It’s more important now than ever that CEOs lead sales. Yes, you heard me correctly, and I hear you saying, “Whaaat? Are you kidding me? I’m the CEO. I have to be strategic and run the entire company. I have a sales leader in place to lead sales.”
If you are of the mindset that sales is about sellers, your sales leaders should be leading that effort, but even then, you have a role to play in sales. And the first part of that is changing the mindset that sales is about sellers when today, more than ever, sales is about the way the customer wants to buy.
The CEO’s Role in Sales
The CEO always has a role in sales, which changes as the company matures. For example, as a founder, you may be the sales strategist and the first seller who does all the sales and lead generation activity at the beginning. When your company is 20 years old, your role as strategist remains, and you are now the evangelist and the chief customer officer. You get involved with very high-level complex deals, and your sales team positions you with influential leaders to develop relationships with customers and prospects.
But the most important way CEOs lead sales is by being the orchestrator. The buyer has become digital and no longer is their first interaction with a salesperson. Their journey is quite different. They most likely find your company through word of mouth and Google first. Your company is one of many that their buying committee is researching. They are looking at your website, social media, and internet presence. They are looking for content to read, watch and listen to learn what they need to know. They are omnichannel buyers, which Jennifer Stanley and her teammates explain so well in this article, The New B2B Growth Equation.
Because they no longer need to talk to a salesperson (nor in many cases do they want to, according to Gartner), your company must be prepared to meet them where they are. That means that many departments must work together to provide the customer with the experience desired. The salespeople become only one channel to the buyer, not THE channel.
For example, since the buyer wants to read, watch, and listen at any time of the day or night, it becomes imperative that you have a great content strategy that is up to marketing, not sales.
The CEO as an Orchestrator
CEOs lead sales because they are the only person who can insist on collaboration between sales, marketing, customer success, and operations. Therefore, as CEO, you need to understand the customer journey and what it will take to align your organization.
What Top CEOs Are Saying
Great CEOs lead sales. But don’t take it from me. Here’s what some of the top CEOs I know have to say about their role in leading sales.
Bronwyn Allen, President & CEO of High Profile, Inc.
As the High-Profile leader, my responsibility is to make sure that I have the right team in place with the commitment to provide OLA (one level above) service to create the customer experience that we desire. If we have the right people on our team, striving each day to embrace our company values, then our customers will want to tell others about their High-Profile experience and help spread the word! At High Profile, we aim to have Marketing, Operations, Finance, and Sales all interacting with the one mission to change lives by the work we do. The ultimate compliment is when engaged customers become partners and choose to share their feedback with us through referrals, joint venture opportunities, and online reviews.
Kate Bradley Chernis, Co-Founder & CEO of Lately
Can we say fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants? Because that’s pretty honest! In my world, we’re always building the ship as we fly it, which means our sales process is constantly iterating. Recently, we flipped to self-service – talk about turning your universe on its head! As our sales leader, the most important thing I can do is listen to feedback and then look for patterns. I’m constantly looking for patterns. Patterns of success, patterns of failure. What to double down on, what to fix. Remember: sales isn’t just about closing. It’s the entire process, top of funnel all the way through great user experience. So, you need to look for patterns throughout. This type of holistic view is what turns customers into evangelists. And that’s the real win.
Mario M. Martinez Jr, CEO, Founder, and Modern Sales Evangelist of Vengreso
Selling is not just for the sales team. As the CEO of Vengreso, I still have a huge role in sales. Whether I am training new sales reps, helping to shape the sales strategy for the quarter/year, generating and/or facilitating client calls – I am immersed in the sales process of my organization. CEOs of any size company must have a sales mindset at all times because sales is the art of helping. If you want to build a solid sales culture, you must lead from the front and help! When senior leaders can embrace this perspective, then sales teams won’t feel siloed and, instead, can feel supported in their efforts.
Kris Rudeegraap, CEO of Sendoso
There are three important areas I focus on to lead sales as a CEO. The first is community; I’ve built a community of advisors and investors that helps with networking and warm referrals. The second is customer-centricity; I am always meeting with customers, which helps with executive buy-in. The third is thought leadership; I spend a lot of time on podcasts, traveling to field events, speaking on panels. All of this helps with awareness, thus leading to more sales.
Elay Cohen, CEO & Co-Founder of SalesHood
Great CEOs create high trust, high accountability, and radically transparent cultures. This creates a relationship where sales teams know when and how to strategically use their CEO to progress and win more deals. Additionally, effective CEOs trust the sales process, forecast, and team enough to be hands-off of their day-to-day activities while ensuring their teams are accountable for performance.
Jamie Crosbie, Founder and CEO of ProActivate
As a sales-centric CEO, I believe it is critical to create and model a replicable sales process. I lead by creating a culture of excellence and high-performance expectations with the processes and development to support it. First and foremost, I believe you have to have the right people on the team to be able to lead the team in the right direction!
Pouyan Salehi, CEO and Co-founder of Scratchpad
The CEO’s role in sales is always important and evolves with the stages of the company. At the founding and early stages, the Founder/CEO is often the first SDR, AE, CSM, and SE. As product-market fit starts to strengthen professional salespeople can start delivering more than what the generalist Founder/CEO could build on the early foundation developed. The CEO’s role now evolves to ensuring the salespeople and sales function is as successful as they can possibly be. This means influencing the sales culture from hiring the right sales leaders to highlighting the wins to celebrate and the losses to learn from. Sales is about the holistic experience created. The customer and the CEO can set the values, uphold the behaviors, and allocate the resources required to ensure that the entire company is aligned on creating value and delight for customers.
Jon Ferrara, Founder & CEO of Nimble
Modern CEOs need to understand Digital Buyer Journeys and enable the whole company to collaborate as a team to optimize that journey with the goal of delighting customers so that when they need your products and services, they not only pick up the phone and call you but that they drag their friends with them!
As CEO, I make sure we are not out there talking about ourselves. Today customers are tired of being “sold,” and they don’t want to hear companies talk about how great their products and services are. Stop talking about how great you are and start talking about how you can make your customers great!
That’s why modern CEOs need to completely understand their customers’ journeys. A modern CEO is aware that their company needs to engage a constituency well beyond prospects and customers by sales and marketing. The constituency around a company could include editors, analysts, bloggers, influencers, third-party developers, channel partners, business partners, and more.
People don’t buy great products; they buy better versions of themselves.
As you can read from these quotes, great CEOs lead sales in a variety of ways! I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing all of these CEOs, and I hope you will listen to our conversations at www.salestalkforceos.biz or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.