"To build a great sales culture, make team happiness a part of your sales strategy." - Simon Johnson

Simon is the General Manager for UK and Ireland at Freshworks Inc. Simon has over 17 years of experience leading business and sales teams at fast-growing technology companies. Simon has been nominated as one of the top 10 sales leaders in 2020 in the UK. 


What do you love about being a sales leader? 

I love working with prospective (and existing) customers, seeing them achieve results and prosper. I love how sales touches virtually every part of our business organization. We are on the front lines, but we also collaborate closely with product managers, marketing, and senior management. I also love building and being part of a team. I like bringing new talent into the organization, then helping them to grow and expand revenue.


Why is happiness important for a high-performing sales culture? 

Sales teams need to feel free to collaborate and bounce ideas off each other. To do that effectively, they need to have trust. They won’t engage if they are not happy with the job. I have observed the same thing as a football coach for under-10-year-old players. Happiness leads to engagement, which leads to better gameplay. Watching from the sidelines, it is super obvious when one of our players is unhappy. Maybe something happens on the field; their energy just drops; they don’t coordinate well with other players on the field and the entire team’s performance suffers. Sales is no different. One thing I like to do is sit down and share lunch with my team; the casual conversations that occur over a meal will tell you very quickly who is happy and engaged and who is not. 


What is your best advice for building a high-performing sales team? 

One, set clear expectations. Two, provide regular feedback. Three, allow your team to take responsibility for their actions. That sets a team up for consistent wins. The energy they take from those wins starts to multiply, generating a consistent cycle of performance improvement. 


How do you go about setting clear goals?

As a sales leader, you need to balance the present with the future. Team goals need to be motivating, but they also need to be achievable. To balance, it’s important to set goals collaboratively. One thing that we do regularly at Freshworks is objectives and key results (OKRs). We set personal goals for each team member and provide regular feedback on where people stand relative to goals. It allows us to focus on what is important, but also to constantly challenge the team to improve. 


How do you recognize strong performance in your sales team?

We have a weekly UK all-hands meeting where we call out performance wins specifically. We also have monthly all-hands for all of Europe, where, again, we demonstrate our culture of calling out wins and recognizing our colleagues for strong performance. Recognition takes many forms. We hold formal recognition events, but we also have informal channels where we call out our colleagues’ achievements. 


Beyond publicly recognizing strong performance, what else do you do to create happiness within your sales organization?

First, we do regular pulse checks across the organization. These are short surveys to solicit regular feedback. Team lunches are another successful tactic. We do ‘lunchtime roulette’ where we switch who we dine with so we can obtain different perspectives on how people are feeling about their careers with Freshworks. A third thing we do — something we take very seriously — is weekly one-to-one meetings between sales personnel and team leaders. Those meetings have been especially important as we have grown and scaled our organization. I also try to find fun and unique ways of rewarding people personally. For example, I surprised one strong performer on my team with access to the first-class lounge at Heathrow because I knew he was going on holiday with his girlfriend. The idea was to create a “Wow!” moment that would make him feel happy.


How do you see the connection between happiness and strong sales performance? 

The two go hand in hand, but I believe happiness comes first. The first thing we do is focus on cultivating the right culture within our organization. If we create the right culture, we believe we can obtain the performance we desire. The culture piece starts right at the top with our CEO. We have a monthly all-hands where our CEO talks openly about our culture and recognizes performance. We also use LinkedIn and other social media forums to recognize and call out strong performers.


What is your best advice for aspiring sales leaders? 

Stay focused on keeping your team motivated. Encourage them to step up to the next level and to the next level after that. I am constantly looking for new ways to improve my team, across Freshworks and outside of Freshworks. It is also important to learn from others. For example, we have teams across Europe that do things very differently than I do (or have even considered doing). I pay attention and try to learn from others. Finally, stay connected with your senior sales leaders. If you see an example of strong performance within your team, ask one of your senior peers to deliver feedback and recognition to that sales team member. That really encourages them because they get to see how they are creating a real impact on the organization. 

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