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The Unsung Hero of High Growth Companies – Culture

For many (this author included), culture has been relegated to an HR topic, not something a sales or marketing leader would take time defining and enforcing. That mindset is changing.

“We used to just give culture lip-service, but now it’s a critical factor in how we evaluate a company.” This quote came from Doug Pepper, Managing Director of Shasta Ventures, speaking at TOPO Council on March 10, 2017.  Doug pointed to Salesforce’s now public list of acquisition targets that was leaked via Colin Powell’s hacked email (shown below). Symbolically, GlassDoor ratings (“would recommend”) are featured on the third row above revenue metrics. The message: culture is one of the top considerations when evaluating a company’s value.

The culture theme was present at the Executive Track of the 2017 TOPO Summit. Sales and marketing speakers presented the strategies and tactics they employ to drive their remarkable growth – and over half focused their presentations on culture. Again – culture matters.

There are a number of dimensions to creating and managing corporate culture. Below are four actionable takeaways gleaned from a number of sales and marketing leaders from high-growth culture-centric organizations.

Codify your cultural values – Sales and marketing alignment remains a vexing issue for the majority of organizations. Aimee Miller, SVP of Marketing at AppFolio, ties her company’s exceptional sales-marketing alignment to their commitment to the corporate culture. Their cultural values are such an important part of their identity, they are featured on their website.

Hire for culture – A great example of hiring for culture is Ted Purcell, SVP and General Manager, Commercial, at Marketo. For Ted, culture is one of the key pillars of his sales management philosophy. Today, he is in the process of reshaping the sales team. Achievement matters, but cultural fit is the final hiring factor for candidates.

Reward for commitment to your culture – Most sales organizations focus exclusively on revenue achievement for company advancement. According to LinkedIn’s Matt Loop, LinkedIn sales team members are actually evaluated for promotions based on how well they have exhibited the company’s cultural values (along with their sales performance).

Enforce culture (even if it hurts) – Dennis Lyandres attributes a significant portion of Procore’s sales success to culture (amongst other things). Their philosophy is to “hire slow” to identify candidates with the right cultural fight, and then make fast, hard decisions if they were wrong about fit. As a matter of fact, Dennis actually let go of one of his top performers because they weren’t a cultural fit.  Giving up revenue achievement for culture is courageous and often a decision that leaders are hesitant to make. But the result has been an incredible culture (Glassdoor: 97% “would recommend”).

Culture is not free food, ping pong tables, and foosball. Culture is about values. The overall takeaway is to codify values and hire, reward, and fire based on those values and results will follow.

  • Robert Koehler

    5 specific suggestions for living and reinforcing company culture

    1. Ask hiring questions related to culture that tell you if a candidate’s past behavior and actions demonstrate a fit with your culture. This is important in building or maintaining strong company culture as you grow

    2. Reinforce cultural values and examples during weekly, monthly and annual meetings, including national sales meetings. Recognize employees that have done something that reflects the cultural values. LinkedIn during their annual sales meetings give rewards not just for sales performance but for the employee who works in or supports sales that best represents each core culture value This helps ensure that your mission statement/cultural values don’t gather dust and that you ‘walk the talk’

    3. When announcing employee promotions, highlight fit with the company’s core cultural values and where appropriate give examples.

    4. Do not be afraid to remove employees that are not a good cultural fit. Make demonstration/adherence to cultural values part a component of performance reviews, bonus determinations.

    5. When possible and where appropriate, check that decisions and programs meet the corporate checklist of values (e.g., are we acting like owners? Does this meet our definition of ‘world class”)

  • Codifying culture is absolutely the first step. This includes gaining consensus on what those values actually mean and identifying stories that highlight what they look like in practice. Employees need clear direction on how lofty values translate into daily actions.

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