“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” We’ve all heard this. But does it work in the real world with steep targets and quotas to meet?

Freshworks collaborated with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services to find out the role of sales culture on the team’s productivity and what really separates the highest performing sales teams from the others. 

Read on to discover:

Before we get into the findings of the study and what it means for sales teams today, here's a quick overview of the research design. Over 300 sales leaders were surveyed across geographies, from the US to the Asia Pacific region.

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The critical areas examined were:

Sales leaders were asked to rate their team’s happiness on a scale of 0 to 10. Leaders who rated their sales team’s happiness from 0-7 were part of the ‘less happy’ group whereas leaders giving a score of 8 and above were part of the ‘very happy’ group.

Happy sales teams outperform the less-happy ones by a mile

“The sales team’s happiness is critical because they are the ones who are out there in the field, interacting with customers. They’re on the front lines, as the workhorses of the business,” says Anna Green, ISV Segment Head, APAC and Japan, Amazon Web Services. 

Anna’s voice echoes the research findings. A total of 81% of leaders who rated their sales teams as ‘very happy’ reported increases in annual sales over the past two years. It's a pretty impressive feat as many variables impacting revenue lie well outside the sales team’s control. 

“There’s no doubt then that happy teams are high-performing teams. It’s a culture of happiness that drives motivation and action. When sales teams receive support, understanding, and feedback, they are not only happier but also clear about their roles and what is expected of them.” says Chris Perrine, Vice-President, Asia Pacific, G2.

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Happy sales teams mean more revenue. That’s clear. But what about other parameters? Good news there too.

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Factors leading to sales team happiness

So what makes salespeople truly happy? Three primary things. 

Sales team’s happiness as a strategic priority 

The study reveals that leaders play a key role. A total of 89% of the ‘very happy’ group agreed that sales team happiness is a strategic priority for leadership. This becomes even more crucial during tough times—whether they are due to the pandemic, economic conditions, or increased competition. 

When business is great, it’s easy for everybody to be happy. Promoting sales team’s happiness becomes really important during tough times, says Chris.

With employee well-being and mental health being a key focus for fast-growing organizations, approaches such as the carrot-and-stick method are considered past their use-by date. Instead, constant engagement and empathy is key, Anna and Chris point out.

Chris adds that leaders have to be supportive and set realistic goals for sales. Leaders also need to understand the different kinds of salespersons and the dynamics that drive them. Frequent and open communication help.

In addition to these, the research further reveals that leaders who actively invest in their team’s career development and are transparent about the organization’s sales strategy and tactics see the happiest teams. 

When sales teams get support from their leadership, they pass it on to the customers. This will help in reducing customer churn - one of the problematic areas for many companies. 

Watch those words 

“Work hard, play hard” culture. Does it even work? 

We conducted a live poll during a session where we discussed the findings of the report. The question asked was simple: which of the following best describes your sales culture?

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The same question was asked to survey respondents in the research. The results:

The survey stresses the fact that the old-school way of selling needs to change. Remember the iconic Always Be Selling dialogue? Yeah, that worked before but doesn’t work anymore. 

Crucial role of technology in sales team happiness

In an ideal world, all sales tools would be quick-to-implement and easy-to-use so salespeople can get on with their jobs and do them efficiently. Sales leaders buy technology because they want to make the rep’s job easier and not because they want to ‘manage’ them.

Because this is hardly the case in most sales organizations, the tools teams have a significant impact on sales team happiness and well, unhappiness. In fact, 71% of our respondents agreed that poor sales tech can negatively impact sales team happiness.

The research states that many companies turn to customer relationship management (CRM) systems to track and manage their customers and sales activities, so it’s important that these core sales systems align well with their needs. The happiest teams reported ideal CRM experiences.

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In another live poll, the audience was asked about the components of an ideal sales technology stack.

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Cut to the chase, how do you build a happy and a high-performing sales team 

As per the study, organizations and teams with the following characteristics make for a happy and high-performing team:

  • Teams that are social, transparent, and supportive of one another tend to have salespeople who feel energized, supported and encouraged. They have a sense of trust in the organization, feel properly compensated, and believe that they can truly enjoy what they do
  • Cultures that are less likely to maintain work hard/play hard subtly encourage high-pressure cultures that are detrimental to the sales team’s happiness and performance
  • Leaders who prioritize the sales team’s happiness and invest accordingly, leveraging sales tools that are intuitive to use and save time while supporting their goals

Tips from Anna

- Everyone used to have annual conversations about KPIs that are derived from top-down numbers. Happier organizations are changing this by having constant and consistent conversations with their teams. 

- Successful companies take active steps to understand their teams and to discover what is driving them. 

- Happy work cultures should not just measure performance via one standard metric and at one point in time. Leaders should empower employees consistently. It should be something that’s in play throughout the year. 

To replicate successful cultures, experts make these recommendations in the research:

  • Avoid typical sales traditions such as pitting salespeople against one another
  • Focus on understanding and supporting each salesperson on an individual basis, being transparent, magnifying their successes, and helping them achieve work-life balance
  • Emphasize coaching, career/skill development, and striving to make salespeople’s work feel meaningful
  • Define successful sales processes that reflect their company values, then enlist sales teams to select the right tools that are easy to use and that enable, rather than just manage, salespeople

Tips from Chris

- A vital part of magnifying success is to learn from failure, share findings with the team, and most importantly, move on. 

- Constantly ask questions such as “what worked?” and “what didn’t work?”.

- Sales teams need to be empowered with the right CRM for performance and productivity. In the survey responses, 30% said that the evaluation of tech from the sales team is one of the top criteria when choosing sales technology. Such democratic decision-making also adds to the sales team’s happiness.

The world of sales is an ever-changing world. Customers now want more personalization, more attention. Salespeople who respond well to this must be recognized in the organization.

To sum up, a sales team’s happiness is not a fluffy concept or metric anymore and sales leaders who are missing out on this core ingredient can hurt their businesses. As the famous saying goes: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” And certainly, no doubt now: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”