In a recent episode of our podcast, FitzMartin CEO Sean Doyle sat down with Luke Allen, the CEO of OHD, an international manufacturer and distributor of medical device instrumentation. In their conversation, they talk at some length about building a powerful, innovative sales culture. Luke makes the point that your culture actually helps bring in the kind of people who make the culture strong, in a kind of self-fulfilling cycle.

Sean Doyle:

Hello, welcome to this episode of Aligned, the podcast for executives of emerging middle-market companies. Today, we have a special guest, Luke Allen from OHD.

Luke Allen:

Thank you, Sean. Excited to be here.

Sean Doyle:

Glad to have you back. We had a good conversation last time and after that and a little bit of a boomer/millennial dialog. And yes, I’m the boomer. I get it. Yeah, that hasn’t changed. You’re getting closer to me. No, I guess you can’t. You’ll always be chasing me. Always.

Luke and I had a conversation that I thought was important. And I think every executive of any organization has to be thinking about culture, but specifically sales culture. So, all presidents, CEOs, leaders have some sense of culture. And I’m beginning to feel there’s a dialog about culture in the workplace environment and coaching and consulting because it’s being recognized as a lever to pull as an important part, that’s not necessarily…it feels soft, right? It’s not a structural thing like accounting.

Luke Allen:

One example of what you’re talking about is when you go and try to Google definitions of sales culture, company culture, it’s very hard to find what those are. For instance, Forbes struggles to even define it in their entire article around culture, they actually never even give you a definition. So how do you define it, if Forbes can’t even give you a definition? So I think that’s what people can struggle with.

Sean Doyle:

So, look, I’m no Forbes, but I would guess that a sales culture has to do with everything from the attitudes of the people, the environment around objectives, the way you structure things like meetings and reporting. Do you have a call sheet? Do you not have a call sheet? Is it loosey-goosey or is it very systematic?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, I think that’s that’s probably a good definition of it, especially from a boomer generation answer as well. So, the other side of culture would be everything from employee attachment or retainment or how the employees are feeling about their job or development of those employees. So there’s also those softer sides of culture, too, that are hard to measure. And I think that some CEOs and presidents have a lot of questions around or even do they believe in those things? Do they really drive revenue? Do they really drive profitability? Some people would say, I don’t really know if I really buy into that fully.

Sean Doyle:

Do you? You’re a CEO.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, I do. 100 percent. Yeah. We’ve seen major return on investment for strategic onboarding programs, development programs. We’ve seen retainment of our talent through those specific strategies. And I firmly believe that that does drive business growth and revenue. So I think you have to have those strategies put in place to compete in today’s world for sure, because the awareness of what other companies are doing is extremely easy for employees to find, know, talk about even more easily than it was just a few years ago.

Sean Doyle:

Do you mean things like Glassdoor, those kinds of salary/comp kind of models?

Luke Allen:

Sure, Glassdoor is a good example, but even just the way that people talk about the companies they work for or, you know: “Hey, I just got hired at this company,”  “How was your first day?” A number of years ago, that really wasn’t as talked about as it is today and what the processes people go through when onboarding, and giving them a vision of where their future is within a company. That’s very much a topic of discussion for people as they move into new jobs.

Sean Doyle:

Interesting. If I hear you right, I would think things like social media are part of what you’re talking about.

Luke Allen:

Yeah.

Sean Doyle:

When people ask me questions about marketing and they’re asking how should I leverage social media, my typical answer is that it might have a five percent impact on sales, but it probably has a 90 percent impact on culture. Because it’s a way to see: are these people I want to work with? Do they look like me? Are they passionate about the things I’m passionate about? Am I correct in understanding that?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, I think your read is exactly right. So, every business is different. So if you have a product that appeals to people, social media might be what you market through more. But for a company like we are — we’re a medical device instrumentation business — we don’t really get a lot of revenue generation through social media. But what we do leverage social media for is for current employee retainment and attraction of top talent, because it’s not just that you’re a cool place to work and people can make money working there, but when they see that you develop employees, that you have paths forward for development, that they see friends that work at your company, that are talented and growing and developing. That’s a different type of marketing for your business that is free. But it also drives key people to you, rather than having to go to Monster and post a resumé, you already have identified top talent that wants to come work for you. That’s a different, that’s a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach. And you’re in much better control of who you’re bringing into your organization and that sets you up to win.

Sean Doyle:

So if you’re a CEO, I know you’ve said in the past that every CEO is wanting to improve their sales force, yet more ROI out of it. But often they don’t know how to approach that problem. You have three categories. Tell us about those.

Luke Allen:

So the three categories that we really focus on from a sales side, marketing side even, are attracting top talent. So one of the questions that I hear from a lot of people that are in our mutual seat, Sean, are: “I’m struggling right now, and how in this changing area of business, how do I attract top talent?” Then the next question becomes, “How do I develop and onboard that talent in today’s world?” And then the third one, which again, you could argue which one’s more important and maybe we’ll do that in a future episode. But the third one is, “How do I retain that top talent?”. 

Because I think another business struggle that people have in today’s world is I get good people in, we spend a ton of money onboarding them and doing all these things. And we develop them and I train them in our industry and then they’re gone in a year. And that’s a very millennial push that people have right now with millennials is they’re not loyal. They jump around, you know, they’re here for six months and then they jump somewhere else for a few extra dollars or whatever the output is. So then the question for people in our seat is how do you fix that? How do you retain top talent once you get them in? So those are really our three pillars to develop a culture and build it.

Sean Doyle:

So we’re at the end, arguably, of a 11-year bull run in the markets. A lot of uncertainty in the markets today, a lot of dialog, whether it’s healthcare related or financial related about what’s next. And even regulatory, things like flights being shut down. So how do you conduct business in a lot of challenges today? So this advice that I want you to offer the executives who are listening is not specific to any of those specific issues that we’re facing, but they are broader. And it’s something that should be these pieces of advice that we’re seeking from you should be applicable across good markets, down markets.

 And I want to start that dialog with a question. Every company has a performer. Everybody listening right now can name that person on their salesforce who just crushes it. You were that guy at OHD before you were the president.

Luke Allen:

Hopefully, I was that guy.

Sean Doyle:

So that’s great. Everybody wants those, but those are maybe somewhat unicorns. Or do you think you can be developed and trained up into that?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And my background, too, is in sports. And another way to phrase that question is: can you take an average player and make them into a good player or good player to a great player? And there’s a lot of debate there. I think you’re right, “A” players are going to be more unicorn type people than “B”‘s. I do think you can develop B’s if you’ve done a good job of getting the right people in and you can get those people to a higher level. And I also think that the more A’s that you have on your team actually drives the B’s to either leave or to get better towards an A.  So I think you can do that.

Sean Doyle:

What about “C”‘s?

Luke Allen:

Yeah, I think C’s from from my perspective, C’s are probably people that your culture should drive out. And again, depending on the size of your organization, for us, we’re not a huge business. We’re 30 to 40 people. My sales team, 10 to 15 people. We really don’t have room for C’s, you know. Now if you’re managing two thousand salespeople, that might be a little bit harder for you. But for us, we really try to identify B’s and A’s and push towards A’s because that’s the way you win. Right?

Sean Doyle:

I think the C’s present the challenges in most organizations and unless you’re having really clear conversations, upfront conversations and your culture supports driving those people out, then you do have the problems of firing people. But what I’m hearing is that a good culture will take care of it naturally. People will recognize: I don’t fit in here.

Luke Allen:

Yeah, well, I think the other thing is the first point of the pillars we talked about earlier of attracting the best talent. I think if you have a really good filter that you are very committed to. You can almost end that before it even begins. So if you’re filtering C’s out in the beginning, I’ll give you a couple of examples of strategy there would be: if you have A’s on your team, and they’re from different parts of your organization. If those people are involved with who you’re bringing into your organization and they’re serious about the qualifications you’re going to filter out C’s because normally A’s don’t want C’s coming into their team because they know what that looks like. You know, and Saban has a great quote. I don’t know if it’s attributed to him or somebody else, but, you know, “mediocre people don’t like overachievers and overachievers don’t like mediocre people”. That’s another way to say that A’s are going to run at a higher level. So if your culture drives that expectation, your hiring process drives that expectation. And again, that’s why to me, if you just post a job on Monster, you’re almost just gambling with what you’re doing versus proactively finding good talent. Having them on an attraction list, recruiting them, that gets you in a better spot to have more A’s.

Sean Doyle:

So for those of you who are not in the Southeast, U.S., Saban would be a reference to Coach Nick Saban. Yeah, the University of Alabama. But does anybody not know who Nick Saban is? Maybe you don’t care. I think you have to know that he’s a coach that has delivered outstanding performance year after year after year. Do you have to argue that it’s not just one thing? Right. So who doesn’t want, what leader of any business doesn’t want to have that level national performance, winning team.

Well, let’s do a series of conversations upcoming. And while we’re here in the studio, let’s just keep rolling. But let’s move into the next episode, this “attract” idea. How do we attract? Let’s break that down. And then we can follow up with developing that talent. Then finish in a third episode or fourth episode from here: retain. How do you retain these people?

I’d like to do that. Thank you, Luke.

Luke Allen:

Thanks, Sean.