Sales responsibility starts at the top.

Ernest, CEO of a CRM company, had sales all figured out … or so he thought.

He’d implemented a “perfect” sales process, which he explained to me in detail. He even drew a chart with circles and arrows for each step. Ernest recognized he had a problem: He lacked a plan for consistent follow-up with current clients. However, he was too focused on building out the bells and whistles on his software to worry about follow-up. (Pretty typical for CEOs in sales.)

After he finished outlining his sales process, he sat back and said: “That’s perfect. There’s nothing missing.” At that point I was convinced he shouldn’t be the CEO.

Many CEOs take a hands-off approach to sales. They turn responsibility over to sales managers and focus on  vision-setting, strategy and growth. After all, they’re responsible for the overall success of the company and making big decisions. But without sales, the company doesn’t grow and the vision doesn’t get achieved.

(Featured image: The Coach Space)

Gary Braun of Pivotal Advisors describes the role of CEOs in sales this way: “To drive sales as the CEO, you need to align with your sales leader and hold them accountable. Make sure you hire the right salespeople and effectively onboard them. Keep in mind you drive behavior and realize your words influence further than you think.”

The Problem with CEOs and Sales

Many CEOs don’t want anything to do with sales. Most of them didn’t start out in sales, so it can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Dave Kurlan provides some riveting examples of this phenomenon. He conducted interviews with 10 leaders. Here are a few examples of what they told him when he suggested they take responsibility for sales (followed by his feedback in italics):

#1 – “Thank you for your advice. I’m not comfortable with that.” Who says that YOU have to be comfortable? You have to do the right thing for your company!

#2 – “I’m not quite ready for that.  How about if we do that in six months?” A less honest version of #1 — at least be straight with me!

#3 – “Whatever you say.  You’re the expert.” This tends to work out a lot like #1. Yes, they agree with whatever I say but are no stronger with management than with me and can’t drive change.

#4 – “This is B*ll S*it. They’re just going to have to do what you say, right now, or they’re gone.” That’s the spirit, but it isn’t driving change. You can’t pound people with a sledgehammer to drive change, you have to inspire them to change.

#7 – “Great, can YOU deliver that message FOR me?” This is even worse than #5!

 #8 – “I’m not going to drive this. One of my senior managers will have to drive this.” OK, how many years are you willing to wait to find a genius who finds value in this AND isn’t threatened by it or me?

I can back Dave up on this. I’ve heard similar things from many CEOs, especially small business owners. They’re intimidated by sales, not knowledge about sales, or just plain disinterested in what happens behind that curtain. They don’t realize how much that laissez-faire attitude could be costing their companies.

My colleague, Alice Heiman, decided to change the current CEO and sales paradigm. She initiated the podcast: Sales Talk for CEOS. She covers many topics regarding CEOs and the sales process, including How to Be a Trailblazer in a New Market, The Vision for the Sales Team, What CEO’s Need to Know About Voice of the Customer Research, Owning Your Role as a Sales Leader, Solving Start Up Problems to name a few. For more on CEOs and sales, be sure to subscribe to her blog and read this: “Are You Listening?”

Which leads to the next question about CEOS and sales …

Should CEOs Lead Referral Programs?

If CEOs want predictable revenue, they can’t abdicate their responsibility for referral selling. They must model the referral process and drive referral sales as a strategic initiative that includes goals, metrics, and accountability for results. Yes, sales leaders are pivotal in this process, but the CEO needs to be involved—to demonstrate commitment to the referral program and to help bring in great referrals. After all, CEOs tend to be very well connected. That network could be invaluable to sales.

To get referrals at scale (and trust, they can be scaled), sales leaders must have a disciplined referral sales process in place, and their sales reps need skills-building and coaching to blow past their numbers, shorten the sales process, and convert prospects to clients well more than 50 percent of the time.

But if CEOs don’t hold sales leaders accountable for referral results, referral programs tend to fall by the wayside, along with all the revenue they could be bringing in.

How Ernest Realized What Was Missing

Remember when Ernest said there was nothing missing? Of course, there was something missing. Actually, more than one thing. The company has exceptional clients. But there was no referral program in place, so no one was asking their clients for referrals.

Except for Ernest. He told me about contacting a former client and asking for an introduction to exactly the person he wanted to meet at a specific financial institution. His colleague made the introduction, and the prospect became a client in practically no time. Ernest bragged about how quickly the sale was made, the instant credibility he had, and the absence of competition.

Ernest understood that asking for referrals is the way to build a cadre of great clients, but he didn’t have a clue why his reps weren’t asking. He had what I call “point and tell” syndrome.

You can’t just tell your sales reps to go get referrals. Asking for referrals is a behavior shift. It’s a skill that must be built, practiced, measured, reinforced, and coached.  It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

Ernest knew this. He even admitted it to me. But he failed to make sure his sales team knew it, too, or that they were taking steps to nurture those important relationships.

Don’t let your sales team make the same mistake. The worst thing salespeople can do is waste a perfectly good relationship—a golden referral opportunity.

Grab this opportunity to assess your team’s referral prowess. Take the Referral Selling I.Q. Quiz to find out. It’s 14 “Yes/No” questions and completely anonymous. It takes just a few minutes to complete, and you can see the cumulative responses immediately. Email if you would like a dedicated quiz for your sales team.

(Featured image attribution: fauxels)