#8 – Who’s steering the ship? Poor alignment between CEO & Sales Leader

I want to let you take an inside look at a couple of recent conversations I had with clients.   In the first scenario, we were brought in by Tom, the CEO of a manufacturing company, who told us “I don’t know if Joe is the right guy for the sales leader position.  I don’t see progress in sales.  The numbers are always coming next quarter and there doesn’t seem to be a plan.  Can you talk to Joe and give me your take on things?”  I did talk to Joe.  He told me that sales are below goal right now but that was because two big deals slipped into this quarter.  He is very confident they will close and gave me very solid evidence to support it.  He said his team is lacking some sales skills, but he has put them through a sales training course and is working with them one on one to make sure they are applying it.  All reps recently went through a sales planning process which analyzed their business and made plans to address gaps in revenue.  It sounded pretty good to me.   So I asked Joe, “Do you talk to Tom about your plan and your progress?”   Joe said, “Not much.   Tom says sales are all mine and I can run it how I want.  Plus, he really doesn’t get sales the way I do.”

Our next example - The CEO of a professional services company, Marty, poses a similar question to us.  “Sales are ok, but the sales team seems very reactive and I don’t have confidence in the pipeline they give me.  The Director of Sales, Anne, always wants to chase the big clients and hit a home run, but the company needs some mid-sized clients to keep the lights on.  Everything can’t be a big deal.   I’m not sure Anne is the right person to run the team.  Can you talk to her?”   When I talked to Anne, she lays out her plan to me.   She tells me that they have a mix of mid-sized deals in the pipeline, but she truly believes that they can make a big splash with larger clients.   Those clients take longer to land, but she knows they can win and they will be well worth the wait.   I asked her how often she discusses this with Marty and she tells me that he sits in on the sales meeting every week and hears the plan.  He should be up to speed.”

These are just two examples of something we see all the time – a misalignment and poor communication between CEO and Sales Leader.   Neither of these sales leaders had any idea that their respective jobs were in jeopardy and they were both plodding along. So what’s going on?    In the first example, Joe was actually doing a decent job of addressing gaps, but he was doing it in a vacuum.  If he had a plan, Tom certainly didn’t know it nor did he have any idea of how much progress was being made.  And Tom has some blame here as well – if he wants to know what’s going on with Joe, why is he not asking Joe about it?   In the second example, there is similar poor communication (sitting in on meetings does not equal communication) and there is a clear misalignment in what the sales team should be chasing.  The longer Anne chases the big deals, the more frustrated Marty will get.

The good news is that both of these sales leaders could be saved IF they sit down and get on page with their respective CEOs.  But in our experience, this does not happen nearly enough.  Instead, CEOs are similar to Tom and Marty above and they wind up pulling the trigger quickly.  Then they get another sales leader in place who they will equally not talk to.   It is a vicious cycle which results in sales leaders turning over every 18 to 24 months.

So what do you do about it if you are the CEO?   That’s easy - talk to your sales leader on a regular basis.  Have a formal standing meeting (we suggest weekly) where you understand the sales leader’s plan and progress.  This does not have to be a long, drawn out meeting, but it does cover some basics.  Here is a suggested agenda:

  • Actual Revenue vs. Goal – these are real numbers, not projections.  If there is a gap, what is the sales leader doing about it?
  • Big deals that closed or are just closing – good to understand the revenue impact and capacity needs as well as celebrate wins.
  • Risks – what deals or accounts are in jeopardy and what is the sales leader doing about it?
  • Sales Leader Initiatives – what is he or she focusing on aside from just selling?   Skills development for the team members?  New products or services?  New markets or geography?   A problem rep they are trying to save?  Understand the Sales Leader’s plan and make sure you are on board with it.
  • Issues – this is where either the CEO or Sales Leader can raise a flag on something that is not working or questions they might have.

This may seem really simple and basic, but this critical meeting is something that is missing at more companies than not.  Instead, we hear “We both have an open door policy where we can talk to each other if we need to.”  But, it never happens in any structured way.  It is always the deal of the day or fire of the day.   So, be disciplined and make this meeting happen each week.  It makes a difference.  I can promise you that if Joe and Anne had these meetings every week, nobody would be questioning their jobs.

About Gary Braun

Gary is a founder and co-owner of Pivotal Advisors. He has worked for 20+ years as a salesperson and sales leader. Gary has been a guest speaker for many groups such as Vistage, Allied Executives, CEO Roundtable, Sales Management Association, and more. If you want to find out more about Gary check out his profile here.
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