CEO Views on Sales


CEO Views on Sales

According to a recent study by SpencerStuart, the most common path executives take before becoming CEO is Operations.  Finance was second.  Sales and Marketing are the third and fourth most common roles, but there's significant gap between these "customer facing" functions and the "back room" functions that lead the way.

What impact does your historical role have on how you view the sales organization?  Understanding and being aware of the biases your past may create is the first step to building a better relationship with your Vice President of Sales – the kind of relationship that will help you deliver the revenue results your investors expect!

1.  Operations Background – View of Sales

  • Focus on sales as a “process” – you love the sales process flow chart your VP of Sales created showing each potential decision point and feedback loop
  • Tools and Infrastructure – since you view sales as “a process that can be optimized” you are willing to invest in CRM tools, databases, pipeline reports and other things that improve your sales infrastructure
  • Systems View – while you like your VP of Sales, you tend to view individual sales people as “parts in a larger system” that can easily be replaced or upgraded (as a result you may have more sales hiring mistakes than most of your peers)

  2.  Finance Background – View of Sales

  • Focus on “cost of sales” – you tend to focus on reducing the “cost of goods sold” line on your monthly profit and loss statement more than your peers do
  • Profits come next – in addition to reducing COGS, you also tend to focus on increasing profit margins and ask your VP of Sales to drive the team toward selling higher-margin products or services
  • Sales People and Recruiting are an expense – you tend to view sales people and the constant need to replace them as an expense to be managed rather than an investment to maximize.  You will disagree with this at first.  Remember that next time you are upset when signing the commission checks some people on your sales team earn

  3.  Marketing Background – View of Sales

  • Build It & They’ll Buy It – you tend to be pretty feature/benefit oriented and have a fundamental belief that if your product team builds the right stuff all your sales people need to do is collect orders
  • Value Proposition – from your perspective, it’s all about defining and communicating the right value proposition.  If sales are down your first instinct is to work on this rather than develop your sales people or improve sales management
  • Killer Demo/Presentation – your sales people are more familiar with PowerPoint than Excel.  With your natural bias toward building stronger and stronger value propositions, your VP of sales has mastered the subtle art of rearranging bullet points and graphics

 4.   Sales Background – View of Sales

  • Fear & Loathing – because you have such a detailed understanding of the challenges facing your sales team, you fear losing control and have to resist the urge to put on your “VP of Sales” cavalry hat and ride to their rescue
  • Will Spend Money – in our experience, CEOs with a sales background tend to approve more generous compensation plans and will spend more on technology and perks for the sales team (the results their teams produce rarely correlate)
  • Potential Blind Spot – a strength overextended can become your greatest weakness.  Because you have such a detailed understanding of sales and the sales process, you tend to wait too long before asking for help

Are these observations a little harsh and too simplistic?  Yes, that’s probably fair criticism.  Then again, there are elements of truth in each of these observations and the first step to improving yourself is to recognize and acknowledge your potential shortcomings.  The question you need to ask is do you want to talk with someone who will “tell you like it is” rather than a sycophant who just tells you what you want to hear?