CEO Actions that Drive Sales Growth

By Vistage member Michael Braun, CEO Pivotal Advisors

CEO beliefs and behaviors either contribute to sales or work against them. Are you helping your sales team succeed or are you hindering their improvement?

Ineffective sales growth strategies
When CEOs tell me they need to increase sales, the first question I ask is: “What are you doing about sales now?” Responses range from interesting to shocking. Here are some typical comments:

  • “We’re going to just ride it out. When the economy comes back we’ll get our share.”
  • “I’m not happy about it, but it’s up to our sales leader. If he doesn’t get it going soon I’ll have to replace him.”
  • “We’re trimming our sales staff. If we can’t sell enough at least we’re going to spend a little less. And, we can weed out the lower performers.”
  • “We brought the sales team in for a three-day training workshop to improve their skills.”
  • “We invested in a CRM system so we can see what they are working on and get more accurate forecasts.”
  • “We’re cutting our prices so at least we can generate some volume.”
  • “I’m personally getting a lot more involved in deals to make sure we win.”

These responses usually foretell that the strategy employed is not working well. If you’ve been using one of these strategies to little effect, you might consider becoming more personally involved in your organization’s sales.

Sales involvement quiz
To gauge your current level of involvement, try answering these 10 questions. Answer each with a YES, SOMEWHAT or NO.

1. Do you foster a culture (policies, recognition, stories) that enables the entire company to support the sales team?
2. Have you invested enough in your sales team to give them a competitive advantage?
3. Have you worked with your sales team to understand the critical steps your customers take in evaluating your products and services? Have you documented the best approaches for all to use?
4. Have you determined your most probable customer or growth segment and communicated it to the entire organization?
5. Have you encouraged your sales leaders to understand what behaviors and activities lead to sales and then supported the development the team needs?
6. Do you understand a sales leader’s job is to develop a team of sellers, and do you devote part of their pay to making it happen?
7. Do you continually invest in your sales leaders to be sure they have the best education, tools, and practices to drive continual improvement?
8. Do you routinely make sales accomplishments visible to the entire organization, recognizing sellers and those that support sales?
9. Do you believe that sales is a process that can be taught versus a skill that’s inherent in certain people?
10. Do you look at sales as an investment in the business verses a cost to be managed?

If the majority of your answers were YES, you are most likely helping your team succeed.

If the majority of your answers were SOMEWHAT, you are doing some things right, but you need to take a closer look at ways you can improve.

If the majority of your answers were NO, here’s an opportunity to make changes that can make a big impact toward improving your sales.

CEO actions that lead to results
To drive sales growth and become more involved in helping your sales team succeed, try taking these actions:

  • Publish a growth strategy. Explain to everyone outside of the sales department exactly what type of client you want to work with, then show them how to get those leads to sales people. Follow-up with a routine communication that shows how their efforts are driving sales. You’d be surprised how many employees are connected to people who could become customers.
  • Invest in your sales leaders. Sales is a discipline like any other function in the organization, and it’s driven by the boss. Salespeople do best with a clear set of expectations regarding what they’re supposed to do, how they should behave, how frequently and what results they should be getting. Most managers learned their job from their former manager who never learned to do it well. Be clear their job is not to sell, but rather develop a team of people that can sell your products and services. Then, provide them the education and support they need to do it well.
  • Create a step-by-step method for engaging your customers. Create a methodology that clearly outlines what activities help your prospects make effective decisions. Document which steps, tools, and resources advance the sale, and reinforce them over time. If you want the new approach to stick, think of it as the beginning of several months of teaching or re-teaching skills to resistant adults. It takes time and it’s up to the manager to teach and coach until a new habit is formed.
  • Stop making your manager the score keeper. Managers often spend 50 percent of their time forecasting, sitting in meetings to communicate the latest projection, working with the CRM team on the latest upgrade, or helping marketing with what signage to use for the next trade show. Studies show that when managers spend time in the field coaching their reps, sales go up significantly. Reduce their administrative time wherever you can and help them focus where they’re needed most, teaching their team to be better.
  • Take pride in your sales team. The best salespeople want to work for companies that believe in, invest in, and continually develop their sales skills. If you’re not doing this, they know it and it shows up when they talk to your customers. You can show your pride by offering learning events for the sales team and sending announcements to the entire company recognizing key sales wins.

The exciting part is that this is all within your control and it works. And, it works in every economy. Your customers are always looking for the best value. Sales teams that help their customers make good business decisions by understanding their needs, concerns, and risks, will always have a competitive advantage.

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