Rebuilding to Create a Client-First Culture

As leaders we work hard to build the right culture to drive performance in our business and ensure our organization is effective, responsive and client-focused. I always like to pay special attention to sales culture - it's the front end of the business and has a huge impact on client experience and company performance.

When I first began as CEO of ReachLocal, I spent a lot of time understanding our sales culture. At the time, we had a very aggressive sales model. Our sales compensation structures rewarded customer acquisition, emphasized the number of calls made, meetings scheduled and deals closed. It's no surprise that the culture had contributed to some unhappy clients.

I had led enough companies to know that creating a sales culture with the right balance between strong activity and quality business is not easy; I also knew if the company was going to be successful the sales culture had to change. The question was 'how'?

I worked alongside my management team to create a client-first culture -- one in which everyone knows the customer, and not the sale, is the priority. To achieve that goal, we changed our go-to-market model to value client relationships above all else. We visited employees in every sales region across the world. We asked them to ensure everything they worked on had the goal of improving our customers' experience and the success of their business. Among other things, we said we wouldn't tolerate selling the wrong product and service to the wrong client - that meant we would have to get comfortable turning some prospects away.

As a central part of our cultural change, we invested in a sales compensation structure that reinforced the customer relationship and drove retention. I also personally visited with many of our customers to understand their needs, and to demonstrate that customer commitment begins at the "top."

What also helped drive our culture is the fact that our vision is, and always has been, meaningful and imminently relatable. That clear vision has made it easier to build a culture where everyone feels they have a purpose, and takes pride in what they are doing.

Building a culture takes time and patience. While we are still a work in progress (what company isn't?), the changes we've made have helped make our culture a powerful driver that benefits our organization, our customers and our industry in general.