information providers, salespeople now help their customers sift through the information overload to find what is most relevant and accurate. That means,  as it was proposed in 1916, salespeople need to develop the trust of their customers and use their knowledge to help customers make the right choices.

Customers also expect salespeople to have a reason to meet (“will you help me save money or earn more?”). And most sales organisations and sales professionals have already responded to that call successfully.

Needs satisfaction selling and then, about a decade later, Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling – with its heightened focus on involving the customer in the sales process, sharing control and asking questions – encouraged salespeople to not only invest time to understand the customers’ needs and expectations, but to also present customers with options that challenged their traditional way of thinking about problem solving.

These developments of sales methodologies – i.e. Xerox’s needs satisfaction and Rackham’s SPIN Selling – were real revolutions. Since then, the so called sales methodologies that have been introduced are merely rehashed wisdom of the past used to promote some new sales training course instead of offering real innovations in sales and selling.

Despite the range of the latest ‘new’ sales offerings, what is consistent then and now is that customers expect salespeople to come to them with new ideas and to present these with conviction, prepared to be challenged and willing to have robust discussions. All trust-based relationships involve robust, healthy, mutually respectful discussions. And that’s the point – mutual respect, not salespeople who challenge buyers because they can, but rather who interact with their customers to find the best solutions for them.

The point is simple – in the modern paradigm the role of the sales professional has changed. Now even more than when the concept was first developed in the 1970’s, salespeople have to be consultative. They need to be business people who can sell, rather than salespeople who understand business. They need to have the skills to establish and fast track trusted relationships with a range of decision-makers, in a variety of organisations where they can facilitate a fair exchange of value.

Since the 1968-1980 period the most revolutionary process in selling and one that companies have still not managed to fully come to grips with, is Solutions Selling.

it-is-not-about-you-it-is-about-the-customer-smallThe true Solutions Sale is about the customer, now fully empowered, well informed and with ample choice, working with specific suppliers / service providers whom they can trust. It is about those sales organisations that are learning how to be sufficiently collaborative with other suppliers who can work with them so that they – as a team – can develop a best fit solution.

When sales professionals and, just as importantly, the organisations they work for, provide their customers with a range of meaningful benefits, including cutting down on wasted time, reduced risk and providing solutions that directly benefit the buyer, we will have successfully migrated to what solutions selling is truly all about – providing customers with a fair exchange of value that meaningfully benefits their businesses. This is the real next revolution in selling.

For the full whitepaper and table of the History of Sales Methodologies, click here.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Why ‘Point Solutions’ ruin sales operations

August 15, 2013 in Education in Sales, Sales Consulting, Sales Culture, Sales Results

What is a Point Solution? A point solution solves one particular problem without regard to related issues. Point solutions are usually called for when there is a need to fix a specific problem or fast-track the implementation of a new service.

Unfortunately, point solutions often don’t deliver meaningful or sustainable results. The sales training/consulting industry is littered with point solution providers, all promising ‘sales excellence in a box’ ranging from the latest selling style [1] you must adopt to a New York best seller book promising the golden nugget that will turn your sales around. When it comes to improving sales operations training is the point solution of choice – and often “any training” will do. And if it is not training then it’s a CRM point solution that will solve all of the sales ills.

This has been going on for more than 70 years. While it’s fair to say that some of the content in these point solution offerings is useful it would not be fair to say that, on its own, a point solution can improve anything for long, let alone something as complex and dynamic as a sales organisation.


The challenge of point solutions is the outcome of unintended consequences.

For instance, a point solution could be to train sales people to be more productive i.e. better at prospecting for new business. So your sales team is trained and now they go and get more business, however, the business systems and operations have not been geared to support the increase in new business thus leaving sales people frustrated and customers disappointed.

Large organizations are the worst offenders when it comes to point solution overload. Preyed upon by vendors offering the latest in sales excellence, you can find several different point solutions that do not talk to each other or, worse still, compete with each other therefore  littering sales processes, sales language, sales systems and sales people with conflicting information. All this does is create more confusion for the sales teams who are often trying to report on 15 or so different sales metrics that make no sense and keep them from doing what they are paid to do – sell.

Ironically many of these point solution vendors come off as nothing better than snake oil salesmen themselves – offering sales salvation in a box (or training, or software, or assessments, or coaching, or technology, etc .) You know what I mean.

So why do business leaders continue to let point solutions take precedence over a more a considered, integrated and strategic approach?

There are three main reasons:

  1. There is no formal education where business people can learn and understand all the elements involved in running something as complex as sales operations. For instance, in the conventional MBA program you would spend as few as 18 hours on the theory of selling out of a total of 425 days of study. No wonder people do not understand the complexity of selling, the sales value chain, sales strategy, etc.  So when you don’t understand something you look for the easiest fix to your issue – hence the market for the quick fix point solution in the absence of real education.
  2. For many years the USA was seen as the Mecca for sales solutions with people thinking ‘if it is from the USA it must be good’. [2] Many point solution vendors hail from the USA.  Why? Well, the USA is such a huge market place that many purveyors of point solutions are able to make a great living shopping their ‘solutions’ in a relatively small geographic area with a huge population. They are able to move around for years from one client to the next without really improving sales operations. What they leave behind is a trail of the illusion of sales improvement.  When the short term effects wear off the client has to keep looking for more solutions and the cycle continues.
  3. The use of expert language and terms in sales has created nothing but confusion with people speaking in clichés and slogans.  You constantly need to decipher what people mean. For instance, one person’s version of being strategic is unlikely to be the same as someone else’s.  Point solution vendors create terms and language to differentiate and make a name for themselves but only leave people unable to communicate with each other on what are the fundamentals of sales and sales operations.  It’s a bit like the bible story about the Tower of Babel where no one could understand one another.

The brutal facts are that building and improving sales operations is multi-faceted and complex – it is a dynamic process that is changing constantly.

What is vital is that organisations have a clear vision that directs their strategy and creates focus that in turn drives the right actions and behaviours. The vision is critical. Whilst strategy changes as we navigate around obstacles the vision should be immutable. To give a sales operation the focus, tools and capability to navigate their way towards the vision there needs to be core fundamentals in place.

sales-atomRunning an effective sales operation is not easy.

The well validated Sales Atom is an excellent framework on which to build and improve sales organisations.

The Sales Atom is a unique value chain for sales consisting of revenue generating activities and revenue absorbing functions.  A strategically aligned organisation is usually one that gets the appropriate balance of effectiveness (i.e. doing the right things) in its revenue generating activities and the efficiencies (i.e. doing things right) in its revenue absorbing functions.

So beware of the point solution, it may sound like the ideal fix but unless it is integrated into a sound sales framework you are likely wasting your money, time and effort.  In short, you cannot change, fix, develop or cultivate an effective sales operation with a point solution approach.


[1] There are many sales styles that have been touted as the ‘ideal’ sales style over the years. Think mood selling, barrier selling, formula selling, needs satisfaction selling, consultative selling, solution selling; these are, all forms of selling practice across the last 100+ years.  The latest is a derivative of needs satisfaction selling called Challenger Selling. And while this style does make valid points, none are actually revolutionary or innovative, rather it is a progression on the insights into needs satisfaction selling.  Solutions Selling is by far the most effective selling practice. Some reports indicate that “solutions selling” has past its sell by date. The reality is that solutions, as opposed to products, are precisely what buyers (customers and prospects) are looking to purchase. (see our article on ‘Solutions Selling isn’t dead‘).

[2] Knowing what makes sales people tick is critical for finding and keeping top producers. The implications are serious and far-reaching, especially when it comes to multinational sales management practices. American sales management, training and procedures adhere to US presupposed values and perceptions, and may not be optimal, or even suitable, for other countries. It is often better to access country and culturally specific training for your sales people.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Is your business Customer Focused & Customer Centric?

May 31, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Brand & Reputation, Education in Sales, Sales Culture, Sales Driven Organisations

As with many things these days, words or expressions get bandied about with little regard for what they really mean.  For instance, when we ask people how they define ‘Prospecting’, the overwhelming response is ‘Cold Calling’. Prospecting is far more than cold calling: it can happen anywhere with new, existing or lapsed accounts – anywhere you are trying to uncover and develop new business opportunities.  And with social networks abounding, very few people ever have to make a true cold call.  See what I mean?

And so we enter the confusing world of whether a company is Customer Focused or Customer Centric.  What do these terms mean anyway? Does it really matter which one we are?

Well, yes it does – quite significantly as it turns out.

What we at Barrett have observed is that few company executives appear to understand the difference between being customer-focused and customer-centric.

Customer Focused

Customer Centric



The Client


Customer-focused organisations generally structure sales so that they can maximise their return. That is, they look at how they can get more business from their customers by delivering a level of service that is slightly better than their rivals, and sometimes – though not always – offering a lower price. This often means that salespeople are trained to uncover buyer needs and offer solutions that address those needs. In short, customer-focused organisations address customer needs only in so far as these are self-serving and address the organisation’s goals and imperatives.

Customer-centric organisations, on the other hand, explore ways to satisfy the needs of their customers at the same time as delivering greater value, making it easier and a more delightful experience for their customers to buy from them – considering incremental sales only as a result of the degree to which customers have been satisfied.  Customer-centric organisations do this in the unequivocal belief that by demonstrating superior Customer-Centric behaviour, by investing heavily in making the customer’s experience unique and pleasurable, they will get increased support (and profits) from an expanding, loyal, customer base.  This means they also invest in their people to enable and empower every member of the customer centric organisation to make decisions on the spot to address client’s issues, needs, etc. Their company stories are centred around the customers success and how their founders and employees helped their customers succeed. By placing their people at the centre of their business, customer centric organisations coach and support their people to be and do their best so the business and its customers thrive.

This all sounds lovely but is being Customer Centric better for business?

Yes Absolutely!

The following companies are example of those organisations that are doing very well – consistently – across a number of dimensions including: customer loyalty, revenue, profitability, staff retention, leadership, etc. by being Customer Centric

  1. Nordstroms (USA up market retailer much like David Jones in concept)
  2. SAS (Scandinavian Air Services)
  3. Ritz Carlton



With respect to Nordstroms, when asked at a recent investor meeting to quantify what the Customer-Centric approach had cost the organisation, the chairman’s response typified the philosophy and also demonstrates the difference between Customer-Focus and Customer-Centric behaviour.   John Nordstom (the chairman) responded by telling investors that the cost to the company was far less than the profits it had made from customers returning time and time again to buy apparel at their premium priced stores.

Locally, companies like Bunnings are also moving in this direction by hiring knowledgeable staff i.e. retired tradies, husband and wife teams; people who have real experience in home maintenance, gardening, building, etc.  who are empowered, proactive and interested in helping their customers.  We had  such an experience on the weekend with a Bunnings team member, who it turns out, makes guitars as well, who helped our son prepare to make a skate board using his knowledge of woodwork.  The other staff we interacted with were equally happy and helpful. It was impressive.

Contrast this with Customer-Focused behaviour…

In November 2012 the respected consumer advocacy group Choice published a report on the levels of service and Customer-Centric behaviours amongst Australia’s leading retailers.

Furniture and white goods giant Harvey Norman was found to deliver the very worst levels of service. However, when approached for comment, chairman Gerry Harvey said the consumer group Choice got it wrong, had a private agenda and that Harvey Norman’s service was fantastic.

7701Harvey Norman is undoubtedly Customer-Focused.  It tries hard to stock its stores with a range of products priced at an attractive level. It has staff roaming the floor who give the appearance of being interested in helping their customers. It spends huge sums on television advertising, trying to convince hard pressed customers to visit their stores for a great product, great prices and service. But someone has missed the plot. Either Choice has totally misread the realities or Harvey Norman has lost touch with its customers.

Is the Harvey Norman response, as opposed to the Nordstroms response typical of the difference between Customer-Focus and Customer-Centricity?  Well, let’s look at the results:

  •   Harvey Norman’s results for 2012 were 39.2% down on the previous year
  •   Nordstrom’s results showed  13.5% improvement, 2012 over 2011

So you be the judge.

In short, Customer-focused companies do some things that superficially address customer expectations, driven by their desire for improved profit performance.  Customer-centric organisations make meaningful changes in order to address their customer’s expectations, expecting and getting reciprocal support.

After all it was the late Peter Drucker – the great management guru of the 20th Century – who said: “The purpose of business is to satisfy its customers’ needs. The consequence of satisfying customers is improved, continuous profits…”

And you know it when you enter a customer centric organisation because everyone you speak to in the organisation is focused on you; they are interested in what you have to say and want to help you get what you need, they are genuine in their support and everyone seems to have the same set of principles and values they operate from – there is consistency across the board.

Outcome: you are left feeling safe, valued and cared for.  And usually you want to come back for more and perhaps even tell your family and friends about what a wonderful experience you had.

You can watch an entire presentation on Customer Centricity given by Peter Finkelstein at the recent Swinburne University Business Forum function:

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Does your sales team or culture need a detox?

May 2, 2013 in Attitudes & Behaviours, Ethics & Values, Sales Culture, Sales Psychology, Uncategorized

It doesn’t take much to sow the seeds of discontent in business today, and the potential for creating dysfunctional, “toxic” sales teams and culture is much easier than you think. There are so many things that can and do go wrong.

We at Barrett have met and worked with a great many sales teams across all sorts of industries over the years. In all honesty, we are yet to come across the ‘perfect’ sales team. That doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t great sales teams operating out there, because they do exist, but like every great team, their greatest can ebb and flow. Just think of sports teams and their fluctuations towards greatness or loser status.

look-after-sales-cultureCreating and keeping a healthy, productive and vibrant sales culture, just like a great sports team, requires constant vigilance. Besides getting the right athletes, facilities, training and medical staff, how much effort is also being put into creating the right kind of club and team culture in the sporting world to ensure success and greatness? Just think ‘leadership team’, values, ethics, and the right character qualities.

Selling is not an exact science – there are just too many variables at play (markets, products, competitors, customers, production, customer service and marketing, to name a few) any of which could easily shift and change levels of success overnight. In all of this, defining the right kind of leadership, culture and sales infrastructure is critical to a healthy sales teams culture.

Leadership & Culture
Keeping a handle on the best way to lead and manage a sales team and create a vibrant sales culture is often a very tough job. However, it always starts and ends with clear, strong, decisive ‘adult focused’ leadership from the top – not just from the sales manager(s). Paul Roos, the former Coach of the AFL Sydney Swans and 2005 Australian Sports Coach of the Year is one of Australia’s most admired sporting personalities whose leadership skills, ethics and philosophy transformed the way he, his coaches and the players approached their work as an elite football team with great success. Like the Sydney Swans, the Geelong Football Club followed similar lines, and these two AFL football teams have been at or near the top of the competition for the last decade and have 5 premierships between them to prove it. Taking a ‘complete’ or holistic focus with a culture of strong leadership, respect, humility, team, underpinned by clear values, desired character traits and proper infrastructure is central to their cause.

Great business leaders respect selling, whether they, themselves, have been selling directly or not. They ensure that there is a moral compass guiding their actions and a higher purpose beyond profit that steadies their ship.

Sales Infrastructure
The business leader and/or leadership group also know that sales can be messy so they make sure that the key foundations or sales infrastructure is in place so whatever happens they have something specific to refer to make conscious adjustments as changes invariably occur. The Sales Atom is an illustration of what a robust sales organisation should contain, allowing leaders and their sales teams to optimise the primary activities of sales, in a highly customer-centric sales support structure.

The Sales Atom:


Without such a sales infrastructure and a moral compass in place, toxicity can take hold and then things start to fall apart often with tragic consequences. Sadly, over the years we have borne witness to some really ugly sales teams and cultures. Thankfully, not too many but enough to know they do exist. These toxic sales teams turn up, more often than not, in industries that have low barriers to entry and where no real expertise or applied knowledge is required of the sales people. These companies and industries often have little or no respect for formal education, a distinct lack of customer centricity and are ‘profit only’ motivated often at the expense of their customers and staff. This often leads to less than respectable reputations for integrity, ethics, transparency, customer centricity and offering genuine value.

Examples of Toxic Sales Teams

Here are two extreme examples of highly dysfunctional, toxic sales teams and cultures that create very poor customer experiences and as well as wreak havoc in companies and across industries:

no rules1. The Wild West Sales Cowboy Culture: 

  1. no clear boundaries, guidelines or standards about how we sell around here
  2. no moral or ethical guidelines in which to operate so everything is up for grabs; sales people and managers can say or do what they want… lie and cheat the customers and each other to get a deal
  3. a climate of gossip, personal attacks, yelling, sniping, and undermining when things don’t go right or the market is tight or whenever they feel like it.
  4. sales leadership is either nonexistent or so loose that no coaching of any kind occurs and, instead, sales managers bark orders at sales people telling them what to do. 
  5. leadership (if you can call it that) creates and operates a climate of fear, keeping salespeople anxious about their jobs security, never giving constructive feedback or anything useful to make effective change. Bullying is their preferred strategy for change. They want ‘hungry’ desperate people (you know the huge mortgage, children, living on a knifes edge, etc.) because they will perform, won’t they? Sure but for how long?
  6. The sales environment is made to be overly competitive – internally. Salespeople are pitted against each other, sales territory lines are blurred and this creates a climate where everyone is out for themselves; taking leads from other salespeople, justifying their actions, poaching clients, etc. Bloody battles may ensure and sales lives can be easily lost.
  7. Often the salespeople earn most of their money via commissions with little or no base salary to give them earning stability which can lead to desperate people doing desperate things, especially when times are tough.
  8. It’s all about the results, the numbers, how much money is coming in and nothing else. Nothing about how you got business, how well you sold, nothing constructive or tangible at all.
  9. The leaders, and less so, their salespeople can come across charming at first but you often find there is an undercurrent self absorbed narcissism where the sales leaders have a high attraction rate of new sales staff but a low retention rate because when people find out what is really going on they leave fast. Sales managers are nothing more than ‘super salespeople’ who see their sales people as a means to an end i.e. a means to their big fat bonus and often take over the sales call to get the deal at the expense of teaching and coaching their people. ‘It’s all about me’ Is what you see.

At the other end of the spectrum we have:

leading based upon fear

2. The Totalitarian Sales Robot Culture:

  1. Micromanagement on scale never seen before. These sales cultures often reside in ‘call centre’ environments where process is mapped and everything must either be timed, recorded, ticked or measured in such micro detail that no space is given for salespeople to manage the ambiguities that inevitably come with human interactions. 
  2. Everything is scripted within an inch of its life taking any human interaction out of the equation and turning salespeople into robots.
  3. People are frightened to stray outside of the rigid structure leaving customers frustrated because no one can solve their problems. Passed from one level to another, customers can often be lost in a maze of indecision and buck passing.
  4. Managers are just that: managers. They are obsessed with managing process and numbers do no lead, coach or inspire their teams. 
  5. There is no respect for salespeople’s time and personal requirements: they are seen as galley slaves where even their toilet and lunch breaks are counted and timed and penalties administered if they are late.
  6. Salespeople are kept on a tight leash and cannot use their initiative or problem solving skills to create better solutions even if they wanted to. Instead, as customers, we are met with resistance and rigidity and sometimes outbursts of anger.
  7. Sales managers or team leaders are often patronizing, policing agents hell bent on control and power – no room for people.
  8. Humanity is ignored and people are bored in this joyless environment.
  9. These sales cultures are the equivalent of factory sweat shops.


Where does all this toxicity lead to?

  • High turnover of staff
  • A culture of blame and denial
  • Dissatisfied customers
  • Unhappy, disengaged staff
  • Poor sales results
  • Poor reputation which further impairs the recruitment of new staff
  • And more…

A fish rots from the head down – a toxic sales culture is definitely a leadership issue. You might occasionally, inadvertently hire a 600lb sales gorilla who can wreak havoc however, a toxic or healthy sales culture and team is entirely a reflection of senior leadership.

So do you do you want your business and your sales team to be the place where people have their sales careers destroyed or a place where people can launch or evolve their sales careers?

The choice is yours.


Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au

Switch to our mobile site