Twelve million, one-hundred thousand results, to be exact. That’s how many direct hits on sales culture best practices come up on Google in less than one second. It seems there are loads of solutions to the age-old problem of how to get sales people to sell more.

Like the latest diet fad, there’s no shortage of writers who sell books, seminars and speaking engagements to unleash their version of how to let the sales beast crush the competition. And like the latest diet fad, there is a short-term adoption of some new idea, thinking or mantra; that’s until something new comes along or the head of sales is summarily dismissed for lots of talk and little results.

Leigh-Ann Clarke, Director of North American Sales for demand generation agency 360 Leads is no stranger to sales cultures. Clarke, who spent 23 years leading sales teams at Yellow Pages Group, has hired, trained, coached and promoted hundreds of sales people through her career. Her view on sales culture is unpretentious in that she believes that a sales culture starts at the very top of an organization. “Clear objectives need to be set and embraced from the top, down. Key activities in the company need to revolve around achieving sales objectives. Period,” says Clarke.

Clarke is adamant that one of the common missing pieces in creating a sales culture links to creating a ‘value story.’ “When the entire company understands the value story and all activities revolve around delivering that value story to every customer, then the sales results will follow.” Clarke cautions however “the value story needs to be a good one. It’s pretty tough to engage a sales team if what they are selling is of poor quality or has no resonance with the potential customer.”

Stuart Lewis is President of Clever Samurai, a marketing and communications agency and sister-company to 360 Leads. Lewis echoes Clarke’s view on the value-story and his team consistently focuses its efforts on creating value-stories for sales teams to communicate.

“We’re presently working with our 360 Leads’ team and their international client in the software space, whose sales people believe their job is to simply demo the product. And while the product is terrific, their customer value proposition is not the focus of their sales dialogue, being buried within mouse-clicks and screen shots being demonstrated,” says Lewis. “Greater success will come when the company better articulates their value story through all their media, and most importantly, their sales team transitions their messaging to showcase their highly compelling customer benefit versus a simple product demo.”

In the 12+ million results to the Google search, countless listings discuss sales training as critical to a sales culture. Clarke views sales training as critical. “The value story must be the core element of any training and everyone in the company must understand what that value story is

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. The process must be ongoing and updated based on market conditions and product offerings.” Clarke’s view “treats sales professionals as professionals,” as she puts it, “but we need to give them the tools to be successful. Successful sales results can breed a successful sales culture.”

“It’s leadership’s role, with the support of marketing, to help craft that value-story,” comments Lewis. “However, there are often major disconnects between sales and marketing, which yield to a compromised sales culture and comprised sales results.”

A global study, conducted by 360 Leads, surveyed 325 c-level managers, sales executives and marketing leaders. The study which is available at the 360 Leads’ website, published as The Black Report, cited that only 17.3% of respondents were meeting their sales lead generation targets. Interestingly, 72.8% of companies with the best lead generation results have a well-defined, clearly articulated value proposition. They know their story, and how to tell it.

The Black Report highlights that marketing professionals say their lead generation activities are 35% more successful than sales professionals think they are. And, the disconnect doesn’t stop there. Marketing and sales differ on most every measure, except for one. They both believe and agree that the biggest factor impacting company sales performance is internal issues.

Both Lewis and Clarke see clients struggle with internal issues, putting them in the awkward spot of sometimes telling their clients the painful truth—their clients’ people are getting in the way of progress and sometimes that progress is impeded from the top. “Effective people management will always be a core driver of business success. The key to building the right sales culture includes actually hiring the right people to begin with,” says Lewis.

Clarke understands all too well that “sales is hard. You have to keep a lot of different balls in the air. You have to know how to manage the customer conversation to deliver the value-story in a fluid and honest manner. It takes a special work ethic that connects to the emotion of a win or loss and the meeting of sales targets. There is so much riding on what sales people do and company leadership needs to embrace and foster a culture where sales teams are motivated to perform because they believe their mouse trap is simply the best mouse trap there is.”

In the case of the international software client, their mouse trap really is the best in their space. “Their CEO has personally championed the development of their sales culture and their value story. He understands the critical importance of his leadership and that business growth depends on selling effectively,” adds Lewis.

If you ask Leigh-Ann Clarke what’s the most important thing that she is doing at 360 Leads to support her sales culture, her answer is very clear: “stay on message.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Tania Morano

Tania Morano is director of corporate strategy at 5th business, an integrated sales and marketing organization. This follows her progressive career at major Canadian advertising agencies in planning, strategy and client service roles.

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