How Important is Sales Culture?

Ryan Walsh, CEO and Founder
Ryan Walsh, CEO and FounderDec 6, 2023

As a salesperson considering your next career move, it’s crucial to look beyond just the product or service you’ll be selling to the culture of the sales org. 

Of course, the first things that you should consider are factors that will directly determine your earnings potential: What’s the OTE for the role that you’re applying for — and what percentage of people on the team are hitting quota? Always ask this question, but also verify the figure by referencing the company’s RepVue profile. On average, in 2023, 40% of Account Executives are hitting quota. Is the team that you’re looking at higher or lower than that benchmark?

Next, consider the factors that will most directly influence your chances of hitting quota — specifically Product Market Fit, and Inbound Lead Flow.

If all of those things check out and the company has a solid overall RepVue score, there’s one more key factor that you shouldn’t overlook: culture. 

You’ve no doubt heard people talk about the importance of a good culture — but what does culture really mean in sales?

Sales Culture is Bigger than “Perks”

First, know the difference between true sales culture and “perks.” I posted about this on LinkedIn a while ago.

Culture isn’t stuff like a free hoodie with a company logo, ping-pong tables in the office, or endless coffee and snacks. Sales culture is defined by whether or not reps are empowered to make decisions, their level of success, the ability to cooperate with other functions. 

Perks and culture are not the same. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise.

A Good Example of Defining Culture

A great resource for thinking about the type of culture that supports great performance comes from outside the sales world. You may be familiar with the Netflix culture deck. It was published in 2009, but it still rings true today. And its focus on high performance makes it very relevant if you’re looking for a great sales culture. 

The culture of the sales team and the company as a whole plays a pivotal role in your success and job satisfaction. To guide you in choosing the right company, let’s explore the type of sales culture you should seek using the Netflix deck as a model.

Emphasizing Performance and Excellence

Netflix’s culture emphasizes operating like a high-performing sports team rather than a family​​​​. This approach prioritizes excellence, accountability, and continual improvement. 

Companies aren’t like families, no matter how often owners and CEOs may say so.

As a salesperson, you should look for a company that values:

  • Radical Candor and Habitual Excellence: Seek a culture that encourages open, honest communication and consistently strives for excellence​​.
  • Challenges and Direct Feedback: A culture that takes on challenges head-on and provides direct, actionable feedback can lead to significant personal and professional growth​​.

Employee Empowerment and Transparency

Netflix distinguishes itself by encouraging decision-making among employees and maintaining transparency across the organization​​. In your search, consider companies that:

  • Foster Employee Decision-Making: Look for a culture where your insights and decisions are valued, enhancing your sense of ownership and responsibility.
  • Embrace Transparency: A transparent work environment can minimize office politics and foster trust, which is vital for effective teamwork and sales success​​.

Seeking Alignment and Collaboration

Alignment and collaboration is where the difference in operating like a sports team rather than a family may be most clear. Alignment and collaboration are requirements for high-performing sports teams — but a family may have neither. In a sales context, this translates to:

  • Team Alignment: Choose a company where sales teams are aligned in their goals, strategies, and values, promoting a sense of unity and shared purpose.
  • Collaborative Spirit: While individual performance is important, a culture that encourages collaboration can lead to more innovative solutions and better customer experiences.

Focus on Talent and Effective Communication

Netflix’s culture is built on working with talented individuals in creative and productive ways​​. As a salesperson, consider companies that:

  • Value Talent and Skill: Companies that prioritize hiring and retaining talented individuals can offer a more stimulating and competitive environment.
  • Prioritize Effective Communication: Clear and candid communication within the team and with customers is key to success in sales.

Personal and Professional Development

A culture that encourages personal and professional development can be immensely rewarding. Look for companies that offer:

  • Continuous Learning Opportunities: Whether through training programs, mentorship, or challenging projects, continuous learning can significantly boost your sales skills.
  • Career Growth Pathways: A clear path for career advancement can be a strong motivator and indicator of a company’s commitment to its employees’ success.

So … how can you tell?

Now you have a good idea of what to look for in a sales organization,  but that’s really only half of the battle. The other — sometimes more difficult — question is how to tell whether a sales organization actually has a strong culture. 

Do Your Research

First,  do your research. Each company profile on RepVue features a Culture & Leadership score, so start there:

You can also use that score as a starting point for a question about culture in the interview process. You could ask something like:

“I see you’re in the XXth percentile for Culture and Leadership on RepVue. Why do you think the reps in your sales org give you such high ratings in this area?”

Or conversely, if the score is low, you can use the RepVue score as a way to tactfully ask why. Maybe the company has recently gotten new sales leadership, or maybe the market is particularly challenging. 

See which orgs have the highest ratings for Culture and Leadership

These factors are important. But in general be wary of sales orgs with low Culture and Leadership scores.

Learn What Current Sellers Think

Second, you can learn a lot about the sales culture within an organization from the sellers who currently work there. Look at Reviews and Anonymous Q&A on RepVue. These will often touch on issues related to culture

And lastly, make an effort to reach out to reps who are currently at that company and ask them to describe the sales culture. Ask open ended questions, and see if their answers touch on some of the attributes of a strong culture like empowerment, transparency, alignment and collaboration mentioned above. If they do, then you’re likely in a great spot. If they don’t, then you might want to think twice before accepting an offer.

The Right or Wrong Sales Culture Will Affect Your Career

The sales culture of an organization can and will make a significant difference in your career trajectory. It’s not just about the product or service you’re selling, but also about how the team operates, how the company treats its employees, and how it fosters growth and excellence. By looking for a culture that values performance, transparency, alignment, talent, and growth, you position yourself for a fulfilling and successful career in sales.

As you evaluate potential companies, reflect on these cultural elements and consider how they align with your personal values and career aspirations. The right environment can not only enhance your sales performance but also contribute to your overall job satisfaction and professional growth.

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