My colleagues from our future-of-work research team, Katy Tynan and Angelina Gennis, recently published a wonderful report about leadership and culture. In addition to a key underlying message that great leadership mandates active cultural shaping, they crucially remind us that “Culture does not just happen. It is created, either intentionally or unintentionally, through the actions of both leaders and employees. While leaders cannot simply declare what the culture will be, there are three key characteristics of strong work cultures that B2B sales teams can effectively adapt:

  • Articulate a shared purpose. It’s easy for chief sales officers (CSOs) to believe that they’re articulating a lofty purpose when they take cover behind numbers: “blowing past our revenue plan” or “our true north is to double revenue within six years.” These strategic objectives may play well within external PR campaigns, but they don’t effectively impact the daily motions of sellers who live and breathe little more than their current accounts and opportunities. Articulating a more effective, sales-centric shared purpose should focus more on your buyers. Convey teamwide objectives that involve everyone, such as improving Net Promoter Score℠ (NPS) or retention rates — and back them up with financial rewards that don’t focus entirely on bookings. Our data shows that Millennial and Gen Z sellers, for example, are 25% more likely to have part of their financial compensation tied to nonselling behavior, such as heavy participation in everboarding and development opportunities, serving on councils or as mentors, and promoting teamwide success.
  • Model and recognize aligned behaviors. Just as children learn from the adults in their orbit, employees take cues from their leaders around behavioral norms. Sales organizations are historically more lenient about tolerating the notion of “asking for forgiveness, not permission” and sometimes partake in unhealthy selling behaviors, all in the name of beating quota, and yet authors Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker remind us that “the culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” CSOs should be intentional with setting a cultural tone and modeling the same behaviors, rather than telegraphing a “do as I say, not as I do” approach.

A great example of executive “walking the walk” behavior is when a CEO handles a customer service line for their company, sending a powerful message about their ownership of day-to-day expectations of employees, their customer obsession, and their accessibility and humility as a leader. A CSO can take a similar approach by regularly joining buyer interactions — with everyday customers, not just the whales — to observe and participate without taking over. They should also spend a day per quarter as a business development rep — a whole day, in the bullpen alongside others — and have their work rated as well as linked to eventual deal outcomes. When the top sales leader authentically owns the messages they convey, it’s far easier to cascade this strong brand of leadership through the ranks, right down to first-line sales managers and individual contributors.

  • Establish shared rituals. B2B sales teams have many rituals, most designed to motivate reps to work harder and smarter. Contests and leaderboards abound, leveraging sellers’ competitive tendencies, although the cultural impact of openly displaying the names of underperformers may not be particularly healthy. Annual sales kickoff meetings are wonderful opportunities to celebrate achievements, reward top contributors with honors (such as invitations to serve on a sales advisory council), inspire teamwork, and introduce new incentives and product offerings. There are, however, culturally destructive sales rituals, as well, like gathering a sales team together every week for what was promoted as pipeline reporting, teamwork, inspiration, and motivation … but is essentially embarrassing underperformers publicly and bullying sellers into basically lying about their deals to avoid humiliation. No wonder HubSpot reports that B2B seller turnover is nearly three times that of other organizational staff.

Today’s CSOs have unprecedented access to leadership best practices, along with the tools to amplify how they effectively motivate, inspire, and coach their team. Our research consistently links stronger, more positive sales team cultures to better revenue outcomes; let’s all keep working on elevating both. If you’re not intentionally echoing a relevant shared purpose for the revenue team or holding yourself accountable for expected rep behavior, reach out for our team’s help.