Culture and Values are the Compasses – Challenges and Risks in Building a Sales Function

A trusted business advisor to me has a breath-taking level of confidence in the importance of marketing in building a successful business. We don’t agree on everything. He acknowledges the importance of the sales function in a fledgling organisation but enthuses about marketing’s potential and power. It is even more amazing because he comes from a finance and accounting background.

Depending on your perspective, the finance & accounting, marketing, sales, comprehensive operational excellence or people & culture focus will be the preferred bias and focus.

At some stage, some focus for a founder wishing to build a business will be a comprehensive and professional sales function. If this is executed competently, then the sales function will be able to deliver the orders necessary to achieve the strategic revenue plan.

What are the key challenges and risk of growing a sustainable sales team?

Here are six key points a director in charge of a fledgling business needs to consider:

Hiring great people is a challenge

I have yet to work with any organisation with a desire to grow that is not looking to hire sales professionals. At the time of writing, on one of Australia’s popular job board sites, there are more than 36,000 open roles for sales professionals.

Therefore, risk reduction means developing a strategy for finding the best possible sales talent is critical. Develop a talent acquisition plan and make it efficient and effective. Decide critical things such as the ideal profile and background of candidates and the required values for a culture match.

Training sales staff and leaders – regardless of attrition

Some businesses I have spoken with are determined to hire experienced talent and then let them get to work without comprehensive training, and support infrastructure. This approach exacerbates the risk.

Risk reduction would entail a training curriculum covering onboarding, professional development as milestones are achieved and, do not forget, leadership training. Regardless of the attrition levels in the vertical in which you operate, young people want to be developed and have an opportunity to learn. If you invest in this type of comprehensive talent development, make sure it is used to promote and differentiate your business to prospective talent.

One great (read: money making) side effect should be lower than the market level of attrition in your business.

Balancing High biller power

If your business is lucky to have a high biller make sure this is treated as a positive and a negative. It is a very high risk to have too much of the budget depending on one individual.

Risk reduction steps would be, as quickly as possible, spread your income source while making sure not to kill off the golden goose.

In some instances, I have seen these golden sales professionals wield significant power. If this power is well earned and in line with the company culture, then fine, however, in some instances, bad behaviour is tolerated in exchange for the exceptional revenue contribution. In situations like this, it is imperative to remember the process you went through to establish the company culture and values.

Risk reduction is to test your commitment to your values and the validity of your culture by removing the outlying member, even if they are the highest producer.


In a discussion earlier today, a business manager was recounting to me about some recent fraud she had uncovered in one business unit. In this case, the sales professional had been having client invoices issued to a holding company owned by himself and then passing on a reduced amount to the employer in a re-issued invoice.

Fraud in the sales process is more common than most people think.

Risk reduction is to put in place comprehensive compliance processes, audits and due diligence.


Claire McConnachie (2017) describes four key areas of common unethical sales practices. Specifically: overpromising, failing to disclose key information in full, misrepresenting, pushy & pressure practices.

Risk reduction is to train on ethics and reinforce the company culture.

Protecting CRM IP

An immeasurable number of times I have had discussions with business owners on the loss of IP. Usually, it is client information stolen from the CRM, but it can also come from patents and product.

Companies try to protect themselves with non-compete contract clauses and gardening leave payouts. Another common practice is to restrict access to data in the CRM or only grant onsite access. In practice, CRMs are now cloud-based, and remote work is more common.

Risk reduction to protect IP can be made by including a data protection clause in employment contracts and reinforcing the company confidential nature of critical client data in as many training programs as possible. Said training should be regularly repeated.

In this short piece “culture” is referenced nine times. Establishing and growing a strong sales team is hard work. Start with a firm idea about the businesses culture and values and use them as the compass for decision making through the various processes.


Sales Purveyors of Prosperity June 2018

Salesforce Search Claire McConnachie (2017)