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How to Embed A Company's Culture in Sales Training

By Norman Behar

A question that often comes up in our conversations with clients: "How do you embed a company's culture in a sales training program?" It's an interesting question because culture is something that's intangible, but we kind of know it when we see it. 

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If we think about a lot of things that companies would like to have in a customized sales training program, it could be "Could it reflect our sales process? Could it reflect our terminology?" Those are very tangible. We can do research. We can talk to a sales enablement professional to understand the company's processes—maybe how they're using pipeline management. We can talk to salespeople, sales managers, and understand the terminology. But how do we learn about a company's culture?

Here's a couple of ideas. I'll start with my own definition of culture. To me, a company's culture is how its people interact with each other, how they interact with their clients, and how they engage with the community.

To understand the culture of a company I could start by doing a little bit of research. I could look at the company's website, maybe see what their vision is, what their mission is, their values, and also take a look at press releases, maybe their events calendar. Maybe they're interacting and doing some nonprofit things. I could also look at the kind of photos the company might have on its various social networks—that might give me some clue based on what I'm reading and what I'm seeing based on my research.

Engaging Stakeholders to Understand Company's Culture

But the only way to truly understand culture is to engage stakeholders. By engaging stakeholders, I mean doing intake interviews, really understanding what's important to them, and as part of that discussion, probing a little bit to understand the culture. 

#1 Sales Leaders

One area we always want to start with is the sales leaders. In a sales training program, one of the basic things we're trying to understand is what the business impact is? A common business impact today may be transitioning a sales team from what historically has been a product sale to a solution sale. So we should understand that. But then we should ask the question that probes a little bit deeper. Why is this important? 
 
What have you done in the past? What behaviors will need to change to reflect how they're going to engage with clients in the future as part of that solutions sale?

#2 Training and Development Professionals

Another great place to go is back to the training and development professionals.

Maybe that's who you started regarding engaging with about a customized sales training program. And you can ask them, "Hey, what kind of programs have you run in the past? Were they successful? Why did this particular program succeed? Why wasn't this one received so well? What's going on here? Why was that? Was it the way it was delivered? Did it come across as being off the shelf? If you had to replay that, what might you do differently?" 

#3 Sales Managers and Reps

And then, of course, you want to talk to the sales managers and the sales reps. These sales reps are really the intended audience for the program. They're the ones who are going to have to change how they sell and how they interact with customers, so you want to make sure they're really open to that form of change and solicit their input. Then the sales managers are going to have an ongoing responsibility to reinforce and to coach to the program. 
 
We also want to make sure we're getting their buy-in and really understanding the cadence of their business. How often do they visit with customers? What do those customers' interactions look like? If they have physical locations, we really would love to go and visit or maybe spend a day riding with a sales professional because that's going to give us a real inside view as to how they're engaging with the customers and what a day in their life looks like. 
 
Once we have gathered that information, again, this is more by questioning and observation, we then want to compile it and take it back to those exact same stakeholders to validate that we understand the culture and they agree we've captured that—at least from an intellectual standpoint. Then we want to embed that in the program itself in the form of customization. 

Embedding Company's Culture in Sales Training

We want to develop some highly relevant interactions, role plays, examples that will really engage those learners in authentic real-world simulations based on what we've learned from that.

One other key point, this may be a budget question, but the extent you can actually include branding and graphics. Those images that actually come from the company's website or from their marketing files. The pictures just send a very strong symbol as well as a branding to the stakeholders and the participants that you've really internalized their culture and that it is being reflected in their training program.

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About Norman Behar

Norman Behar
Norman Behar is Chairman and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience, and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.

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