IT HAPPENED twice that week. I received calls from two very different organisations — one providing surgical devices to hospitals, and the other offering information technology solutions to small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) — looking for help to build a sales culture.

My response was very much the same: “You already have a sales culture.”

After a short pause on the telephone, I continued: “It’s either a good one or a bad one!”

In my work with multinational companies (MNCs) that have sales teams throughout Asia-Pacific, I have noticed some best practices for building high performance sales cultures.

By incorporating these four important steps, your organisation can experience the benefits too:

Common vision

You start by defining “sales culture”. That means different things to different people.

I start facilitation sessions with stakeholders by asking: “What would the ‘perfect’ sales culture look like? What would be happening? What would you notice? What would other people notice? How will you know when you’ve got the ‘perfect’ sales culture?”

You will have all sorts of definitions.

One person might say that the back office and front office staff would work more closely together.

Another might say that sales reps would be more confident, optimistic and persistent.

Someone else might say that sales reps would be excited and passionate about selling.

Another might say that customers would notice how driven, enthusiastic and responsive their reps are.

First, agree on a common vision of what you want as an organisation and then start working towards how you will achieve it. 

Top management commitment

Having the commitment of top management will greatly increase the likelihood of buy-in and implementation throughout the organisation.

The human resource or learning and development departments cannot drive this vision alone.

With a recent client, I worked directly with the regional director and his senior team (the business development director, country director and human resource director) to understand their definition of the “perfect” sales culture. 

We then had a context-setting conference call, followed by a two-day strategic session with all country directors and division managers to come up with a common definition of “sales culture” and get their input on how we could achieve it.

With transparency across all levels, this programme can now be rolled out to the sales teams.

Dedicate the resources

Building the “perfect” sales culture takes time and resources. It takes more than sending your team for sales training once a year.

How will training be successful if your team returns to an environment that does not support what they have learnt?

Their day-to-day environment must support their learning, so that their new behaviours become habits. These new behaviours must become habits in order for sales to improve.

Be willing to invest in coaching (internal and external), on-the-job mentoring, additional training, train-the-trainer, motivational talks, team meetings, videos, webinars, mobile templates, sales tip cards and so on.

If you don’t have the budget now, start planning to ensure you will have the financial resources you need in the next financial year to support this programme.

Incorporate appropriate metrics

The purpose of having metrics is to have clarity on the effectiveness of building your “perfect” sales culture.

What would be the first small signs that what you are doing is working? How will you know?

The best way to do that is to incorporate quantitative and qualitative criteria.

• Quantitative criteria include sales volume in dollars or units, growth over previous years, new accounts and profitability.

• Qualitative criteria include attitude, product knowledge, communication skills, personal appearance, customer feedback, selling skills and personal initiative.

When assessing the performance of your sales team, be sure to differentiate between aptitude and attitude. When in doubt, train a poor aptitude and fire a bad attitude.

When I am speaking to directors and sales managers within SMEs and MNCs, I remind them that “walking the talk” will greatly increase the likelihood of buy-in and implementation throughout the organisation.

I have also noticed that at times, this “perfect” sales culture already exists, at least a little bit. I am always curious about what they did to make that happen.

Ask yourself: What is already going well? What is the next small step you could take? What would it take to get you closer to building the “perfect” sales culture?

Article by Tom Abbott, an international sales expert and author of The SOHO Solution series of sales and sales leadership books. E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @sohosalescoach.