Company Culture

Toxic Sales Culture Practices That Need to Change

Scott Leese

Boiler rooms suck. Wall Street sucks. Chest pounding macho sales floors suck. It didn’t used to be perceived that way though. 

As we come around to a better understanding of creating inclusive sales floors and removing barriers to entry to allow for more diversity in the profession, we have to recognize a few relics of the past that need to change.

Obvious Toxic Sales Practices

Let’s start with practices that most folks in sales and leadership agree need to go right now. The hope here is that naming some of the most obvious and toxic sales practices still too common in the workforce will further expedite their extinction.

  1. Favoritism – We all know the one sales manager who always eats lunch with the same reps on their team every day. You know…the ones who seemingly get all the hottest leads. Even if you are not doing it on purpose or bending any rules, you still need to stop this practice. Pygmalion Effect any one?
  2. Unreasonable daily metrics – why are we forcing reps to make 100+ dials a day if the sale itself doesn’t call for that volume? Spray and pray is gone and we have to prospect with more strategy and personalization.
  3. Promoting top performing AEs into Sales Managers – not only that, but doing so without providing them specific and intensive training to help prepare them for the new role.
  4. Discounts as urgency – we must stop this. It hammers our credibility [and our paychecks].
  5. Silly and goofy emails to gimmick people back into the funnel – I’m not being chased by a rhino and I don’t care if this is your last attempt. Go ahead and break up with me. I’m too busy to deal with this right now.

Well tell me something I don’t already know. Can we push the envelope here and dig a bit deeper? What about some practices that we know exist – just “not at our org.” 

“Not at Our Org” Toxic Practices

Here are some “elephant in the room” sales practices. These are things that are commonplace wherever you go, but nobody is either willing to admit or accept that they too are part of the problem. These are the things “secretly” killing your sales org because leadership is the only area of the business NOT talking about them.

  1. Lack of Diversity in Leadership
    1. Loss of varying perspectives
    2. Culture of followers
    3. Limited upward mobility / glass ceiling damages moral and recruiting/retention
  2. Churn and Burn
    1. Blow through boatload of hiring, training, firing
    2. Morale killer / Culture killer
  3. Lack of Transparency around Equity
    1. Distrust breeds contempt
    2. Decreased buy-in to overall mission
    3. Enthusiasm for sale dissipates
  4. Messing with Salespeoples’ Money
    1. Rep churn
    2. Glassdoor will get ugly
  5. Mental Health Stigmas
    1. Distrust of HR and leadership
    2. Feeling no support, staff will struggle and performance can dwindle. 

Let’s dive deeper into each one of these.

Lack of Diversity in Leadership 

My good friend and sales leader Kevin Dorsey talks about what it’s like “being the only.” There are far too few POC in Sales leadership roles, as well as too few women in these roles. We find convenient excuses like “I can’t seem to find anybody” or “They need just a bit more experience first.” Cut the crap and give people a chance, and make decisions to have diversity and go make it happen.

Churn and Burn 

While dying off, these sales floors are not yet extinct. You must live with your company’s Glassdoor page and local reputation very publicly these days. Protect your reputation. People need the training, tools and time required to be successful in their roles. I can assure you, this is longer than two weeks. So invest in your team and set them up for success.

Lack of Transparency Around Equity 

The lack of transparency that is often involved in these negotiations or pitches to recruit folks is rubbish. You have a responsibility as a leader to make sure your employees are educated. Do not assume anything is common sense or that they will research it on their own. There are many layers to this toxic onion. But the fact that most employees don’t realize they have 90 days to exercise if they leave before an exit [and most cannot afford to do so] is outrageous.

Messing with Salespeoples’ Money

 Do we need to change the comp plan 3-4x in year one? What about changing it 1x per year – is that really necessary? Stop squeezing every nickel you can find out of the paychecks of the folks putting dimes into your coffers. Clawbacks when it wasn’t a sales issue. Delayed commission checks due to payroll errors. Inaccurate commission checks that require reps to double check payroll’s work. You will lose a salesperson with Usain Bolt-like speed if you mess with their money.

Mental Health Stigmas 

These have to go. High stress jobs create highly stressed employees. Why not just allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open up and talk about this stuff.  Instead lets find new and creative ways to support conversations and employees. 

Failure to solve and actively address some of the antiquated sales practices is a surefire road to creating a sales culture nobody wants to work in. You will struggle with recruiting as word gets around town about what it’s like to work there. Morale will drop lower and lower as the team tunes out and loses motivation. You will have unhappy and unhealthy employees, pissed off at both the comp and the culture you have created. What comes next? You will have costly rep churn and performance will drop off a cliff. 

You don’t want that.

These old practices may have had their time and place, but sales has changed.  Not only do these antiquated practices not fit into the modern workplace, they have been replaced with techniques that deliver happier employees, and better results.  The modern worker is no longer willing to tolerate employers who treat staff this way, because time and again it is proven that engaging and treating employees with respect makes a company more successful.

What you do want is a sales environment that is:

  • Inclusive to everyone
  • Diverse in its makeup
  • Fair and transparent 
  • Training and development focused
  • Rewarding and motivating
  • Free of stigma from real life challenges everyone is dealing with

If you build that, not only will they come, but they will stay for a long time.

Scott Leese