Kurt Vonnegut gained notoriety and acclaim for his novels — like Breakfast of Champions, “a slippery, lucid, bleakly humorous jaunt through (sick? inhumane?) America circa 1973,” with Vonnegut acting as our Virgil-like companion, Cat’s Cradle, a satirical commentary on modern man and his madness,” and Slaughterhouse-Five, “one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.”
But it was his rejected master thesis in anthropology that he called his “prettiest contribution to his culture.”
“The shapes of a society’s stories,” he said, “is at least as interesting as the shapes of its pots and spearheads.”
Kurt Vonnegut grained worldwide fame and adoration through the publication of his novels, including Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and more. But is was his rejected master’s thesis in anthropology that he called his prettiest contribution to his culture. – See more at: http://visual.ly/kurt-vonnegut-shapes-stories-0?utm_source=visually_embed#sthash.Gto3bkTG.dpuf
An open apology to the engineering, support, and marketing teams: please excuse my cowbell. I know that it rings loudly and I know that cubicles and drop-tile ceilings aren’t enough protection against it. I promise you, however, that it’s important to our entire company, so let me explain why. When the cowbell is ringing, sales are being made, which means our company is able to continue growing and is able to pay everyone to be here as a part of this glorious effort. Every sales team should have a physical cowbell in proximity. This can come in the form of a bell, gong, bowl, or shout-out, all with the purpose of celebrating the closure of a deal.
Why You Need a Strong Sales Culture
This is a blog about sales culture and how things like the cowbell shape it. If you’re on the sales team and you’re wondering if you guys have culture, you probably don’t. (Trust me; you’d know). If you’re on another team, like marketing, and you don’t hear a cowbell, consider that this might not be a good thing for the company’s long-term success. The cowbell is indicative of a strong sales culture which is critical to productivity and success.
Salespeople need lots of positive energy around them. And, they need sharp people to bounce ideas off of to stay energized and motivated because I promise you, staring at a computer screen won’t do it. They have to meet prospects in person and talk to them over the phone with an infectious enthusiasm and an unwavering certainty. This is especially important for inside sales teams where their interactions with potential customers are purely over the phone and are thus missing the usual non-verbal cues that account for as much as 90% of a conversation according to several studies. They have to stay energized to do it well, and so it’s up to the people around them to buoy that energy.
With that being said, let me describe two different work environments that I’ve experienced, and then let’s talk about how important a cowbell is to the sales dynamic:
At this company, things were quiet and we rang a Tibetan singing bowl—no, I’m not making this up. Also, we saved all of our ringing for the Monday morning meeting. Once a week, at the start of the sales meeting, one or two people softly rang a Tibetan bell and we begrudgingly (read: jealously) golf-clapped for their accomplishments.
What was the sales environment behind this ritual? The sales floor was hushed despite an open floor plan and some of that was attributed to the fact that people weren’t selling very frequently…or very much. There were a lot of Apple earbuds and Bose headphones around the office, so each salesperson was off in their own world. When I had questions, it was the norm to send an email, even if the person was near me. I was astonished (but excited!) if someone actually tapped me on the shoulder suggesting we grab a coffee and chat.
When a call or a deal of mine went poorly, the people around me sometimes commented but mostly kept silent, leaving me to wonder what they really thought of me. Because of this, I internalized the feelings that go along with the day-to-day emotional roller coaster that is sales.
At this company, on the other hand, we rang a bawdy cowbell with a courtroom gavel. We rang it so hard that we first made sure to call out “fire in the hole!” so that co-workers nearby could mute their phone calls while it all erupted. Some people joked by ringing in smaller deals very lightly with a “tap tap tap” and larger ones by really smashing it. Once, a new guy even broke the gavel with too much excitement. On each person’s first deal, we sprayed them with silly string. Each time, we gave meaningful shout-outs to all of the other teams who had helped us along the way. It was a celebration—a team-wide celebration. Every. Single. Time.
What was the sales environment behind this ritual? People talked openly about their mistakes. Nobody endured an awkward silence after a cold call. People made jokes and didn’t take things too personally, fostering an environment where people were eager to venture outside of their comfort zone and try new things. People sometimes took conference calls from their desks and talked loudly, asking the rest of us for feedback. If someone was going off the rails with a phone conversation, others jumped up to the white board and wrote out emergency advice. Here, there was a good mix of support and laughter, and we celebrated our victories openly by loudly ringing a cowbell. That cowbell rang every day.
Build a Culture That Fosters Growth and Success
What’s the big difference? The cowbell is a proxy for a positive and open sales culture. Unless you’re an enterprise sales rep who has perfected your art and work remotely with no need for anyone’s advice, you need to be in a positive environment. Nobody faces rejection more consistently than sales people—imagine what it’s like to be turned down when asking someone out on a date and then picture doing that for a living. Without counter-measures, it can really wear you down. If you’re left alone in silence without distractions, you’ll get self-conscious. The only thing that can fix it are the people around you keeping you energized and hearing the cowbell ring every day reminding you that your team is crushing it and you can, too. The energy consumes you and motivates you.
So when you’re looking to join a new sales team, make sure it has that cowbell culture. The cowbell is a symbol for openness, celebration, and a good team dynamic that helps the company continue to grow.
Does your team swear by the cowbell or similar ritual? Share your stories in the comments below!