Originally contributed by Mike Esterday for Top Sales Magazine

The influx of generative AI and other technologies into the sales process is making it easier for buyers to research products and services and find information. But AI can’t replace the human qualities—empathy, insight, listening to understand—a skilled, motivated salesperson provides.

No matter how powerful your technology is, your people are the differentiator. They create the kind of value that not only closes the deal but builds long-­term relationships and loyalty.

This means you’re not just competing for market share—you’re competing for talent. And to become a talent magnet, you need to develop a strong, purpose­-driven sales culture.

Great salespeople are attracted to great cultures because they know they will thrive there, financially and personally. In strong sales cultures, people feel connected to the team, the organization, and the mission. The support they receive builds confidence and a greater sense of purpose in what they’re doing. That purpose fuels higher motivation, engagement, and an inner drive to do more—for themselves, their clients, and the company.

What a Great Sales Culture Looks Like

A great sales culture is rooted in a commitment to selling with values and integrity. Crucially, it emphasizes both the skillset and the mindset it takes to find success and fulfillment as a sales professional. This means the training and coaching helps salespeople build skills to listen to their customers and sell value that’s meaningful to them.

It also means salespeople learn how to listen to themselves. In fact, these conversations can be even more influential, because they form the inner beliefs that can either get in the way of someone’s success or release virtually unlimited potential. In strong sales cultures, development is centered around these mindset factors, enabling salespeople to expand their self-­confidence and conviction in what’s possible for them to achieve.

Great sales cultures also instill a leadership commitment to consistently coaching around both skillset and mindset. These sales managers firmly believe their team members have what it takes, even if a salesperson hasn’t yet recognized it themselves. That belief not only raises the bar; it encourages people to go for it. Top performers flock to these kinds of managers because their coaching helps them reach new heights and discover insights that will help them move past plateaus.

These managers also help their salespeople regularly clarify and connect with purpose, the why behind what they do, and what it means to them personally. This starts with a culture that defines selling as uncovering needs, meeting needs, and creating value for people. When people view selling through this lens, it naturally creates a different perspective on the role and a stronger purpose.

Turning Good Intentions Into Results

Knowing what constitutes a sales culture is the easy part; making it come to life is where the real work comes. Cultures are built (or diminished) every day by the actions and behaviors of everyone involved. Here are some dos and don’ts for creating and sustaining the culture you want:

Do: Start with leaders: Because leaders set the tone, prioritize their development in the critical areas that reinforce the culture, specifically, developing their interviewing and coaching skills. L&D spending should start with leaders, not include them as an afterthought.

Don’t: Rely on a trickle­-down approach: A successful sales culture centers around customer needs, which means you must involve the people closest to them when defining it. Not only will this result in a better roadmap for your organization, it will also give people a stronger sense of ownership, connection, and belonging. It shows them you value what they think.

Don’t: Assume one size fits all: When adding new team members, look for complementary attributes, not clones of what you already have. When people know you value differences, it gives them the permission to bring their full selves to work rather than striving to “fit in.” To diversify the perspectives available to you, go beyond just asking about selling skills in the interview process. Similarly, approach sales training and onboarding from the standpoint of solving customer needs holistically and behaviorally versus filling holes tactically.

Do: Focus on strengths and collaboration: Everyone doesn’t have to be good at everything. Instead, leaders need to orchestrate team members’ strengths to build upon one another to meet customer needs.

This requires leaders to:

  • Be present and empathetic in every conversation.
  • Avoid coddling or micromanaging.
  • Make it safe to take risks by allowing failure and encouraging learning from mistakes.
  • Focus on asking questions and active listening, not just to listening to respond.
  • Help salespeople teach what they’ve learned through practice, peer sharing on progress, and ongoing coaching. Articulating it in a way that has personal meaning has more impact than memorizing and repeating information.

Do: Stand behind the culture you expect, without exceptions: People notice unspoken or hollow messages. In addition to modeling the values and behaviors you want to see with customers, leaders must uphold high standards of integrity, including being willing to let the toxic “high performer” go.

Even, and maybe especially, in a world overrun with technology, buyers still want to buy from people—people they trust, who are there to help them, and have their interests in mind. A strong sales culture will ensure you’re attracting, developing, and retaining those very people. What they bring to the sales conversation will be more valuable than the most sophisticated algorithms.

Mike Esterday is the co-author of the book Listen to Sell: How Your Mindset, Skillset, and Human Connections Unlock Sales Performance. Learn more about Listen to Sell here including getting a free preview, other related content and links to order. You can also connect with Mike on LinkedIn.