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Tips on Selling

Want to shape a sales culture? Read this

The media writes endlessly about the great cultures of the super-retailers like Apple and Amazon, but where do independent retailers begin when they want to build triumphant cultures? IAN ALTMAN reports.

One of the most common questions I receive at my keynote addresses and workshops is how to infuse a business with a culture of sales for growth.

The top companies seem to just ooze an atmosphere of enthusiasm and opportunity.

They attract talented employees and those employees act as magnets to attract the best customers. Eventually, this builds a sales culture for growth across the organisation.

That’s all fine and dandy for Apple but how can independent retailers build a sales culture?

It’s not like you can order a shipment of culture from Amazon ... or can you?

Amazon owns US online retailer Zappos, whose sales culture is admired worldwide – to the point where a separate company, Zappos Insights, was founded in 2009 to share its strategies with other businesses.

Robert Richman, co-creator of Zappos Insights and author of Culture Blueprint, believes culture starts with values.

Values do not reside within a division, a department or a job title; they cut across the organisation.

Retailers wanting to build a culture for growth need to recognise that they have to establish values that apply to everyone within the organisation.

This means nobody can say, “That’s not my job.”

That said, where do you, as a small business, even begin?

Culture comes from within

Don’t try to fix or impose culture – build it from the foundation up. If you tell your team, “This is the culture you have to implement,” rest assured that it’s going to fail.

“Don’t just bring in a program. Ask your team what they think it means to have a sales culture,” Richman says.

“Your team needs to get their frustrations off of their chests and contribute their ideas. If your [sales staff] don’t feel heard, you are imposing something instead of letting it come from within. They might come up with a better idea than what you originally envisioned.”

Business owners might be able to dictate a policy or procedure; however, building culture is a collaborative process.

Define the greatest value

Top-performing retailers don’t strive to be everything to everybody. Generalists don’t build a brilliant culture. The businesses with the best culture might offer competitive pricing but they definitely offer unquestionable value.

Work with staff to have them define the problems that the business uniquely solves for customers.

By sharing where the business adds value, staff will understand where they help your customers the most.

“Top-performing retailers don’t strive to be everything to everybody... Define the problems that the business uniquely solves for customers.”

You cannot build a culture of sales if your team does not believe in what you are selling. Depending on the business, valuable input will come from a range of sources.

Obviously frontline salespeople and store managers who regularly interact with consumers should have a good understanding of the impact that the business has on consumers.

Some of the best ideas may also come from unexpected sources such as backroom staff – think outside the box.

Don’t just stop at how you impact customers. Have an open discussion about how your business impacts all your people, especially casual staff. Top-performing retailers have happy customers and happy employees.

There is a great debate about which comes first, the happy employee or the happy customer, but know that you can’t succeed in building a culture of sales without considering how you impact those inside your own organisation.

Include every department

In larger businesses, executives in certain departments seek to evade culture initiatives.

Accounting and human resource (HR) staff can be instrumental in delivering culture across an organisation – but maybe not where you think.

Many businesses see the HR department or, in the case of a jewellery store, the owner as driving culture. Instead, the most important task for small business owners is to attract the best talent.

If the new candidates start at your store with a sense of culture, then it is easier to sustain and enhance that culture over time.

In conclusion, building a culture of sales does not happen overnight.

One initiative or meeting will not produce results. You have to engage your team to identify what culture means to them and your team needs to bring the ideas and value from within.

They have to believe in where you add value for your customers and internally for your employees.

Retailers who have delivered on this vision engage talented employees, attract coveted customers and earn the respect of their competitors and peers.

Ian Altman

Contributor • Grow My Revenue

Ian Altman is the CEO of Grow My Revenue and an advisor and speaker on sales and business development. Visit:

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