"A good sales culture is one where you walk in and just see the vibe. You see a buzz around the room, there's some banter, but a concentrated effort to achieve the collective goal."  - Bethany Ayers

Bethany is the Chief Customer Officer for Peak, a company working with innovative businesses to put AI in the heart of everything they do. She is responsible for all customer-facing organizations within Peak — sales, marketing, customer success, and service delivery. Bethany is living in London for the past 20 years; she has worked in sales for 18 years and SaaS sales for the past decade.


What makes a good sales culture?

A good sales culture is one where you walk in and just see the vibe. You see a buzz around the room; everybody is smiling, there's some banter, but a concentrated effort to achieve the collective goal. Mindset is essential for salespeople because it takes confidence to address objections. More than focusing on activity levels or pipelines, sales managers need to be talking with team members about their headspace and how confident they feel. To have an effective sales culture, you need trust and openness. You want people to feel comfortable having conversations around their mindsets, why they might be suffering from low confidence, and what needs to shift so they can start performing well again. 


How significant are strong peer relationships to sales team happiness?

Collaboration and support among team leaders are essential aspects of effective sales cultures. I find that sales managers often struggle because they feel they need to do everything alone. Having a culture of learning and assistance helps sales managers feel less isolated and burdened. A good tactic is to designate "buddies" or mentors when a person first joins an organization. That bonding and support among peers is where happiness for the sales organization begins to germinate and grow.


So, how do you drive performance without sacrificing happiness?

The common wisdom is, "Forget about your top and bottom performers; focus on turning middle performers into top performers." Broadly speaking, I believe in this thinking, but we do need to remember that top performers need investment to stay on top. They may not need skills training, but they do need to feel appreciated. They need to feel they are learning. Coaching is in vogue right now, but we have other equally important tools in supporting salespeople's careers. To build an effective sales organization, you also need to have the right technology, the correct collateral, and the right people in support roles.


What are the best uses for data and analytics in sales management?

There are interesting ways you can use data to support and develop sales teams. Activity levels are a great example. Activity — making calls, talking to people — is incredibly important in sales. Activity creates the luck you need to win, but it's also how you learn. A new starter might make 20 calls in a day and fail 20 times. That is fine because they are learning on each call. If you have a new starter making just one call a day, it's going to take them 20 days to learn as much as the 20-call/day person. When reviewing activity levels with salespeople, it's good to frame the conversations in terms of learning. They begin to understand that more activity leads to more learning, which converts to performance improvement.

It's important to distinguish, however, between coaching and managing. In coaching conversations, you address how people can improve right after you see them making mistakes. So, directly after they hang up ona call, you might have a quick chat or role play around how the conversation might have gone better. None of that requires any sort of quantitative information. The quantitative discussions — activity levels, outputs, and pipeline generation — are more for managing than coaching.


What are some indicators of happy sales teams?

There are a few leading indicators of sales team happiness. One is employee engagement scores. I encourage sales leaders to survey their teams at least monthly, if not more often. Activity is another. If you see people starting to check out, not making as many calls, or showing the levels of activity you expect, it's time to have a conversation — not to micromanage them, but because it tells you they have their head down; they are not feeling "in the game."


What is the most important contributor to happiness in your own sales organization?

There's a saying, "Sales is a team sport." But, too often, the understanding is that salespeople need to orchestrate other functions to win opportunities. At Peak, we care a lot about collaboration. We believe selling is a team sport because people need to work and learn together. We've built a culture where every opportunity is an opportunity to win and to learn. If we lose a chance, we ask, "What can we learn from that? How can we be better next time?" It means we all need to work together. We have in-depth retrospectives after every win and every loss. When somebody tries something that works well, they bring it back to the team, share their learnings, and we talk and improve. That collaborative culture embeds happiness in everything we do. We love trying to find the challenges, working together to win, and celebrating everybody's success.

(The interview was conducted during the second half of 2020. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.)