How CEOs Lead Sales Teams in Growing Companies

A CEO leading their sales team in a meeting
Reading Time: 5 minutes

CEOs in growing companies are the people that have the vision, strategy and focus on driving a company forward. So it’s no wonder they often find themselves the leader of a small sales team in those early stages of growth. However, it’s different skills sets, and very few CEO’s make their way up to the top through the sales force.

While there’s no shame in this, it does mean that sometimes CEO’s just don’t understand the influence they have over their sales team. When CEOs lead sales teams, they bring many talents to the team members that assist salespeople in delivering growth.

CEO’s of growing companies often say that an important aspect of their leadership is creativity. As a CEO, you have to creatively solve problems, break through barriers and deal with other companies in your field. They consider all angles and view the business across finance, operations, communication, tactics, and product management.

Guiding salespeople on a day-to-day basis is the talent that will have the team thinking differently about their customers or potential customers and creating new approaches to the market. This directly impacts how they manage their sales process and improve sales results. Your contribution in this area will be invaluable in those early stages of growth.

CEOs need to ask themselves, ‘So have you got the right people on the team to support you?’ This article will walk a CEO through the key things to know about leading salespeople. 

Survey Your Team Members

To put it frankly, salespeople mean money to you. Their worth is determined by just how much they’re able to sell. As a CEO, you deal with products — your salespeople are your frontline to sell your products or services to customers.

However, if you want to properly lead a sales team, it’s time to get to know your team as individuals. A great way of doing this is through a sales force assessment. High performing teams are made of salespeople who are focused on their sales performance as much as you are on running the company.

A salesforce assessment is a great way to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each person on your team. You can assess who has the potential to be overachieving, who’s mediocre, and who will be underachieving. This is valuable information to ascertain at the start of a year and not 12 months later when it’s too late.

In the harsh environment of sales, the underachievers can be liquidated, the overachievers rewarded, and the people in the middle can study the work habits of the overachievers so that they can go from mediocre to great. 

It’s important to look at the competence levels of each person, not just their experience levels. For example, more experienced employees could be using dated techniques or just getting lazy and resting on their laurels. On the other hand, young salespeople could be providing unprecedented levels of energy and innovation into sales. 

Smart CEOs lead sales teams by separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s all about figuring out who is making you money and who is a liability. 

Strategise 

Knowing your sales force goes beyond just seeing how productive they are. It’s about seeing their individual strengths, weaknesses, communication styles, and behaviours.

If you know that a certain salesperson behaves better under certain circumstances, you can put that person into that position to better perform for you. If you know that a certain salesperson is bad under certain types of pressure, you can move them away.

Knowing the specific idiosyncrasies of your sales team will allow you to manoeuvre them like chess pieces, using certain people’s strengths to cover up other people’s weaknesses. 

You can also use this as an opportunity to make sure that the sales team are all on the same page about certain communication and sales tactics. If you coordinate this correctly, you should be able to create a sales force that works more efficiently than the sum of their parts. 

By providing personal, specific feedback to your employees, you’re showing that you know them and that you appreciate their strengths. This will encourage them to develop those strengths further and earn you more money. 

Measure Twice

The adage you can’t manage what you don’t measure is very pertinent in sales. CEOs lead sales teams like other areas of the business with intelligent dashboards. They are looking at the pipeline from a sales revenue perspective, the operational impact of what orders will need to be delivered, and the operational requirements and products. As CEO, you will emphasise pipeline reporting as you see both sides of the ledger of what insufficient or on-plan sales means and how that affects your profitability in operations.

CEOs should also measure the velocity of a pipeline. For example, is there consistent activity and sufficient activity that will ultimately become proposals and sales? In addition, there are other measures such as average closing ratios, order values, and time to close deals that will impact your company’s performance.

Don’t be in a rush to hire a sales manager

Many CEOs are uncomfortable or overloaded when the duties of sales leadership is on their desk. The hiring of a sales manager to delegate tasks to seems like a great idea at the time. However, many companies take a direct downturn when hiring a new manager.

For success, CEOs lead sales teams best when they hire a sales operations person. They are the administrative side of sales management. They assist in collating all the information for reporting and preparing reports. Thus, chasing up lazy salespeople for not following processes and importantly ensuring the highest uptake and quality of the information in the CRM.

They are the right-hand person for the CEO of a growing company.

Talk to Other CEO’S 

It’s no wonder why one of the best pieces of advice for a CEO is to make friends with other CEO’s. CEO’s understand the problems that other CEO’s face. A CEO friend will also understand that your life is all about business. They won’t take it personally if you use the friendship for advice; they’ll most likely ask you for business advice too. 

Talking to other CEO’s who have successfully managed a sales team will help you bypass some of the early errors they may have made. Mistakes are part of the process, and the only way to truly learn is by experience. Using someone else’s experience could be the final step to efficiency. 

Know Your Sales Force 

The bottom line is, all of the advice comes down to knowing your sales force. If you understand your sales force and their strengths and weaknesses, you have solid reporting; you’ll better be able to manage them. 

Most CEO’s don’t come from the world of sales, so it can be hard for them to understand the plight of salespeople. However, getting to know your sales team personally can help you strategise, provide guidance, measure performance, and know when to talk to other CEO’s. 

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About the Author: Adele Crane

A leader in Implementation Consulting.
2020 – Top 100 Magazine – Australian Business Professional. CEOs and Managing Directors have relied on Adele Crane to solve challenges with the performance of their sales and marketing since 1990. Her consulting experience in delivering results in 90-120 days is unprecedented by any other known sales and marketing consulting professional in the world. As an author of 3 acclaimed books, appearances on major media, and publications in USA, NZ and Australia, Adele’s experience brings fresh thinking and contemporary practices to business.