Company Culture

5 Signs Your Sales Culture Might Be Toxic

Josh Benedetto

You’d be hard pressed to find a business where the founder intended to have a toxic culture. 

Nobody wants their culture to be toxic. Sometimes it just happens because we aren’t paying attention to the signs. 

It’s kind of like a bunch of bananas. You can bring them in green, or perfectly ripe, but if you leave them unattended for too long, they can quickly go bad. And before you know it, you’ve got a bad bunch on your hands. 

So with that in mind, we want to share with you some of the most common signs that you’re developing a toxic sales culture within your organization.  Because your employees aren’t bananas—and neither are you! You can keep them around for a long time without ever worrying about them spoiling. 

And the good news is, it’s never too late.  You can take those overripe bananas and make banana bread! It starts when you take a hard look in the mirror, see where your problems persist, and then spend some time picking at the rot. Your employees, and your future self, will be so grateful you did. 

Transparency Has Left The Building

Writing for Forbes, Liz Ryan tells us, “You know your culture is broken when you walk into a room where people are talking and suddenly they go silent. You know your culture is broken when your boss’s door is always closed.”

Don’t allow yourself to become a manager who’s afraid to face their employees. Instead, create rhythms where you’re regularly checking in with your team, understanding their goals, and helping them to catch your vision for success. The more transparent you can be about both your goals and your expectations, the more likely everyone is to succeed. 

Employees Are Playing By Their Own Rules

Over on the Close blog, Steli Efti puts it well that when you start to have lone-wolf employees who play by their own rules, things can get dicey—especially when those lone wolves are also your top performers. 

What ends up happening, Efti shows us, is that those top performers inadvertently teach everyone else that that bad behavior gets rewarded, and it will only encourage others to follow suit. 

“Instead of helping everyone succeed and setting a good example, top performers will look down on the rest. … The message you’re sending is that this behavior is okay and it’s the type of behavior that gets rewarded. What ultimately happens is that you’ll get a lot more of that behavior.” 

Managers Are Abusing Their Power

As our friends over at The Sales Coaching Institute remind us, it’s easy for power to go to any of our heads. But when one of your managers gets drunk on their power, it has devastating effects on your culture—and in turn, the organization as a whole. 

Instead, they go on to say, we need to make sure that our managers are gaining their employees’ trust, rather than walking around like supreme rulers. 

“Leading by example is a more effective way to gain the trust of your sales professionals instead of relying on fear to motivate them.”

High Turnover Becomes Common

People who like their jobs, their employers, and their coworkers don’t leave their jobs as often as people who dislike those things. That’s just simple logic. 

But have you considered the cost of high turnover? According to SHRM, high turnover from toxic workplaces cost the business world a quarter of a trillion dollars in the last five years alone. 

Here’s the bottom line: according to one Harvard study, the cost of even one toxic employee—who can cause severe rates of demotivation, decreased productivity, and a turnover rate of 12%(!)—can be massive. “ Avoiding a toxic hire,” they say “or letting one go quickly, delivers $12,500 in cost savings.”

If you’re having trouble holding on to employees, you may not simply have a hiring problem, it may be much deeper. 

Pressure Begins To Exceeds Motivation

We’ve talked about extrinsic and intrinsic motivators here on the blog before. In short, it’s important to have outside motivators, and also an internal sense of simply wanting to do our jobs—for personal goals, or simply for the fact that we enjoy doing it. 

But when those motivators turn into fear-based pressure and a kill-or-be-killed type culture, you know you’ve got a problem. 

One employee of Wells Fargo described a similar toxic sales culture to NPR: “It was multiple occasions where I saw my co-workers were cracking under the pressure,” Erik says. ‘Tears, crying, constantly getting pulled into the back room having one-on-ones for coaching sessions.’ … He says this wasn’t really ‘coaching.’ Managers called it that, but it was just leaning on employees to sell more solutions.”

Rather than scaring your employees into their best performance, try to motivate them in positive, growth-based ways. 

Creating Consistency at All Times

At the end of the day, it’s up to you as the head of your team or organization to root out the rot of toxicity in a bad sales culture. Hire the right people, create a system that works for everyone, and then reward those who succeed within it—and keep coaching the ones who struggle to do so. 

In our current environment, of remote work, high stress and lots of distractions,  we continue to see employees looking to their employers as their support system. And that makes it all the more important that you ensure your organization is one that promotes consistency and a culture that puts its employees wellbeing first. And the sooner that you do that hard work of cleaning up the “toxic spills,” the more quickly you’ll find a group of people who are truly equipped to thrive.

Josh Benedetto