The Four Cornerstones for Building a Culture of High-Performing Sales Teams


Twenty years ago, most sales teams worked in competitive silos. Much of the work centered on the activity of an individual contributor – and so the sales organization was reliant on the sales manager to be a taskmaster. As a result, the initial steps of building a sales team once revolved around processes.

That’s no longer the case because things have changed significantly over the last decade. More specifically, that change has been driven by three overlapping cultural factors: employees, buyers and the selling environment.

First, employees – the source of sales talent – have changed. Millennials, for example, represent the largest generational shift in the workforce. As a 2014 study by Deloitte observed, millennials have strong views on ethics, innovation, opportunity, activism and generosity. Most sales managers today are millennials, and they simply look at things differently.

Second, the buyer’s experience has changed. Potential customers have access to more information. This means they are better educated and have formed stronger preferences by the time they speak with the sales team. This has challenged the discipline of sales to get better at their jobs.

Finally, the selling environment is more challenging. Sales organizations have added new roles – such as BDRs and SDRs – to help break down the complexity. With e-commerce and web conferencing, many of the traditional sales actions are now performed online. The role is largely hybrid, and even entirely remote, which has introduced new ways of engaging customers.

For example, a study by McKinsey found the number of sales communication channels doubled from five to 10, between 2016 and 2021. It also found customers expect their experience on each of these channels to be consistent. All this has forced sales to adapt their digital skills while also improving their solution-selling and persuasive storytelling skills.

All this means the steps to building a high-performing sales team have changed too. Instead of focusing on process, the most effective sales leaders begin with culture.


Cornerstones of high-performing sales teams

Creating the right culture fosters incremental and continuous improvement. Culture creates a team that obsesses about getting better – and getting better together. How do you create such a culture? There are four cornerstones – build, hire, train and coach.


Cornerstone 1: Build

The best-performing teams are guided by leaders who serve as connectors. They create a collaborative environment that’s focused on the customer.

This is an important point because connecters rarely recruit talent in their own image. Instead, they value diversity and the range of positive attributes that brings to the team.

To that end, the “build” cornerstone means having a team mentality, especially in terms of winning deals. Connectors facilitate consensus and help the team make decisions together.


Cornerstone 2: Hire

To build a culture of high performance, it’s best to avoid talent that thinks they’ve mastered the job already. There’s too much change and uncertainty in sales. The salespeople that think they know everything aren’t focused on improvement. Every business is different, and that drives industry- or job-specific requirements. However, the key to hiring is to look for the right attributes: a high-performing team needs people that are coachable, value feedback, and have a growth mindset. This is a class of talent that’s both proud of the skills they do have but also honest about the gaps in their own ability.


Cornerstone 3: Train

Before founding Jiminny, our CEO Tom Lavery worked for a sales team with a training program called “Fit to Pitch.” Like many sales teams Fit to Pitch provided sales training – but it also tested the team after training to see what they retained.

  • Can they articulate the problem we solve and key points of differentiation?
  • Have they absorbed enough product training?
  • Do they understand the competitors well enough?

Each level of promotion came with higher testing standards. So, the idea behind the cornerstone of “train” isn’t just about passing along information but developing a program to ensure members of a high-performing sales team absorb it.

It bears mentioning that testing isn’t just about measuring an individual’s learning capacity. It’s also about ensuring the suitability of the training.


Cornerstone 4: Coach

Coaching sounds easy on paper, but in practice, it’s the most difficult of cornerstones to put in place. Why? Because when a sales rep reaches out to a leader for help, what is that leader most likely to do? The natural human tendency is to help – so we give them the answer.

The problem is that’s not coaching. A coaching conversation is an exercise in facilitation where a sales leader helps their team member help themselves. Those coaching conversations build trust, curiosity and teaches sales professionals to think for themselves. In turn, this builds more resilient, adaptive and high-performing sales teams.


Enabling sales success without leaders

Leaders must establish a framework for a collaborative culture to evolve through both words and deeds. This brings us back to the point about sales leaders serving as connectors. Connectors help sales teams to be successful with, or without, their direct involvement. If these cornerstones are how to build a high-performing sales team – this final point is an indication of success.


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This post is based on a presentation titled Creating a High-Performance Sales Team. Tom presented this session at a Sales Confidence event in July 2022.

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