The fundamentals of a solid sales culture are consistent and unlikely to change.
 
On an individual and collective level, salespeople are typically competitive, outgoing, customer-focused, persistent, and relentlessly determined to meet and beat their targets. But while these fundamentals need to remain firmly in place, they also need to be adjusted to meet the demands of a complex, advancing, technologically-driven world. 
 
To build a modern sales culture, it’s vital to apply new ideas to old principles; to change processes, programs, and protocols to suit this changing context. The companies that are willing to look beyond old practices and ideas in favor of new ones will gain a significant competitive advantage over their rivals. 
 
If you’re running a woodworking business – regardless of whether you are a manufacturer, supplier, or otherwise – there are four main ways to seize that advantage. 
 
The result? A sales culture as strong and durable as mighty oak. 

1. Tech charge 

The woodworking industry is far from technophobic: recent and future innovations include human-like robot workers and 3D wood lasers, amongst many other things. The sales profession, however, is a different story.
Apprehension towards software and automation is common, and particularly among the older demographic. In Paolo Guenzi and Susi Geiger’s Sales Management: A Multinational Perspective, it’s claimed that because they “have been working for years without any technology at all”, they “resist” it. 
 
Of course, the inherent bias is only part of the story – the other is how you introduce tools and systems into the business. Present new technology as an obligation rather than an opportunity, and your team may well resist it; tell them what it can do and ask them what they want from it, and they’re likely to be more open-minded.
 
Establish their needs, take their feedback on board, and acquire the tools that can help. If you can’t make sense of customer data, a business intelligence tool can sift the correlations and trends that matter from the red herrings; if you’re struggling to see the impact your team’s actions are having on business relationships, a CRM system can improve transparency; if you need to improve your mobility, remote working tools and mobile-first apps can ensure your outside salespeople have all the information they need – wherever they are.
 
Take charge of technology implementation and get your sales team on board: when they see the value, and when they know what to expect, it’s much easier for them to make the best of it. 

2. Build training and mentoring programs

If your team isn’t composed of digital natives, technology training and mentorship programs aren’t optional – but even if it is, they’re still important. Technology evolves constantly, so refreshing and expanding your team’s skillset is vital. Best practice from five years ago is often already obsolete, and best practice from ten years ago may as well be carved on stone tablets. 
 
So there need to be programs in place to ease your team (and all future members of the team) into using the technology, to monitor their progress, and to keep them up-to-date with any changes and iterations. Try to have a mixture of demographics and capabilities in some of these lessons: employees often learn best when they learn from each other. A more seasoned employee might be able to mentor a team member in some advanced sales tactics; a younger employee might be able to help them get to grips with that fancy new CRM. 

3. Offer salespeople incentives

Salespeople thrive on competition – amongst themselves, and with the wider industry. Nurturing this is a smart move, and technology makes it easier than ever. Gamifying your sales process with digital leaderboards can pay dividends. 
 
If Mark is told he needs to sell fifty pine tables by the end of March, his priority will be to clear that bar; if he’s told that he’ll win a set of steak knives or an extra holiday if he sells more pine tables than Cathy and Steve, he’ll be motivated to gain (and keep) momentum. 
 
Encourage your team to compete, and you’ll see a noticeable uptick in performance. 

4. Embrace the way millennials work

It’s easy to take a derisive view of millennials, but it’s worth resisting. They’re not, as some would you have believe, lazy, entitled or indolent; millennials simply work differently than your traditional sales professional – and you can turn these differences to your advantage. 
 
For example, where a more experienced salesperson might struggle to connect with prospects on social media, millennials founded (and maintain) these platforms; they understand them intuitively, and know how to interact with customers productively and profitably. They can at once put these skills to good use for your business and tutor other members in their use.
 
In general, they’re also hungry to acquire and learn new skills – a useful appetite to have when your more senior representatives are either set in their ways or too busy to discover new methods of working. They’ll have the time and inclination to go on courses and undertake fact-finding missions – take advantage of it.  
 
Of course, your sales culture is about more than any one demographic. Ultimately, it’s all about building a team and fostering positive relationships: establishing the kind of environment that’s cohesive, collaborative, and conducive to productivity and profits.
 
When your sales team uses all the tools at its disposal, and when its members are willing to not only work with each other, but learn from each other; you’ve got the beginnings of a strong sales culture

Kevin McGirl is president of sales-i, a sales performance software that supports smarter selling to distributors and wholesalers by integrating transactional, ERP data with customer data, to give a full picture of what’s going on with customers. Unlike a traditional CRM system, sales-i gives salespeople easy-to-understand, actionable insights so that they can ensure that every customer interaction is both personal and profitable. Clients include building and remodeling materials dealer Amerhart;  C.H. Hanson, a Chicago-based tools dealer; Howarth Lumber; and office furniture dealer DBI Business Interiors.

 

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