The four signs of a toxic sales culture (and how to fix it)

signs of a toxic sales culture

A toxic sales culture can bring down the most well-meaning leaders. Sometimes, leaders don’t even realize what is contributing to negative culture. All they know is they can feel it when they walk into a room.

Culture is the difference between staying and growing with a company or quitting for a better opportunity. So let’s talk about the four signs of toxic sales culture and how to turn it around.

Signs of a toxic sales culture

Negative reactions to turnover

With the great resignation upon us, companies are bleeding talent at an all-time high. If your team is mostly millennials, it’s worse than ever. That generation is holding its employers to higher standards than ever before, and they’re willing to walk when they can meet them.

With that said, leaders have to take turnover in stride. Leaders, don’t let your sales team hear you grumbling about how someone jumped ship and let you down. Sales professionals, don’t bad mouth coworkers who took a more lucrative job with a competitor.

Speaking negatively about people who move on contributes to toxicity. The best way to deal with turnover is to not take it personally. It happens. Speak positively of people who leave. Even if you feel slighted in some way, keep it to yourself and stay positive. 

Top-down innovation

If the only innovation you see in your company comes from the top-down, you have a toxic sales culture. I can guarantee your sales team feels left out if they have no say in innovation and growth.

The truth is, great ideas can come from anyone. Innovation should be a company-wide goal. Your sales force is on the front lines. They know best how to serve your customers. If they aren’t bringing you innovative ideas, it’s not because they don’t have them; it’s because they’ve been trained to keep their mouth shut because innovation comes from the top.

People don’t speak up

If your sales team doesn’t ever express concern with anything, I promise you it’s not because everything is perfect. In fact, it’s probably the opposite.

Just like innovation, your team has to believe that they have a voice.  There are so many issues about which sales professionals should have a say. A lack of product development, changes in the compensation plan, COVID protocols… the list goes on.

If you have a bunch of sales professionals who are too timid to speak up, you have a bunch of yes men and yes women. And you have a toxic sales culture as a result. 

We don’t talk about sales culture

If you’re part of something that is exciting, innovative and fulfilling, you want to tell people about it. If your culture is the best thing about your organization, your sales team will be talking about it. If you don’t hear people talking about the great things that happen at work, it’s because great things aren’t happening.

How to fix toxic sales culture

Acknowledge and commit to fixing it

Acknowledge that you have a culture issue and look for solutions– don’t just start firing leaders. If you have high turnover among your leadership team, it’s going to be hard to fix a toxic culture. When you’re the leader who has inherited a toxic culture, look for solutions. If there’s any chance you can fix it, it’s worth sticking around to be the person that turned around a toxic sales culture.

Develop transparency

The days of ruling from the ivory tower are gone. This is a time to develop a relationship built on transparency. If your sales reps don’t trust the direction of the company, you don’t have culture. Likewise, if the leader doesn’t trust the intention of the reps, you don’t have culture. Creating a space of openness and transparency means there is a sense of trust among the team. Trust is an important and irreplaceable component of a strong culture.

Create a safe environment

People have to be able to express their concerns. Period. As a leader, it should be a top priority to create an environment where people feel they can do so. Embrace those difficult conversations as a leader. It means your people trust you, and that almost always leads to growth for both parties.

DVG: Development, Vision, Gratitude

  • Development:  Develop folks for their own benefit. Find out what matters to your employees and help them develop in those areas. Teach them how to invest their money. Teach them about how to save their money. Provide time management training so they can have more time at home with their families. Teach them how to save for their kids’ college education.
  • Vision: If your salesforce can’t see the vision of your company and how they fit into it, there is no vision and there is no culture. Either you’re selling your vision to your salesforce, or someone else is selling it to them. The rep has to see themselves growing within that culture. The leader has to have a vision for how their team can grow. 
  • Gratitude: This is the most important piece. Express gratitude to those in your organization and it’ll go a long way. We’ve all been through a lot in the last few years. Take a moment to express your gratitude for hard work and perseverance. Schedule it. Make it a priority. How you do it will depend on how large your sales team is and the leadership structure of your company. But no matter how you do it, you have to make it a priority. There is so much power in a quick two-minute phone call where you thank someone for their hard work. There is immeasurable impact in the quick email or instant message where you express gratitude for a job well done. A brief voice memo thanking someone for their contribution is powerful.
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