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    How to elevate the sales profession from the inside out

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    In the sales profession, the main focus is how to win more customers. Sometimes, it’s about how to better serve customers and build trusting relationships. Even less often, it’s about how we can serve employees and create a better environment for them to work in.

    In my opinion, this is upside down and inside out. The conversation should always start with the people inside the company, and radiate out from there to the people we want to serve. When we tend to those two facets of the business effectively, the third facet - how we make sales - becomes far easier and effective.

    When our people are happy, productive, and operating from a position of strength, they are better able to serve our customers, and better able to help them find the right solutions for themselves.

    When I founded Membrain, I knew that I wanted to elevate the sales profession. For too long, sales has been viewed as a dirty profession, lowly and unimportant; a “necessary evil” undertaking that needs to be done by someone. It is often cut-throat and performance-driven, with a sink-or-swim mentality that leaves the most brutal and unethical folks to win while everyone else folds and gets out.

    I wanted to provide a software platform and partnerships that would change this. That would enable professionals to reach their potential as humans as well as salespeople, as people who facilitate buyers in making buying decisions that are good for everyone involved. I wanted to help humanize the profession.

    In the early days, we focused first on the salespeople and sales leaders we wanted to serve. Our original, core team was already self-actualized and operating with a sense of purpose and resolve. As we grew, we recognized that we needed to become intentional about our culture and the environment we cultivate, in order to ensure that everyone on the team is supported in being their best - not just as employees, but as human beings.

    Recognizing this, we recently added a new member to our small leadership team. We brought in Nina Werner to head up people and culture growth within our organization, to help us formalize and build the supportive culture we want and need. I asked her to provide some insights for this blog to share with others desiring to build an intentional culture. Here’s what she shared.

    A big mistake to prevent when it comes to culture

    Most companies assume that culture will build itself. Companies like ours, that started with a small core team, often assume that the culture they implicitly developed as a close-knit team, will grow as they add new team members.

    But that’s rarely the case. Everyone brings their own experience and ideas to the company, and a culture that is left to grow without guidance can easily become toxified. And putting posters up on the walls won’t change that.

    “It’s the little things you do every day that make your culture,” says Nina. “Not the nice posters on the wall, not what your customers say about you - it’s how you feel about each other within the company. How you behave toward each other.”

    In order to ensure those behaviors cultivate the culture you want, you have to communicate clearly what your values are, and what they mean to you. Then you have to put in place structures, processes, and intentional leadership to cultivate those behaviors.

    Combine hard structures with soft elements to grow the culture you want

    Werner’s background is not in HR. We didn’t want to hire someone who would come into the role expecting to repeat the Human Resources structures of other companies. We wanted someone who would understand the human element and help us grow an environment conducive to supporting the humans on our team.

    Nina is an engineer by training, with extensive experience in operations. Her most recent role before coming to Membrain was as Chief Operations Officer at a multi-national corporation. One of her proudest achievements was helping a highly hierarchical organization open up to listening to all of its employees and enabling them to contribute their vision and excellence to the company’s success as humans.

    “My focus has always been on - how do you get the best out of everyone,” says Nina.

    She says that doing that requires a combination of hard and soft.

    • Hard: What are the structures and processes you need to have in place in order to absorb the growth and support performance and culture across growing teams? Structures and processes are the “hard” part, the part where Nina brings her extensive engineering and operational knowledge to bear.
    • Soft: Nina says she’s a fan of Brene Brown, of the concept of leaning in to people’s human nature. Leaning into competencies, areas of interest, curiosity, and magic. Yes, she uses the word magic - because she recognizes that humans will never be machines, and there will always be an element of human nature that is beyond definition.

    “I enjoy navigating the bridge between the hard and the soft,” she says. “That’s where you find the power and the magic.”

    Humanizing the sales profession - starting at Membrain

    “Membrain is a mature company with a start-up vibe,” Nina says, when asked why she chose to come work for us. But, more fundamentally, what brought her to us?


    “The leadership - everyone is just very kind people.”

    That kindness is definitely something we like to see spread through our organization. We like to work with kind people, and we value kindness on our leadership and among our team members.

    While I haven’t talked about it as a sales characteristic before, I believe Nina is on to something. When we as salespeople and leaders practice real, true kindness, we build trust and relationships that elevate our profession and our performance.

    We seek to humanize the sales profession.

    I asked Nina to share with us some of the other elements of Membrain’s culture that she believes contribute to our success, elements that we hope to grow and spread as our company grows. Here are some of the things she listed:

    • Open doors
      Everyone from the CEO to the front line salespeople are open to discussion, questions, and collaboration.
    • Everyone is seen and heard
      As the leadership team, we know that many of our biggest insights come from the folks doing the work within our team, as well as among our many partners and contractors. We work very hard to ensure that everyone in the company has a voice and is listened to, both for their ideas, and for who they are as humans.
    • Fun
      We all have to do things we don’t like to do from time to time, but overall, we should all be enjoying ourselves most of the time. We all do our best work when we like what we’re doing and believe in it. We also offer five weeks of vacation and make three of them mandatory, because we recognize that life outside of work is important.
    • Learn and grow
      We offer educational stipends and we purchase books and other materials for anyone who wants to expand their knowledge and skills. And we have a "think big day" once a quarter, to unplug from daily routines and explore bigger frustrations and solutions.

    As Nina continues her work with us, we hope to uncover even more of our implicit culture, what’s working and what’s not working. We’re excited to have her aboard, helping us make our culture more intentional and supportive.

    I'm curious about your company - what are you doing to drive an intentional culture? How is that serving your people, your company, and your customers?

    George Brontén
    Published April 13, 2022
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn