Two Reasons the CEO Should Not Run Sales

  oeps

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?

Are Your Salespeople Selling In The “Domain of Losses?”…If so It’s Costing You

 

 

The economic climate has changed the buying process, and thus the sales process as I discuss in my blog: Are you Enabling your Sales Force or Emasculating them?. Buyers are taking longer to make purchases, they want better prices, extended terms, some of your competitors are making irrational price proposals just to pay their light bill, and there are now more people and they are often C-level executives the buyer’s company involvd in the buying process.

Having led sales and marketing teams for over 20 years, through good and bad times, some of your salespeople may be in a dangerous ( and costly) place…

The Domain of Losses.

 

We’ve either been their personally or witnessed the following.

You are in Las Vegas, or another gambling location and you (they) are wining. It feels like you can do no wrong; you are “lucky” tonight. Then something changes…the dealer at the blackjack table, new dice, a new ball for the roulette wheel and the next thing you know you are losing. Bet after bet you are loosing and very quickly you are no longer playing with the house money you won but now you are dipping into your own. What was fun and the time of your life has become something that makes you anxious and irritable. You know you should walk away and live to fight another day, but a strange little voice whispers to you; you will have to bet more to get back to where you were when you were wining. Most of us can resist this voice and walk away.

 

 

However there are those few who enter a dark, anxious and fearful place; The Domain of losses. In this zone studies show  people make unethical decisions when they are under goal. Their desire is to see those chips (commissions) grow rapidly again and they start making irrational long shot bets to get whole again. As the losses continue to increase the aggressive irrational strategies increase and the losses grow exponentially.

 If any of your salespeople are in this fearful and irrational place after missing quota for a number of months and having little if any personal commission contribution,…

 

you  must pull them away from the table. (Their market) or it could cost you for years.

 

 

 

What signs indicate a salesperson is in or may be in; The Domain of losses?

 

1. Every sale has a price concession

 

2. Customers pay their invoice short due to un-communicated “deals” your salesperson gave them to get the sale.

 

3. The salesperson’s Accounts Receivable exceeds other regions selling the same products by 10 days or more.

 

4. You notice an increase in expenses

 

5. They complain about product quality more than other sales representatives selling the same product in other regions.

 

6. They focus on features competitors have and your product lacks

 

7. When asked to create a plan to correct their performance you receive a strategy that is basically doubling down. Their entire year hangs on the thread of landing that new account they have been promising they would close for the last six months.

 

8. You lose key customers in their region who have been with your organization for years

 

9. As an individual they are living beyond their means

 

10. They act alone, no sense of teamwork or trust in other department competencies…” I’ll have to do it myself”

 

11. You receive complaints from your internal customer service and accounts receivables  about this person, their mistakes, and poor overall attitude with the rest of the team.

 

12 . You catch them lying to you about meetings they had with accounts

 

If you read the above and you have someone on your team with three or more of the above you need to help them push away from the table (market) as.. .

 

They are scrambling in fear, when they should be focusing on real opportunity.

 

As the leader you must recognize the warning signs early and take bold corrective action;

 

  • pull them away from the table

  • seek to understand their fear drivers ( income, job loss, loved one pressure)

  • help them rewrite the stories , thoughts that have become beliefs in their minds with tactics and outcomes their irrational thoughts could not see

  • if they do not change quickly…Fold (their membership on your team)

 

 

 

 

 

Having been a salesperson and managed salespeople for years,we are a rare breed. Ideally you want someone who understands their market, your product and the problem it solves for the buyer, and they have relationships built on trust with their key account buyers. The trouble is this requires skill, art and science. I prefer the Mavericks who break though the roadblocks to a sale than the Gelding’s waiting for direction on how to overcome the objections they are experiencing.

When the chips were flowing in regardless of what your team did, they did not need to be all that good.

Challenging economic environments will help you to quickly identify the sales leaders from the sales losers.

 

If you are the person in fear mode, doubling down to get caught up you first need to;

 

Recognize what you are doing , and that it never works

 

Connect to your fear driver

 

Challenge your fear driver(s) to see if they are true

 

If not true- you need to intentionally re-write the thoughts that become beliefs so you leave the domain of losses and your fears subside so your creative problem solving returns

 

If true ask for help

 

 

 

As CEO, has your VP of Sales said something like: “you are right, Bob’s numbers are way off and his expenses seem high, but he has always come through in the past” make both of them leave the table.

 

 

How about your team?

Do you have any team members in the domain of losses?

 

 

Could other departments also enter this zone? If so provide examples.

 

 

Has a key account complained recently about their bill being wrong?

 

 

Is your entire team in the Domain if losses?

 

 

Have you pulled team members away and helped them return after training to exceed expectations? …Tell us about it.

 

As the leader you must be constructively paranoid about your buyers, their buying process, sales, and sales team members.

If you see any of the indicators I discussed above do yourself a favor and pull them away from the table sooner than later. Your shareholders and key accounts will thank you, and when you change your salesperson’s perspective… they will thank you.

(Ok thanking you probably is a push…, they will perform and you will go home at night and be able to sleep)

Entrepreneur Best Practice; #5 Tailor Questions for your buyers that Illustrate your Expertise and Prepare you to Serve their Needs

steinmartlogo

When you are being served by a market leader you know it. When someone experienced in understanding the needs of their buyers, the overall buying experience is amazing. When buyers experience this kind of service they buy, and they become raving fans for referrals.

 

Market leaders understand the value of knowing their buyers needs, criteria, and how the very questions they ask illustrate your knowledge and expertise.

 

As I have shared in previous posts, I decided in March I needed to lose weight. Since March of 09 I have now lost 70 lbs. The good news is I have a tremendous amount of energy, I feel healthier and I no longer need my blood pressure medicine or my sleep apnea machine. The only bad news is I need a new wardrobe.

I was recently asked to be the keynote speaker for the Boomerz event and I wanted to buy a suit. All the suits I have are 52 jackets and I swim in them now. I could deliver my content casual, but I would prefer to be more formal. (There I go showing my old school nature again) My wife recommended I look at the local Stein Mart as they have designer suits at significantly discounted prices.

suit

I went to a local Stein Mart and started trying on jackets to determine my size today. I was quickly approached by Howard, the floor salesman and asked if he could be of assistance. He asked …” what size are you?” and I explained that I do not know. So he quickly measured me and said you are really a 43 long, but let’s try a 44 long. As I was trying on various suits, Richard (who also worked in the men’s clothing) approached and asked me a number of questions;

 

What size do you typically wear? I explained I do not know as I just lost weight…

What size were you before? A 52 jacket and a 42 pant…

So you have always bought athletic cut suits? …how did he know that?

Did you typically buy Heart Shafter Marx? (How did he know?)

 

Did you play football? Yes…again how did he …?

What occasions will you be wearing this suit? I explained I do public speaking and training workshops and consulting…

So you will be on your feet most of the time? Yes…

Oh, this is the wrong suit for you…and he disappeared, and I liked that one…

Within a few minutes he came back with two suits I had not seen prior … (Forgive me but I thought to myself …oh great he probably just found two of the most expensive suits off the rack, and like a car salesman wanting me to take a test drive he put the new jacket on so I would fall in love with it and find the money)

The suit looked great, but felt snug…

Richard said; the suit lays exactly as it should on you; this suit is cut better for men built like you… (He must have detected my concern about the snug fit)

I can tell you are not used to wearing clothes that fit… are you? Kind of a bold question from someone who wants my money…

 

He went on to say …You told us early on you have lost a lot of weight…it’s not unusual when we are overweight to not have clothing that fits properly…this is how a suit is supposed to fit. Wow, they were listening to me…

He asked me to look into the corner of the mirrors so I could see the back of the suit, and he said; see how nice this lays on you? And he taught me how a suit is supposed to fit.

He asked; when you speak do you button your coat? (I never thought about it)

He went on to tell me; Gentlemen never button the top button and he recommended when I first greet my audience I have the middle button buttoned and then unbutton it as I begin to speak…( is this guy for real? Or is it that I have never met someone before who knew so much about men’s clothing as Howard and Richard?)

I decided to buy the suit they recommended and have the suit tailored…

Again, a new series of questions from Howard and Richard (I’ll spare you but you get the idea)

Howard asked …so when do you need the suit? I explained I have time its a few weeks away…

He said; no… When you pick up your suit we want you to come back and we will check everything with the actual shoes you plan to be wearing…again, amazing….I felt like I was not only in experienced good hands, but I felt like I was the only customer in the store…

As I went in the dressing room I forced myself to peek at the price and to my surprise it was the same price as the suits I originally was looking at! …He paid attention to my price target…

When I came out of the dressing room Howard handed me a claim ticket and went on to explain the date it would be ready, where it would be located that day. Again both Howard and Richard reminded me to try the suit on, bring the right shoes and if for whatever reason it did not look right they would have time to fix it as …they wanted me to feel good when I walked to the front of the room. …again wow!

I thanked them and they asked what I teach. I explained how I teach leaders how to treat customers the way they both just treated me. It turns out they both had over 25 years of experience and Richard served clients for over 30 years on a commission only basis prior to joining Stein Mart.

Since that time I have told over a dozen of my friends about what a welcome interruption it was to receive such amazing service. I told everyone about the team of Howard and Richard and if you want to have an expert serve and fit you, you need to visit them at the store on Shea near the 101 freeway in Scottsdale.

When you are being served by a market leader, someone experienced in serving the needs of their buyers, the overall buying experience is amazing.

 

You can identify Market leaders by the questions they ask, and their bottom line.

 

Market leaders make you feel like your goal becomes their goal as well.

 

Market leaders not only want you happy, but they want to make you a raving fan.

 

How about your organization….

 

Are your salespeople trained as well as Howard and Richard?

 

Are you hiring “service people” or “salespeople”?

 

Is your team creating raving fans?

 

Do your clients feel like your team members are “internal champions” for their needs …or just trying to hit a goal and make their commission?

 

(In hind sight I now wish I had the guts to have the pants cut without a cuff as Richard adamantly recommended, but I chose cuffs …obviously showing my lack of knowledge in the current styles.)

 

Remember… buyer’s like to buy…they hate being sold.

 

Our job as salespeople today is to help buyers buy.

 

Guide buyers through their buying process and be their internal champion and not just “protect the fort” of company policies, rules and reinforce “we can’t do that’s

 

Thank you Howard and Richard!

 

I can only hope I make my clients feel as you both made me feel.

 

Mentor Moment #12: Dance with the Date who Brought you to the Dance

 

There are a number of ways to grow a business; sell current products to current customers, current product to new customers, new products to current customers and new products to new customers.

However far too often companies spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy is spent on new customers and not building relationships with current clients. You must insure you focus on serving current customers.

Current customers have given you their vote, their trust when they placed an order with you

. Market leaders understand the importance of including current client development programs in their growth objectives. Market losers forget who brought them to the dance, and give all their energy to chasing new dates …and often go home alone broke. Market losers are unaware of the interruptions for current clients and often turn customers into shoppers again.

How about your company….prom dance

 

Do you have current account growth plans in place?

 

Do you have a KPI for retaining and growing current customers?

 

Once you lose a current customer how hard and expensive is it to win their love again?

 

Are You a Sales “Stallion” or an “Order Taking Gelding” Headed For the Glue Factory?

 

When I wrote my post: Are you enabling your Sales Force or emasculating them? I discussed comments made by salespeople selling in today’s economic climate. In addition I shared other leader’s comments about their view of salespeople and my preference to hire sales Stallions over order taking geldings.

 

I had a couple of salespeople contact me concerned if they were sales Stallions or order taking geldings. So I decided to share some of the questions I asked them on the telephone in hopes it helps others determine where they fall. But before you answer these questions please understand that teams require all types of people with varying degrees of gifts and experience. If you are an order taker, then be the best order taker with the greatest accuracy to detail in your company…just do not call yourself a salesman nor expect to be paid like a sales stallion.

 

1. In the last 6 months have you identified a change in your buyer’s buying process that requires a new sales tool?

2. In the last 6 months, have you challenged a corporate norm that is self serving to your organization and not customer serving?

3. Would you describe your role as “fighting for your clients?”

4. In the last 3 months have you experienced conflict with key influencers in other departments in your organization in your efforts to better serve your clients?

5. Has an account thanked you for your quick follow up in the last month?

6. In the last 30 days have you taken a bold action to serve your client without seeking your manager’s permission?

7. Are you in the top 10% of performance to goal in your sales team?

8. Are your accounts in the top 20% of most profitable accounts for your organization?

9. In the past week have you presented your management clients needs for approval?

10. In the last 24 hours have you asked for a clients oder?

 

If you said “No” 2-3 times be careful as you are on the verge of becoming an order taking gelding.

 

If you said “No” 4-6 times, don’t look now but you have become an order taking gelding. If that is who you want to be, then be the best you can.

 

If you said “No” to 7 or more of the above questions not only have you become a order taking gelding, but you are headed for the glue factory if you do not change quickly.

 

Sales Stallions spend 2/3 of their time listening and understanding the needs of their clients. Stallions understand the needs of their clients and solve those needs with the products and or services they represent. They become internal champions who fight for the needs of their clients. Sales Stallions consistently produce profitable sales revenue. Sales stallions are experts in their client’s buying process. Sales stallions are in the top 10% of sales to quota performance.

How about your company….

 

How well does your organization embrace client needs?

 

Does your company welcome your fighting for the needs of your clients? Or do your actions politically hurt you?

 

Have you been told to “sell through your client’s objections” when you share your clients’ needs?

 

Are your companies ‘policies and procedures written to better serve your clients, or your own organization?

 

If you have challenged one of those; “how we do things around here” rules how was it received?

 

The role of salespeople today is to help guide clients to a sale. Salespeople must become internal advocates for their clients and help their buyers buy, versus selling them. If you are a stallion in line to become a gelding to survive in your organization, you need to ask yourself if you will be happy making that compromise for a company that is disconnected to the needs of its market.

It’s never too late to jump the fence before you get your… “Values”…. snipped.

“Our Competition Sucks Selling”, one of the signs of a Market Loser versus a Market Leader

 

One of the things that used to drive me nuts as a VP of Sales and Marketing was if one of my regional managers or a independent representatives used “Why or competition sucks” selling. You know the guy, he talks about the competition more than his own product. He shares “horror stories he heard from other customersimages thumb about your competitoin that may or may not be true.

This out-dated style never impressed me, and today with a sales enablement 2.0 environment, it actually creates an interruption. Interruptions  turn customers and possible customers into shoppers. The internet has given buyers the ability to see behind the black curtain of sales product information and they can conduct research without talking to a salesman. When your rep challenges a competitor, particularly when that competitor is a current vendor of that buyer, he is actually challenging the buyer. Do you want your sales rep saying “Hey, what are you an idiot or what for buying ______?” no, I didn’t think so.

The recently published Razor Fish report indicates what influences buyers; “Trust plays a key role in influencing a consumer’s interest in purchasing a product” Peer networks and influencers play a major role in the buying process today. So when your rep is selling against a particular vendor, he is not only challenging the buyer’s decision making, he is also “calling out” that buyer’s peer and influencer network who he went to before he made the purchase.

If you have rep(s) using the “why our competition sucks” method it must end. To turn these reps around use the following guidelines;

· Product knowledge– make sure your salesperson understands your product and more importantly the problems it solves for buyers as well as the process buyers use to buy your type of product

· Listening, as I wrote in warning….. Buyers share why they don’t buy, reps who do not listen was the #1 reason buyers do not buy, NOT PRICE

· Conversation distribution – they say there’s a reason the Lord gave us two ears and one mouth. If you are talking you are not listening. Monitor buyer meetings with particular focus on the amount of time your rep talks in relation to the buyer. A good rep will have no more than 30% of the conversation time

· Echo – when you learn customer pain, echo back what you heard. This does two things; first it tells the buyer you are not like the 90% of other reps calling on him as you are listening. Secondly, it will help clarify your understanding if the buyer corrects your echo of what you heard.

Besides, market leaders are focused on serving their market. They do not focus on what the competition is doing as much as solving customer problems. After all, if you focus on beating your competitor, you are limiting your success based on how good your competitor is. Companies who obsessively focus on competitors assume their competitors are smarter than they are. What if your competitor is also launching products that no one is buying? Following competitors often results in a “follow the leader death spiral” that becomes very difficult to pull out of.

Understand your buyers, their needs, and how they buy and you will quickly outpace your competition.

Let your competition spend time studying and criticizing you instead of listening to your buyers and understanding their needs.

Let your competitor salespeople keep using : “Our Competition Sucks Selling”, while your team listens and solves customer problems…..while breaking sales and profit records for your team.

Should you hire an Independent Sales Representative?…the right firm is a key partner, not a necessary evil

I recently answered a question on linked in with regards to working with independent sales representative firms (ISR) that is all too common. The Vice President who posted the question mentioned his frustration with independent sales representative firms. He went on to say “how do you hire good representatives as he has to change representatives often, and none seem to be opening new accounts and growing our companies’ market share?” I really do not have enough information at this point to answer his question.

I have hired independent representatives for over 15 years of my career. Good independent representatives are worth their weight in gold. The company that chooses to hire an independent sales force needs to understand the role of these professionals. The main role of independent reps is to use their current relationships, established through supplying complimentary product lines they represent, to get your product placed. They have built trust with buyers in their market, and their relationships with their accounts will ALWAYS be more important than your rep contract…and their relationship with you. Factories come and go, but the accounts in their market limited. Just as you may feel risk when you hire an independent representative firm, the firm actually has a greater risk. Each product line they represent is both an opportunity to become more important to their buyers and increase their income, as well as a risk. Should they agree to represent your products and your company fails to do what they say they would do, and or your product fails to meet your brand promise, the local sales representative not only loses potential commissions, but they run the risk of a break in trust. (Their most important asset they have with buyers)

If you are thinking of hiring independent sales representatives, I would ask you to answer the following questions…

So tell me…

· What market are you in?

· What problem does your product solve for that market?

· The representatives you choose, how did you choose them?

· Did you profile complimentary products that touched the same buyers, and then hired those representatives that had those lines?

· What is your commission structure in relation to the industry, other lines the representative carries?

· When you hired the independent representatives, where did you get their names?

· What % of the independent firms overall income do you represent in relation to the time required to sell your product?

· How well do you know the buying process for your products?

· Do you have sales tools you have developed to help the sales process match the stages of the buying process?

· Do you have written buyer personas?

· How does your competitor(s) sell? Direct, or with independent representatives?

· Did you hire them with base revenue in each market, or will they only “eat what they kill”?

· Do you have any “house” accounts in their market?… you know, the big guys you don’t pay independent representatives commissions for?

If independent sales representatives wanted to be “managed” they wouldn’t be “independent.” As a manufacturer, a “factory” your role is to provide products that solve unresolved market problems. Your job is to understand the market potential for your product and build obtainable goals from the market up. Unfortunately the majority of factories establish goals by extrapolation. (In other markets we have sold z units, and you have y number of those accounts, so your goal should be z times y…right? Wrong!

I am looking forward to hearing from those companies contemplating the hiring of independent sales representatives.

 

Please answer a few questions for me;

 

How did you establish the goals for their territory? Was the independent firm involved in the building of the territory goals?

Do you have written buyer personas?

Have you mapped the buying process?

Do you know the sales process for selling your products?

Have you identified sales tools for the steps each persona takes in the buying process?

 

If you answered “no” to any (all) of the above then your problem is not finding the right independent sales firm, it is what you lack, and it is how you have set your sales representatives up to fail. Independent sales representative have instant access to goal achieving accounts if equipped and set up to win. What independent sales representative are not…they are not magicians, nor are they your product management, development or marketing.

In my next post I will share how to find and hire independent representatives that add tremendous value quickly. I will discuss how hiring the right independent firm is the most cost effective investment you will make. I will discuss how even the biggest bean counting CFO will be thrilled with the ROI produced by independent sales representative firms.