CEOs Need to Get Serious About Sales

Goodness me! This earth shattering statement and accompanying article was published in the Harvard Business Review Blog on 10th July. It starts “With many companies trying to shake off the drag of a global recession, CEOs are eager to find growth. One place they need to look is in their own sales organizations”. My initial reaction was “where else do they expect to find growth”?
It goes on to say “In writing the book Sales Growth, (another book promotion from HBR, they must be on commission. Ed) we’ve found that CEOs who put sales management at the heart of their agenda have captured astonishing growth — outstripping their peers by 50 to 80 percent in terms of revenue and profitability”. This is really encouraging and I know from experience that Chief Execs who take a passionate interest in sales deliver better business results; generally but not always these CEOs come from a sales background. In many cases though, CEOs do not come from a sales background.
The article covers three areas: the first is headed “cranking up the analytics” – this means generating statistics about sales performance, deep market analysis, micro markets etc. A colleague of ours calls this paralysis by analysis – it sucks out valuable selling time, which is quite contrary to the next section which is “Build a lean selling machine”. This bit is quite good but it does not address the core issue of the amount of waste organisations generate through unnecessary reviewing of the sales process and the internal hoops a salesperson has to jump through. Given that most salespeople spend less than 25% of their time on customer facing activities (Source Sirius Decisions), doubling it by removing any activities that do not add value to the customer, or improving people’s capability to so do would be a very valuable action. The final section is entitled “make sales a team sport”; the key statement in this section reads “……… requires raising sales’ profile within the company. Give your best sales performers broad recognition, make sure that sales has a seat at the table when you’re discussing product strategy, and share sales successes and insights throughout the company”. Being a sales person I whole heartedly agree.
For me though the key issue in the UK is the perception people have of sales. It is not seen as a valued profession as it is in many other places. So much so that only 50% of salespeople are proud to have “sales” on their business cards. The problem is much deeper though, and the statistics below, while a few years old demonstrate why sales is not a valued profession and why sales is not understood by many:
There are about 750,000 sales people in the UK
There are about 550,000 marketers
There are over 300 HND or degree level business courses
 Over 200 have a marketing module
Only FOUR have a sales module
If you don’t believe me ask a colleague, or better still ask someone with an MBA; we have found no one with an MBA that has studied sales as part of their qualification.
I agree CEOs should get serious about sales but as an option rather than taking advice from the HBR blog they should do three simple things initially:
Understand the whats and hows of sales performance and break down the barriers that reduce selling time i.e. go and listen and talk to their sales people regularly. Setting up a sales council is a good way to do this
Invest in the right sales development, training and coaching. Over the last seven years we have seen a marked decline in this. Good selling is a source of sustainable competitive advantage
Put customers at the top of their personal and business agendas; visit them, understand their issues and opportunities and build strong personal business relationships. Urge, convince or tell their board colleagues and senior managers to do the same
In my experience this will show that the company is taking sales seriously and will improve sales performance. Remember the quote above “less than 25% of sales time is spent on customer facing activities”. If it’s true in your company take a personal objective to double it.