Advice: My company has a 'feel-good' company culture and the sales reps aren't focused enough on selling.

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Dear Quota Team, 

I’m a Director of Sales at a small four-year-old software company, and I’m in charge of a team of about a dozen SDRs and Account Executives, all of whom are in their twenties, with the exception of one AE who is in his early 30s. I’m 44, and it’s pretty clear that the way I was brought up and taught to do sales is completely different from what my current team has experienced, and what they expect the job to be. 

I started here about six months ago, and since then, it’s been a huge struggle to get these guys producing at the level I know they’re capable of. They seem way more focused on feel-good, team-building activities than on driving new business. It’s almost as if they think the actual selling part of the job is secondary to socializing with their coworkers, not vice versa. Unfortunately, I think the founders of the company somewhat encourage this behavior, always promoting the “company culture” to the sales reps and to new hires, but behind closed doors, they’re starting to get on me for not delivering the results they’re looking for.

I’ve tried a lot of different things to get the team more focused on closing deals: contests, cash rewards, recognition awards, training sessions, etc, but I feel like there would need to be a huge culture shift in order to get everybody producing at a high-level. When I bring this up to the founders, they talk about how low the turnover is in the sales force, but it doesn’t matter how many people you keep if they’re not there to crush it. What’s the move here? I feel like I’m a few months away from jumping ship to a company that actually wants to sell.  

Challenged in Massachusetts 

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Dear Challenged,

The (relatively) new emphasis on company culture is usually a good thing, since it’s eliminating some of the more toxic leadership styles that have long been associated with the workplace, especially with sales teams. But, as you pointed out, sometimes there can be a downside, as some employees take advantage of the situation and don’t do what they’re supposed to, knowing it’s unlikely they’ll face any repercussions. 

In your case, it sounds like the leadership team wants it both ways: they want to hit revenue targets, but they’re afraid of being seen as the “bad guys,” and afraid of turnover. This makes us think that the company is well-funded, because if it was the founder’s own cash on the line, it’s highly doubtful they’d be as casual in their approach. 

So what can you do? In order to build an effective sales team, you need to have salespeople who are hungry to do the job, not just to show up and collect their base salary. To find these people, you’ll have to weed out the ones who have no interest in stepping up their game, and bring in new hires that better reflect your (ambitious) values. Once there’s some new blood circulating, you’ll find that some of your existing reps will step up, and others will decide it’s not for them. 

But none of this will be possible if you can’t get the founders on board. Put together a plan, and explain how and why you have to restructure the team. If they don’t agree with your new approach, then you need to decide whether you want to stay in such a laid-back atmosphere. Judging by your question, the answer seems obvious. But you were brought in to run a sales team, and it’s time for you to run it your way. Good luck!

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