Two Reasons the CEO Should Not Run Sales

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The role of CEO is hard enough, particularly in this shifting and changing economy. Balancing all the spinning plates you face each day is difficult without trying to lead and manage a sales team.

The quickest way to insure a sales decline is have your sales team report to the CEO.

 

I have seen sales decline when CEO’s take on the role of driving the sales team for two common reasons;

CEO’s fail to provide the sales team a Value Proposition that resonates with buyers

 

CEO’s communication preference and style

 

One of the best parts of my job helping a variety of businesses that have what they call a “sales problems”. I have served a number of CEO’s over the years and as a group (for the most part) they understand their most important role is  the keeper of their brand promise and positioning .

To be effective as CEO you need to balance all those spinning plates while also focusing on those initiatives that result in the greatest impact on the business today and in the future. (not a job for the faint of heart) CEO’s are natural at problem solving and driving the execution of key performance indicators. They are process driven and have the tenacity of a pit bull once they lock into a vision.

Most CEO’s should never lead sales for two main reasons;

 

CEO’s fail to provide the sales team a value proposition that resonates with buyers

 

Salespeople require a market driven value proposition for the products and services they sell. This should explain the problems you solve for your buyers and not just what you do. It should help your sales team understand who they should target. To insure your value proposition resonates and continues to connect with buyers you must listen and observe the market on a continual basis. Focused CEO’s are flying at 45,000 feet above your market and often become frustrated when sales teams share new roadblocks to achieving their goals. What CEO’s want is sales velocity.

You can tell when your CEO is frustrated when he or she says;

 “ just make it happen”,

… or my favorite ” I don’t pay you to tell me problems, I pay you to sell through objections and hit your numbers…” .

 CEO’s have so many things already on their plates the last thing they need is to add more “to-do’s” to add to their never-ending list. Often buried deep in sales feedback you will find the need for new sales tools for ajusting the sales process based on a buying process that shifted.

A strong VP of Sales can work with salespeople and the CEO. The VP of sales understands the mission and objectives while also constantly assessing the market, buyer needs, buyer criteria, and equips the sales team with value propositions and sales tools.

 

 

CEO’s communication preference and personality style

 

CEO’s are focused on communicating in short bullet point bursts and salespeople speak in stories. ( can you see the train wreck about to happen?) Market leading salespeople incorporate what I teach that I call “story speak”. As opposed to speaking in feature and benefits, I teach salespeople to listen to the buyer problems and share how our product or service solves that problem in the form of a story. So we teach salespeople to speak in stories to communicate effectively, but we get frustrated when they can’t report results to us in bullet points?

I attended a sales conference once and the CEO brought me in to fix what he called  a repeatable sales process problem. He asked his team to individually meet with me to share the common roadblocks they face in achieving their numbers each month. ( so far so good)

But then he said something that still makes me cringe… 

And remember Mark is busy like me so…

Be brief…

 

Be brilliant….

 

Then Be Gone…

(When he got to this part three of the salespeople in the room also said “be gone”…they obviously have heard this before)

CEO’s often rise up through the accounting, technology, and finance channels and they are very process driven. They do not mange people, they develop and manage processes,systems, and or people to follow processes. If you follow DISC assessments, most CEO’s are high D, moderate to low S and low I and moderate to high C. Most salespeople have (very) high I, high D and low S and C. (Often very low C) So again, just based on how CEO’s and salespeople are naturally wired that light at the end of the tunnel is a train.

An experienced VP of sales is constantly listening for common market roadblocks shared among their sales team. They grew up through the sales ranks.Experienced sales leaders understand you need to lead each salesperson individually. A seasoned sales leader will observe and listen to changing buyer problems and processes to identify sales tools the team needs to help their teams continue conversations to a close. VP’s of sales earned long ago how to use their sales team’s natural styles and they provide back-end support for their shortfalls.

So how about your experience…..

 

Should sales report to the CEO? Why or why not?

 

Is there a benefit for CEO’s to have sales teams report to them?

 

What impact, if any, have you seen on the morale of the salespeople who report directly to the CEO?

Is your Market Strategy one of a “Hawk” or a “Dove”? …

 

Market leaders understand the importance of working their plan, and they do not focus on “crushing” the competition, but they do passionately serve their markets. (Doves) Market losers focus their energies on “beating”and “crushing” the completion and have little understanding of the problems of their buyers as their entire focus is on their competitor(s). (Hawks)

Doves strategically and passionately set out to solve their buyer’s problems. Hawks try to swoop in and destroy competitors who may or may not be perched with an understanding of buyers, their problems and buying criteria. (they are only as good as their competitors…who chances are do not understand their market) Ironically, Hawks actually believe their competitors must know the market or they would not be trying to “beat” them.

The trouble occurs when you chase the quest to destroy competitors you fly even closer to your competitor and farther away from understanding your market.

 

One of the benefits of working with a variety of business leaders is listening to their stories. Recently I met with an entrepreneur who shared how he learned one of the most valuable lessons in business strategy  long ago when he served the Marriott Corporation. He described their training and one of their sessions was called “Hawks and Doves”. In this exercise they broke off into small groups and were presented a business challenge. Predictably, everyone fell into the trap of wanting to attack and crush the competition as a Hawks. Admittedly there is a sense of machismo ego in being a Hawk after all. However the problem with being a Hawk is there are always Eagles who can swoop down ( out of seemly no where) and destroy you. Doves however are singularly focused; serving the needs of their market.

As Hawks, you rely ( focus) on your prey,… in a way you are counting on their smarts, their understanding of the market….a follower strategy.

This entrepreneur went on to share how when Marriott would have a location oversold they would have a network of other hotels they would send customers to. On the surface this may seem odd, right? However Marriott is and has been consistently one of the top hotel chains in the world. Their quality and service are consistently recognized as market leaders.

Market leaders serve their market.

Market losers focus on killing competitors.

When I wrote “are you a Pit Bull or a Poodle?” I shared the tenacity entrepreneurs must have . They have a  sence of ownership and not a victim out look. However I do not want to leave you with the impression that means attacking and chewing up your competition. Pit bulls have a fierce tenacity and jaw strength that insures when they clamp down on unresolved market problems and they do not let go.

 As Pit Bull entrepreneurs you clamp down on your commitment to solve your buyers’ problems with your product or solution, but do so with the market serving strategy of a Dove.

How about your organization…..

Is your focus that of a Hawk or a Dove?

How’s that working for you?

Does your mission statement sound like a Dove strategy but you work for a Hawk?

 At the end of the day, it’s about your team’s intentional focus. Are you focused on serving your market or destroying the competition?

Pick wisely…

Attention Entrepreneurs; You Can’t “Manage Fruit Ripe”

 

 

 

They say that which makes us strong can also be our biggest weakness. Entrepreneurs are no exception to this rule as our driven, confident, and focused nature can often inhibit new product success. Entrepreneurs often have such confidence in their personal abilities based on past success they take shortcuts in launching new products and when sales fail to meet plan they believe they can “manage fruit ripe.”

“When it comes to new product sales; you can not manage fruit ripe”

 

After my last post I had a number of people reach out to me saying: “ Ok we get it, we should do research prior to launch …but what should we do if we are in a launch that is not hitting plan?” As I have shared in past posts…I have made a number of mistakes over the years.I have kicked off new products and then had to figure out how to make it work; “make it happen ” on the fly.  So I thought I would do a follow-up post and share what I said to those who contacted me directly.

Entrepreneurs who launch on gut and not market truth often start trying to “manage fruit ripe”. They are so tied to their  plan their failure to achieve goals has to be a sales problem. Based on my experience, over 90% of new product sales falling short of plan are not the result of “poor sales execution” but the result of not having good current data  and or understanding of your market, and is actually a marketing problem. Without current accurate market data one if not all of your four P’s of markting are probably wrong. Entreprenuers are smart people. If given good information they make decisions that grow businesses profitably. If given old or wrong market data one or more of your four P’s will be wrong.

As the owner, leader,you are the boss… so if you want to try to manage the fruit (sales) of your new products ripe… go for it. I have seen many try ( heck, I have tried) and I have yet to see this approach correct new product sales below plan and create sales velocity. 

If you find yourself in a launch based on gut and old or poor data, what should you do?

 

  1. Assess what you have learned ( experienced) during launch so far
  2. Conduct win loss interviews
  3. Identify common roadblocks to sales and bust through them with new sales tools
  4. List what you still need to know and assign priority and timelines
  5. Adjust your strategy based on the current market data you gather
  6. Test new strategies before you scale them
  7. Repeat what works
  8. keep asking questions, determine why customers are buying and not buying
  9. Challenge your four P’s of Marketing ( at least one is off)

 

( or put another way; get the data to answer the four yes’s …as quick as possible)

 

 

So how about you…have you launched a product without having four yes’s first?

 

What did you experience ?

 

What corrective action did your team take?

 

Does it take longer to do research on the front end? Or fix roadblocks during launch?

Delivering Happiness; Proof …the “Golden Rule” is Profitable !

  

 Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Does your business (do you) solve your customers’ unresolved problems? Does your team’s culture promote serving your internal and external customers to ultimately deliver happiness in their lives? Or, are you like the 90% of businesses out their hunkered down, focused on your numbers…driving costs out of your business…achieving your objectives…striving to hit your bottom line?

Businesses who passionately deliver happiness through solving their customers’ unresolved problems grow rapidly and are significantly more profitable than those with an inward focus.

 

Market leaders passionately serve their market’s needs and experience greater shareholder value than those inwardly focused.

 

If you read my blog, you know I enjoy reading. Some time ago one of my mentors said “leaders are readers” and this gave me a ravenous appetite to read and learn. I just finished: Delivering Happiness ;A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony  Hsieh the founder of Zappos. The book is a quick read as it is written in a conversational tone that makes its overall message and stories connect. What I enjoyed most is you cannot argue with Zappos success having just recently been acquired by Amazon for $ 1 billion.

We know the “Golden Rule” is something we should all live by….” Do onto others as you would have others do onto you”, however many business leaders are afraid of weaving this into the very culture of their businesses due to fear. The first fear usually comes from the CFO types out there…are you crazy, do you know how much that will cost us? (they are quickly won over when sales and profits grow exponentially)

Then there’s the hard-driving, what DISC would say is a “Driven” personality types, who says…serve my market? I want to drive results through my market.” (they can be convinced)

Lastly we also have the old school (market loser) mentality that says; I win you loose and the delivery of goods and services is about their personal needs and is not in any way connected to their customer’s needs or problems. They look at each day as a competition to sell their product or service, to overcome the buyer’s objections, and create a need for their product in their market. (they rarely change their beliefs and are often removed due to poor overall team performance)

The first two examples, the concerned CFO and the Driven leader can be convinced, however the business leader who is out for his own personal goals …well he or she will take a great deal of convincing and may never see the light based on my experience. The sad reality is this last type often looses what they are working so hard to create since they are focused on the wrong self-serving outcome.

I enjoyed this book as it truly captures the thoughts and emotions involved in the minds of entrepreneurs in the start-up phase of the business. Tony shares those bleeding edge of decision moments that brought me back to a number of personal experiences I have experienced. If you have launched a business or even a new product to some degree, you may have experienced;

Will we have enough cash?

 

Will that promised big order come in?

 

I now know what we need to do but can we truly afford to do it?

 

Will that big receivable we have been waiting on arrive in time for us to make payroll?

 

Should I continue to personally invest in this business or cut bait?

Can we find the funding we need in time?

 

I particularly enjoyed Tony’s account of the roadblocks and the corresponding emotions we all face in launching anything new. In the past 26 years of launching new products, new businesses, I cannot recall one that we did not encounter unforeseen roadblocks. What we must quickly do is identify the issue with unfiltered data, focus on the solution, the objective we plan to achieve, and take action.

Businesses that face roadblocks like the proverbial deer in the headlights get run over.

 

What stands out most is how Zappos is a current example of a business that intentionally has woven the golden rule through their culture and their brand. Far too many organizations launch with an unintentional disconnect between what they say in their mission and value statements and what they actually do. This disconnect is felt internally as well as in their market and in both cases violates trust.

Establishing trust is the most critical foundation in building win-win relationships with your internal and external customers.

 

Zappos intentionally set out to create their culture and clearly defined their culture in terms of 10 core values;

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and a Little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and Determined
  10. Be humble

 

Tony goes on to say; “many companies have core values, but they don’t really commit to them. They usually sound more like something you’d read in a press release….We believe that it’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to.”

 

So how about your company….

 

Do you have core values? Can everyone on your team rattle them off…or just HR?

 

Are your core values intentionally woven into how you serve your market…or are there exceptions to the rule?

 

Have you intentionally set out to build trust with your internal and external customers?

 

Does your team authentically live the core values of your organization in all they do…or are their very actions breaking trust with your internal and external customers?

 

Do your team members have the freedom (and sense of safety) to boldly challenge practices not in align with your core values?….even if one of your senior leaders is violating them?

 

As I mentioned in a blog that discussed Delivering Happiness, this is not just a book…

 

Delivering Happiness is more than a business model …it’s a Movement

 

So I ask you again;

Is your business, (you), your team, delivering happiness to your internal and external customers?

What is the cost to your bottom line if one of your competitors intentionally sets out to serve their market when you continue your inward focus on your goals and your bottom line?

Do I need a Passion Statement for my business? Take the short quiz…

 

 

As I discussed in my post : Want to Jump Start Sales and Morale? Write a “Passion Statement” For Your Business…. A passion statement will jumpstart your sales and improves your team’s morale. Business leaders often spend a great deal of time on mission statements, their unique sales proposition as well as their stated team values. These are all needed , however nothing unties a team and inspires your buyers to buy like an authentic passion statement.

So how do you know if your organization needs a passion statement?

Please answer the below questions with the first answer that comes to your mind.

What I am looking for is your feeling more than an answer you spend time rationalizing.

  1. Do your customers perceive your product as a commodity?

  2. Has your overall gross profit as a % of sale decreased in the last 6 months?

  3. Do your team members work 9-5, no more, no less?

  4. When you work with salespeople in the field do you discover your key accounts are purchasing products from competitors because they were not aware you carried them?

  5. Has 50% or more of your sales team missed their goals over the last 6 months?

  6. Do your competitors always seem one step ahead of you with new products or services?

  7. When you launch new products, do they miss their ROI targets?

  8. When you review the performance of your last 3 new products would they be categorized as “evolutionary”? ( instead of revolutionary)

  9. Is you employee turnover greater than 20%?

  10. Have you lost one or more of your Key accounts in the last 6 months?

  11. Has your AR increase by 10 or more days to collect?

  12. Do your salespeople complain your products are significantly priced higher than competitors?

  13. Are salespeople listing features you must build into your product to make the next sale?

  14. Are you frustrated that your team does a good job of identifying roadblocks, but fails to develop plans to break through them?

  15. Have you ever said…” I am frustrated; I want my team members to act like owners and not just employees”.

  16. Have you lost a key employee over the past 3 months unexpectedly?

  17. Are you having difficulty identifying and recruiting new team members?

  18. Do your team members have more than 3 key performance indicators you evaluate them on each week?

  19. Is more than 3 hours of your week in meetings?

  20. Do you feel the need to create weekly objectives and activities for your subordinates, and “manage” them closely?

 

Here’s the deal….if you said “Yes” to more than 5 of the above you and your team need a quest, you need a passion statement to jumpstart your business.

If you answered “Yes” to 10 or more you are already on the slippery slope of becoming a Market Loser.( take corrective action now!)

 

How does your organization answer the above questions?

 

Based on your answers do you need a passion statement?

 

How do your clients describe your team and your products when you are not around?

Leads,… Tire-kickers…, and Prospects…Oh my!

 

 

Nothing can throw a monkey wrench into the alignment of sales and marketing efforts like the lack of common terms we use all the time like ; “leads” , “inquires” and “prospects” .

Nothing drives team members back to the safety of their silo’s of ;” I did my job” quicker than a lack of common language when it comes to what everyone refers to as “ leads”.

We also see frustration that results in tarnished relationships when the manufacturer / supplier lack a common lead language with his or her channel partners, dealers, and distributors.

So to set the record straight I want to share what I have always taught my sales and marketing teams that reported to me over the years as well as my clients’ teams.

 

 

Leads

 

Simply put a lead is someone who has raised their hand, and basically expressed the following;

  • I have a problem
  • I think your product or service can solve my problem
  • I have the ability to pay for your solution if it truly can solve my problem

 

A lead therefore is someone qualified to have a problem your product solves, they want the problem fixed, and they have the money to pay for it, or a way to pay for it.

 

 

Inquires (tire- kickers)

Inquires are people who have expressed an interest in your product. What we used to call “tire- kickers” back in the day. These are folks who walk by your booth like they were trick or treating and fill their show bag full of brochures. Or they surf the web in areas of interest and reach out (like a virtual trade show) and ask for brochures to be sent to them.

  • they may or may not have a problem your product or service solves
  • they are not sure if your product can help them , but they are interested in learning more
  • they may or may not know the cost of your product or service
  • they may or may not have the ability to pay for your product
  • they are curious and may be shopping for a solution or just information for themselves and or someone else

 

They basically walked by, surfed by… and said; “cool…tell me more”. They did not say; “great, I want one, where do I send the check?”

 

Prospects

 

Prospects are those folks out there in your market that your product or service could help. Some know they have a problem that needs a solution, and some may not. Some may not even see the condition (problem) you solve as a problem, but just one more thing they have to live with.

  • they may be aware they have a problem , or may not
  • they may know your company and have a perception regarding your products and services and the problems they solve, or they may not
  • they may have a perceived cost to fix their problems in mind, or they may not
  • they do not currently buy from you , and they may be buying alternative solutions

 

Prospects often represent over 70% of any market and are often great resources for market information and determining unresolved problems as they discuss in the book Tuned In.

As you can imagine many discussions end in frustration that begin with; “I sent you 122 leads last week and you have not closed any of them.” Really? Were they truly “leads”, or were they “tire kickers” or were they simply “prospects”?

The key is Market leaders must develop a common understanding, a common language to insure relationship within their teams grow. If you work with a manufacturer who sends you “leads” or you are the manufacturer who sends “leads “ to channel partners you must define what this term means and the corresponding expectation.

If you are a Market leader, and your sales are a science and not an art, you understand the buyer, buying process and can clearly communicate the expectations of leads and inquires.

If you work with (for) a market loser, every inquiry that “fogs a contact us form” is a lead and is a potential sale you failed to close.

Market losers spend more time trying to; “Hold people accountable” ….their salespeople, their dealers, their channel partners and so on when they should be spending that time gaining an understanding of your buyers.

If you do not like my definitions it does not hurt my feelings. What is key is to clearly state what the terms thrown around in meetings truly mean and get everyone on the same page. Once you have a common language, you can work on building a perceived expectation for each term.

A common language is critical to clearly articulate where a buyer is in the buying process. A common language insures you, your partners, suppliers, and your salespeople have the right tools in place to keep the conversation moving to the next phase of the buying process so you can eventually close.

How about your team…do you have clearly defined definitions of the words like; Leads, inquires, and prospects?

 

Do you and your suppliers, your distributors have a common language?

 

Do you have a Market Loser calling you wanting to know why you have not closed “leads” when in reality they were just “inquires”?

I would value you sharing how your team defines a lead, inquiry, and or prospect.

Is Sales an Art or a Science….it Depends on Your Marketing

 

 

Is Sales an “Art” or a “Science”?

 

There is no general answer that applies to all organizations as it depends…..it depends on your team’s demonstrated competency in marketing. (Believe it or not)

An “Art “implies creativity as well as varietability and” science“is about process, method and constantly assessing and experimenting with process, and managing  the process.

A number of clients over the years have stated their needs as; “I need you to create a repeatable sales process for our team”. However, in most cases they lacked a clear understanding of their market, buyers, buyer needs, probelms, and the buying process. They wanted me to study their “sales super star” and replicate them throughout their team. However sales processes built from the inside out produce marginal sales increases and often increase the gap between your team’s “sales speak” and “the buying process”. What you need to do  is create Sales Velocity.

So what sould  teams desiring  to be market leaders to do?

I was asked to speak at a conference recently for business owners and their senior teams. Prior to my presentation, I reached out to the organization’s members and asked;

“In the areas of marketing and sales what topic would you like me to discuss?”

I could have discussed a number of topics, but I wanted to provide their members the maximum return based on their needs.  I was interested to see if the recent and current economic environment in any way changed what I typically here when I ask this question.

The responses varied from;

How do we get our salespeople to sell new products?

 

How do we motivate our salespeople to focus on opening new accounts?

 

What is the best way to measure the ROI of marketing?

 

How do we align sales and marketing to reduce waste and increase productivity?

 

What is the best marketing vehicle to drive sales now? Quickly?

What is my take on “social media” and it’s ROI?

 

How can I be assured my next investment in a new product launch meets goal ?

 

I felt I could speak for a week and not do justice to all the  questions independently,  so I grouped the responses into two buckets;

What is marketing and how can it impact sales in a way that produces the greatest overall return?

 

How do we create a repeatable sales process that works, has an immediate and long term impact?

 

I shared my findings with the event coordinator to insure the direction I was taking would serve his association and his goals. He shared that the two topics I chose were like thorns in the side of his membership as they keep bubbling to the top of discussions. So I asked questions to better understand past discussions and he shared two comments his owners and senior leaders shared in private;

“Our salespeople are just not working hard enough, I know times are tough, but for what I pay them they need to sell through those objections”

 

“I think a large % of our overall marketing spend is a waste, fluff, and does not provide the return any other expenditure would be required to produce.”

 

Interesting…..

So I decided to open this presentation with a question for the room;

Is Sales an Art or a science?

 

Before I share where this discussion went….

What do you think?

Is sales in your organization an Art or Science? Why?

 

If you could pick Art or Science, what would you prefer sales to be in your organization? Why?

 

I will share in my next post the results I observed and any feedback and comments on this post. I will also share the desired state and my answer to this question.