<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=577820730604200&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

When people are quietly quitting, working from home, and avoiding the office, it's important to make sure your culture isn't the root cause. Most sales cultures are okay, some are exceptional, and others are toxic. There is a saying attributed to the great management consultant Peter Drucker (even though there is no evidence he said it): "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." But a toxic sales culture eats its own.

Certain elements contribute to a toxic sales culture, and we cover the main five in the rest of this post. On their own, none of them are healthy, but when they stack up, a good and healthy sales culture can quickly become toxic.

New call-to-action

Toxic Element 1: Fear-Based Leadership

The root cause of most toxic sales cultures is the leader's use of fear. Instead of inspiring and influencing their sales force, this leader uses threats and coercion. The salespeople who know their worth walk away when they recognize the leader is a bully. As the fear-based leader drives off their best salespeople, it becomes more and more difficult for them to succeed.

You will often find this type of leader in their office with the door closed. The truth about the fear-based leader is that they are plagued with self-doubt, and their insecurity shows up as arrogance and a superiority complex. The toxic leader worries someone will discover that they lack the competency to lead a sales force and reach their goals.

The fear this leader feels inside leaks into the culture they create. The only way to improve a culture that’s turned toxic from fear-based leadership is to remove the fear-based leader and start over with someone better. Small people don't build great cultures, great teams, or great results.

Toxic Element 2: The Blame Game

As a sales leader, the best way to think about your role is that everything is your fault. You are responsible for making the changes that improve results. There is a pattern you see with great leaders: When there are poor results, the leader takes the blame. When the results are great, they credit their team. The leader in a toxic culture reverses this pattern, crediting themselves for good results, and blaming their salespeople for missed goals.

Instead of building up their team, they criticize them. Instead of picking them up and helping their sales force, they discourage them. The reason the toxic leader doesn't help their team succeed is largely because they don't know how to improve their team's effectiveness.



Toxic Element 3: Micromanagement and a Focus on Activity

Every toxic sales culture seems to have a leader who micromanages their team in one specific area: prospecting activity. The toxic culture demands more. More cold calls, more meetings, more presentations, and more contracts. When the person who should be leading the salesforce lacks the ability to develop their team, they focus on more activity because it’s easy to measure.

Unfortunately, more activity no longer translates into greater sales results. B2B sales is now more complex, and more activity no longer guarantees better results. Instead, the sales force needs to improve their sales effectiveness and their approach. More isn't better than better.

Toxic Element 4: Mercenaries and a Lack of Esprit de Corps

Some salespeople thrive in toxic environments. Let's describe this type of salesperson as a mercenary, a gun for hire. They are often effective in sales and can produce results, so a toxic sales manager will try to keep them happy. This salesperson can exist in the negative environment because they have leverage over the toxic leader.

One thing mercenaries do is prevent a culture of esprit de corps, meaning common purpose, fellowship, and loyalty. In a healthy culture, the sales force is a team, and learns and support each other. A toxic culture, and the kinds of salespeople it favors, make it impossible for a group of salespeople to become a team. Everyone keeps their head down and tries to survive, hoping someone will eventually rescue them.

Toxic Element 5: Results Over People

You will find a focus on results in every sales culture. What separates a toxic culture from a healthy one is that a toxic culture focuses on results over people. Toxic leaders see people as a means to an end. Instead of developing, training, coaching, and inspiring the sales force and helping them improve their effectiveness, they focus only on results, with no consideration for the people they rely on to deliver those results.

Recently, a salesperson told me a story about working for a toxic leader. After four years of working together, his manager didn't know he had three children. Instead of focusing on what motivated the salesperson, the manager focused on the results alone. When the salesperson realized he was a means to an end, he stopped working for this company and the toxic leader.

Sales Manager Challenge

Turning Around a Toxic Sales Culture

A toxic culture prevents growth by preventing the individuals in an organization to grow and develop. The only way to turn things around is to remove the sources of the toxicity—the manager. By removing the toxic leader, you begin to help your sales team and the culture recover. Eliminating blame and the punitive nature of a toxic culture, you improve the environment. Better results come from better salespeople, not through greater activity. Success requires the right balance of activity and effectiveness, and a good leader understands how to foster that. A sales force should feel like a team, and they should work together to improve their results.

Too often, sales leaders allow a sales manager create a toxic culture. Then, instead of removing the toxic manager, leaders try to coach them, and let the toxic culture continue. There is no toxic sales manager worth trading for your culture and your sales force. To repair the toxic environment, you must first remove the source. By putting people first, you improve your results.



Post by Anthony Iannarino on October 20, 2022

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
how-to-lead-ebook-v3-1-cover (3)

Are You Ready To Solve Your Sales Challenges?


Hi, I’m Anthony. I help sales teams make the changes needed to create more opportunities & crush their sales targets. What we’re doing right now is working, even in this challenging economy. Would you like some help?

Solve for Sales

My Daily Blog Post Delivered to Your Inbox

Join 41,000+ sales professionals now and get my Guide to Becoming a Sales Hustler eBook FREE.