Growing up in a small business, from my earliest days driving the delivery truck, filling customer orders, or sweeping the warehouse floor, my dad ingrained in me, “We are all salespeople.”

world-class sales team

“For many of our customers,” he would say, “you are the person many of them will see the most. Remember you’re representing our company every time you’re in front of a customer.” As a result, as I got a little older, it was probably no surprise to anyone that I would spend the first 10 years or so of my professional career in field sales—we called it outside sales at the time.

Although I’m not a salesperson now, when I met Patrick Morin (a person I’ve come to appreciate as a brilliant sales executive and two-time turnaround CEO), and he talked about building and motivating a world-class sales organization, I was interested in what he had to say. His experience includes building successful sales teams for small companies as well as large companies—but his approach to building a highly motivated team is pretty much the same for both.

Nevertheless, his unorthodox approach might be a little counter intuitive. Although Morin suggests that sometimes it’s the top performers in the sales team that should find their necks on the chopping block first, it’s not their performance that puts them there.

I think many people (both employers and employees) would agree that company culture is a critical part of what makes a successful business successful. I’m convinced, along with Morin, that it’s a crucial part of keeping everyone motivated to perform at their best—and that includes the sales team.

A good culture rarely just happens. It starts with the type of people you recruit and those you eventually hire—which means you’ll need to identify the behaviors you value, and the traits you want to avoid.

“Most people want to contribute to something meaningful, something that will outlast their particular contribution,” said Morin. “Our job as sales leaders is to inspire our people with the vision—something that has them excited to start the workday every day.”

Unfortunately, there are some that never buy in to that vision. And, some actually become active detractors.

“Buy In” to the Mission and Vision is Important

Morin looks at his employees on a four-grid scale with “Buy In” on the vertical axis and “Performance” on the horizontal. When evaluating his sales team, along with future hires, he puts them into one of four categories:

  1. High Buy In/Low Performance
  2. Low Buy In/Low Performance
  3. High Buy In/High Performance
  4. Low Buy In/High Performance

Like Morin, I’ve been compelled to work with high-performing people who didn’t like the company, had no respect for our customers, didn’t work well with their colleagues, and continuously shared their discontent with anyone who would listen. “Like a cancer, a bad attitude spreads throughout an organization—while employees like that are otherwise recognized for high performance,” said Morin. “That would be the first person I fired.”

Buy in is that important.

He suggested that you might need to explain to the team why that person was dismissed, but most of the time, “It’s pretty obvious why a toxic employee is let go. You might even hear something like, ‘It’s about time,’” he said.

If you want your employees—including your salespeople, to know that engagement in the mission and vision of the company is valuable to you and your business, getting rid of the prima donna who feels he or she is above “buy in” could be the place to start. It should be no surprise that those with low buy in and low performance will quickly find the door, but the hard decision (and your employees see this) is showing the door to a high performer with a bad attitude.

What Happens to the Rest of Your Team?

When high performing employees that also buy in to the culture are recognized and promoted, when their performance is celebrated and shared throughout the business, these employees will step up when it’s crunch time and extra effort is required. What’s more, whether they are in official leadership roles or not, they likely have a leadership role with the rest of the team.

I once worked with a colleague who was described as the heart and soul of our group. She was a junior member of the team at the time, but her incredible attitude and willingness to go the extra mile, allowed her to take the lead in many situations. Her willingness to pitch in and fill whatever assignment she was given made her an incredibly valuable part of the team. She was a keeper I’d welcome on my team any day.

A high buy in person, but an under-performer is likely just in the wrong role or is being managed incorrectly. How long you work with someone in this situation is a matter for further thought, but buy in is a valuable commodity and shouldn’t be cavalierly squandered. I’ve personally witnessed employees like this respond to a different leadership approach, turn things around, and become top performers. I’ve also seen others do very well in a different role.

A Motivational Culture Doesn’t Just Happen

The value of building a successful sales culture is also shared by other sales leaders who are working to build a world-class sales team. “Building a strong culture on the sales team starts with who you hire,” said Paul Rosen, Chief Sales Officer at OnDeck. “We look for a lot of qualities but the two most important are: 1) integrity—without integrity, it doesn’t matter how otherwise talented you may be; you won’t fit on our sales team, and 2) resiliency—the ability to stick with it even when things get tough; and the fortitude to come back tomorrow to start all over again.”

Sales people often get a bad rap for being “coin operated.” In other words, only interested in the commissions they earn once they make a sale. I think that’s an unfair stereotype—at least for many of the most successful salespeople I’ve known over the course of my career.

Most people appreciate being recognized for top performance—your sales team is no different, and recognition is often what keeps them coming back tomorrow to do it all over again. “We recognize our top performers in front of their peers,” said Rosen, adding that this is often an under-appreciated approach to motivating an internal sales team.

“As a sales leader, it’s important to model the behaviors you value,” said Rosen. “If my sales team sees me doing anything contrary to the values we regularly talk about as important, it tells them they aren’t important to me—and they don’t need to take them seriously. They need to see, in my actions, the same work ethic I expect from them. Furthermore, the way I interact with them will reinforce the importance of acting according to our values when they interact with our customers and each other.”

It’s Not All About the Money

Don’t get me wrong; the opportunity to do well financially is a big motivation for most salespeople. Just remember, it might not be what keeps them coming back every day to use their sales skills for you and your company.

The right culture impacts the work you do, how you do it, and how your customers will respond to you and your team. In many ways, I think my Dad was right, everyone on the team is part of the sales team. The right culture will help you build and motivate a world-class team.

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