When I graduated from college, I was hired by IBM, immersed myself in the firm’s intensive year-and-a-half-long corporate training and promptly became enmeshed in the world of sales. As a passionate competitor, willing to dive in without fear, I quickly produced results. After three successful years selling at IBM, I was recruited as sales manager at Digital Equipment Corporation, which grew to be the second-largest computer company in the world. Those early years helped establish my sales philosophy.
Now, I like to say that every CEO should have a long suit, a trump card, and mine has always been that I have a track record as a successful general manager, but I am also a very capable sales professional. There are many types of CEOs but, for a company emerging from the growth stage, the best type of CEO is one who will get involved to ensure rapid growth. For me, I realized that you must first fix the revenue side of your P&L in order to take the pressure off and give yourself time to solve the issues that fall below that top line.
So, one of the first tasks when taking over a company is to quickly evaluate the inherited sales organization. By nature, I am a selling CEO, and I get very involved in the sales process. I typically work directly with the vice president of sales and establish a common ground on the idea that everyone in the company sells. If the vice president is not accustomed to team selling and working with a CEO that is extremely invested, then the “old way” of selling is not going to work.
Simply put, if a company is growing at 20%, I want it to grow at 50%. If it’s at 50%, I want it to accelerate. The only way you do that is by getting on the ground and making it happen. I initiate that process by meeting with each sales person every Monday. Using SalesForce, we study every single opportunity. I don’t utilize the “managing by threat” type of meeting. Instead, we openly discuss, “How do we strategize and plan for success with each of the opportunities?” We cover topics such as how to get the best proposal in front of the customer that gives them the highest value, what else can we do to win each opportunity and who else in the company can get involved in the process? We bring all of the company’s resources to the sales effort to improve our odds of winning.
It is my belief that we are all responsible for growing the business, serving the customers, and continuing to build and close the pipeline. When you have a CEO and other members of the C-suite personally involved, the customer instantly sees your dedication to them. You meet directly with the customer, you make commitments and you learn how to exceed the expectations of each individual customer. More importantly, you stay grounded in how you can better serve your market.
At every step in my journey, before moving to my next opportunity, I take the time to think about what I could have done better. Universally, every time, the No. 1 conclusion is that I could have spent more time in front of the customers. More face time — although I do a lot, there is simply never enough. It’s not just the initial sales process, either. It’s follow up, continuing to meet and really know your customers, staying in touch with their needs and how you can better serve them. So take that to heart — there is confidence and appreciation in letting your customers know just how much you, as the leader of the organization, care about them.
You may have noticed I didn’t discuss how I like to structure the sales teams. Ultimately, depending on industry, market and team dynamic, it is organized differently every time, but there are common methods I like. That, however, is a topic for another post. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go spend some time in front of our customers.
Other parts in this series:
Leverage the Past, Build the Future
All Hands on Deck: Connection and Recognition in the Growing Enterprise
Customer Service: The Goal of Near-Perfection and Opportunities for Growth
Getting Better Quicker
Motivation and Growth
Organizational Quality and Industrial Strength
The Most Beneficial Event in the Calendar
Management by Corporate Beliefs
Nurturing Work-Life Balance
Strategic Imperatives: Repeatable Success
Strategic Imperatives: Theory and Action
The Value and Motivation of Customer Surveys
Proactivity and the Slow Bleed
Entrepreneur v. the Implementer