"Connect your salespeople to the transformation journey of your company." — Rob Idink

Rob is the Managing Director (Netherlands) at HP Inc, where he has spent two decades.  In this interview, Rob shares his thoughts on the connection between sales team happiness and performance.


What are some hallmarks of a strong, happy sales culture?

First, it’s when sales culture is linked clearly and strongly with corporate culture. Second, it’s when sales leaders build trust, respect, and transparency in every interaction, whether a rep is reaching out for advice or to share their ideas. Third, dedication to teamwork. We drive results through teamwork. The best salespeople are the ones who feel comfortable leveraging their entire organizations.


So, what are some good examples of how to do that?

Three examples from our own organization are: collaborating with the supply chain to make sure products are being delivered on time to customers; working with marketing to generate high-impact ideas for customer engagement; engaging with category management to get the right pricing and portfolios in place. Those kinds of cross-team disciplines create true impact for our customers and partners.


What does it take to build a high-performing sales team?

I see it from a framework perspective. Do you have a strong selection process? Do you have the right operating structure? How do you enable your sales force in terms of training and culture? And how do you connect salespeople to the strategic journey of a company? At HP, we have been undertaking a massive transformation. I believe it is very important to communicate both the direction and the vision of strategic initiatives to sales teams.


What does a strong selection process look like?

Beyond experience, you need to be looking at competencies, skills, and cultural fit.  At HP, we have strong values, so we look for people with characteristics that match our values.


What do you mean when you say, ‘the right operating structure?’

First, it is about setting clear objectives and spending time to ensure those objectives are clearly understood. Second, it is about measuring progress individually and collectively over time, ensuring people can relate to how their performance moves in time. Third is communication. A good communication process is super important. Fun is important too. We try to strike a good balance between the more serious elements and the fun stuff. Through the pandemic, we used several online virtual activities to engage more closely with our sales force.


How do you embed enterprise values in your sales culture?

Cultural code words — tied to corporate values — play big roles. For example, when we say, “cooperative approach,” people in our organization know we mean “driving results through teamwork.” When we say, “play the right way”, our people know we mean “uncompromising integrity.” As a sales leader, you also need to lead by example. You need to demonstrate that you live those values every day.


Can you provide any examples of how that translates to the field? How does it affect your customers?

One of our reps was dealing recently with a very challenging customer. We had to go visit them multiple times, so I was able to observe that this rep is an excellent listener. They engaged with the customer, and devised and communicated a strong recovery plan. As a manager, I was able to articulate specifically — in the language of our HP values — how and why this person had done a great job. The more specific the feedback, the more powerful it can be.


Do you think automation/digitalization can help to engender sales team happiness?

Yes! Salespeople are generally overburdened with operational and administrative tasks, which draws their attention away from creating impact for customers. I am all about creating positive impact for customers, so we have been looking at how we might automate simple tasks to free up more time to allow our teams to engage more deeply with customers and partners. At the end of the day, a happy sales force is one that can be constantly reaching out to customers and making positive contributions.

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