A Sales Culture is a Competitive Advantage.

Creating a competitive advantage is a subject that has been written about for years and decades. Opinions and perspectives abound on what creates and maintains a competitive advantage and how to recapture it if a company loses theirs. That happens frequently and we only need to look to the organizations around us to learn why companies go from good to bad – and in some cases pretty darn fast!   The American auto industry is a perfect example of how a once great industry can lose it and make it almost impossible to gain it back. More on that later.

In looking at companies that have gained and lost competitive advantage, the conclusion one can arrive at time and time again is that the common thread of sustainable competitive advantage has everything to do with the people who make up and work in the culture that is created in the company.  It’s people that create the excellent products and services that sustain a competitive advantage.

The culture created also extends to partners, suppliers, channel vendors and anyone else who has a vested interest in seeing the core business survive and thrive. GM for example has always been capable of building a great car – and has failed numerous times and in some cases has blown away the competition.  Was the culture one of competing and non-aligned factions in so many silos?  Conversely was the culture one where every action was predicated on one simple question- “how does what you do impact the customer’s decision to say “yes”? “  A simple question with BIG implications. Does your company have a sales culture or a siloed culture? 

The siloed culture encases people in their own world with little interest in what’s going on outside of the silo and more significantly with the customer who is buying the products that keep the lights on!  The lack of transparency that silos encourage and foster has a deadly long term impact on companies. It might be a long slow and painful death mired in denial and finger pointing or it could be a fast and swift death. Either way, the result is the same. Silos do not encourage long term success. The recent news coming from Wells Fargo and the apparent fraud that was committed is a great example of how silos take a company down. How could all of that have happened and for years? Silos. Many years ago, I was a Wells Fargo customer and I fired them. They made a bad business decision – a decision not based on a very long term relationship and character but on a few lines of a tax return.  A siloed person who didn’t know me or know that they have a vested interested in seeing beyond their silo how their seemingly innocuous actions made its way through the bank and impacted my future.  A perfect example of a silo killing a company by destroying a relationship. People in silos that are thinking about something other than “how is what I am doing going to HELP the banks clients say “yes”? No proactive thought about the customer and myopic thinking ONLY about the needs of their silo and meeting their objectives and not mine as the client.

Additionally the recent calamity at Wells Fargo and the deceptive sales practices are not a sales culture. It certainly appears that this was an example of terrible and destructive sales training and practices based on pressure from other silos. This is what gives sales a terrible name. A sales culture is NOT about a sales team selling like they did at Wells Fargo. A sales culture is the entire organization being encouraged to be a part of the ongoing “sales supply chain.” People in a sales culture know that when someone does not do their part, ultimately something breaks and sales will not happen.  It is not blinding and unrealistic pressure to meet sales goals that can only be met unethically and possibly illegal.download (2)

Now, let’s consider the opposite of silos – a sales culture.  In a sales culture everyone’s in sales. What this means is that every single person does something that has a true and positive effect on the client’s ability to say “yes”. They understand that their actions affect the sales dialogue and value chain. Every individual knows this and acts accordingly to achieve that end. Its achieving that “yes” that guides actions and accountability. A sales professional cannot accomplish the sales without the input and counsel of many people. Everyone sells. Directly, systemically they sell themselves every day with every conversation. If I know your value proposition – what you DO, then I know when to turn to you to help me help the client. If you are hidden in the silo then I can’t engage you and have you contribute to the sales effort. Then you are potentially seen as overhead.

A sales culture counters the badness of a siloed culture in three ways:

1. In a sales culture we have transparency. The silos are gone or at least there are windows where people can collaborate and act in a way that encourages accountability and that every action is about helping someone help the customer to say “yes”. When someone understands HOW his or her actions ultimately impact a revenue event, then they are the chief sales officer in that moment. No one wakes up in the morning and decides they are proud to be overhead. Every conversation is a selling moment and every conversation counts. People in a sales culture know how what they do has an impact on the sales sequence and they do help a client buy. In a silo people lack this vital knowledge and we lose them to mediocrity, myopia and you know the rest of the story. If sales are in its own silo, this is equally bad.

2. In a sales culture every person knows how what they do matters mightily and how it helps the customer say “yes”. There is a sense that what is being done in their part of the world is about the customer and not completing a checklist. Conversation is consistent because it’s about helping the company sell not what’s good for just one silo. People are in a better position to contribute and make a difference when they know this.

3. In a sales culture, people are encouraged to show others how what they do help a customer says “yes”! This is perhaps the noblest thing we can do – to show our colleagues and partners the value and revenue impact of their actions. We work on building bridges and encouraging collaboration by making it about the customer and not the individual. In short the willingness to be a “sales culture coach” is paramount to creating a sales culture and breaking down silos. Relationships across silos bring down silos and more sales happen. This also encourages cross selling in an ethical way and secures everyone’s future in a way that is long term and sustainable.

Let’s go back to the GM debacle with the crisis that evolved from the ignition key problems. Was that faulty and defective part of the car designed in a silo? Or was it designed, tested and manufactured with a transparent view to the customer? I wasn’t there and can only surmise – and I can’t help but think about what could have happened had the silos been smaller, less hardened or non-existent. Would the outcome have been the same?

Where does this leave us?  Having a sales culture is a strong and distinctive competitive advantage. The advantages between a sales and siloed culture are bluntly apparent.  Encouraging collaboration without consequences is healthy and is about the client. People can build that bridge between what they do and revenue ultimately occurring!

True competitive advantage is people. People in a culture where everyone sees their value and can articulate and demonstrate it each day. The demonstration comes when each and every person embraces and understands that what they do has an effect on the customers and their colleagues.



Do you have a siloed culture? If so you are leaving BIG money on the table.

Let’s change that up and create a sales culture!



Annmarie Young Photography

Todd Cohen, CSP is an accomplished and sought after international keynote speaker, sales culture expert and author of “Everyone’s in Sales” and “Everyone’s in Sales; STOP Apologizing.”

Todd’s dynamic and motivational keynotes and workshops are based on the foundation that regardless of career path or position, everyone is a salesperson. Since 1984, Todd has led sales teams to deliver more than $950 million in revenue for leading companies including Xerox and Thomson-Reuters.

You can also see Todd’s articles on Sales Culture in many magazines, trade journals and the Huffington Post.  

For more information or to book Todd Cohen for your next meeting please visit: www.ToddCohen.com

Follow Todd on Twitter @SalesLeaderTodd.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart