7 Reasons Why CEOs Should Stay Out of the Sales Process

Monika D'Agostino

Sales is a process, especially in a consultative sales environment, and depending on the industry, your sales cycle could be multiple months long. CEOs in far too many cases step in to take control or manage the sales process, particularly when sales don't happen. I have seen it all. CEOs doing the sales training, CEOs being on initial sales calls, CEOs coming to the rescue. It can cause panic and fear with the sales staff and otherwise utter confusion both internally as well as with prospective clients.

So here is a scenario to contemplate. Let's say sales are not being closed as planned. The CEO panics and thinks he/she needs to take control. As a result, the salespeople fear that they might lose their job and/or that they won’t make money.

The sales managers do both. They panic and fear, both for their team, for their compensation and for their reputation. CEOs, take heed, for there are very good and business-smart reasons for you not to get intimately involved!

Here are 7 reasons why CEOs should not be involved in the sales process:

  1. CEOs should lead the company, not the sales process. CEOs are charismatic leaders who have a vision for their company and the future of the developments, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they should run every single department and be in charge of every detail.
  2. CEOs know how to sell to investors, but sales is a process. Clearly, most CEOs know how to sell their ideas and vision, but their audiences are different. They know how to intrigue and convince investors or shareholders, but sales is a different process. Add to that the fact that most CEOs don’t have a background and/or training in sales.
  3. Your company will look small when the CEO does the selling. Imagine you are sitting in an initial presentation from a vendor and their CEO is sitting right there next to the salesperson. I have seen it happen. It doesn't leave a good impression on an initial meeting. And most negatively, it makes your company look small. There is nothing wrong with the CEO coming in at the end of the sales process to impress the prospect, but everything wrong with him/her leading the sale.
  4. CEOs have a strong ego but sales is all about your prospects. CEOs love their company, as they should. That often means that they come from a place of pride, vanity and want the world to know how great their company is, rather than a place of meeting the prospect's needs. They like to talk about their company, the history, the people because they are proud of their achievements, but in a consultative sales environment, the prospect is king. Everything should be about uncovering and meeting their needs.
  5. Sales managers get intimidated when the CEO starts meddling. Once CEOs start getting involved in the sales process it usually sends the signal that the CEOs don't trust their sales managers any more. Why else would they get involved, ask sales managers? So there are two scenarios. You can fire the sales manager or give him room for improvement. Getting involved will just lead to the sales manager becoming nervous and not following the best plan of action.
  6. Salespeople lose respect for their sales managers. Salespeople get confused once they get different messages from their CEO and their sales manager. They don't know who to please and the results are disappointing at best. Once a CEO steps in to control or manage the sales process it's usually a desperate measure and it leads to confusion.
  7. Shouldn't the CEO be doing other things? CEOs are in charge of thought leadership, innovation, driving the company to success. Sales should be left to the professionals, whether it's an in-house sales staff or an outsourced solution.

My Message to CEOs

Hire a sales manager or somebody who will lead the sales process whom you trust and step away. Let them work their magic. There are many experts out there who can lead a successful team and put revenue on the books. Another big piece of advice: Leave your ego at the door (of the sales team)! It's not about you, it's about the end result.

My Message to Sales Managers

Sales is a process and a process needs to be documented and communicated. Invite your CEO to your sales planning sessions, explain your strategy (if you have one) and manage expectations. If you do that, your CEO (if he/she is wise) will move out of the way and let you do your thing. If he/she doesn't, think about moving on because a CEO involved in the sales process hardly ever leads to success. So, you will have to move on either way, on your terms or the latest when layoffs happen due to the lack of sales.

My Message to Sales Professionals

Be mindful who you work for. If you don't, you will not be successful and end up changing jobs every six months. If you do however, understand your craft, manage up. Help your sales managers be successful. Provide insight into your work and supply reports on your progress. Applying your sales skills will lead you to success. With clear communication and market research results (e.g. we are targeting the right people for our service offering!) you will be able to get support from your managers and you will succeed.

But only if everybody leaves their ego at the door.

Monika D’Agostino is Chief Consultative Sales Officer of the Consultative Sales Academy.