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When You Can't Give Up Control Of Sales

Owners and entrepreneurs are the driving force in generating revenue for most new companies. They thought of the idea for the product or service. Created the go-to-market strategy. They actually sold the product/service despite many of them not having formal sales training. Then hired other people to sell it. They've done it all, but they often find themselves being stretched and pulled, so they hire a sales leader, but they struggle to give up control. Here's why.

An Owner's Biggest Fear

One of the most prevalent fears people have is that of losing control. That if you don't manage to control the outcome of future events, something terrible will happen. By having their hands in everything, owners have the sense that they have done everything possible to achieve a perfect result.

Often there are no facts or experiences from the past that indicate what may happen in the future. A clear picture of the future is precisely what people with the fear of losing control need. They want certainties about something they cannot get assurances about.

Why Command and Control Doesn't Work

The majority of owners and CEOs gravitate towards the "command and control" approach where the boss’s hands can be found on everything.

The term command and control has roots in military systems and has since been popular among owners and CEOs. According to John Seddon's book, Freedom from Command & Control: Rethinking Management for Lean Service, "A command and control approach to leadership is authoritative in nature and uses a top-down approach, which fits well in bureaucratic organizations in which privilege and power are vested in senior management. It is founded on and emphasizes a distinction between executives on the one hand and workers on the other."

Can this Command Approach Work? 

Can that work? Yes. But there are four problems:

  • The business can never grow larger than one person (you, the CEO) can manage effectively.
  • The organization cannot move quickly. Since everything has to flow through you, creating a bottleneck. People have to wait for you to sign off and agree to things before they can move ahead. 
  • You won't get the best ideas out of your people. Once they understand the company is set up, so that everything revolves around you, they will not take the time to develop their best ideas.
  • It is exhausting. You have very little time to dedicate to your work and create new ideas and visions.

You Know You Have to Change

Aside from some global and national companies, you know you must adapt and innovate your company. You decide to hire a sales leader, but like many CEOs, you struggle with giving up full control of such an essential part of your organization.

The most difficult part of hiring a sales leader - your inability to let go. You are so used to being intimately involved in everything that everybody is doing; you cannot stand being on the outside looking in. So, what do you do? Once the leader is onboard, you get more and more involved directly with the salespeople. After all, who knows more than the person who did this for years. But there are a lot of problems with that. Here are just a few:

  • Once salespeople have realized who is "actually making" all the decisions, they will start skipping the sales leader and going right to you, the boss, (just like the good old days) to get answers and strategize. This leaves the sales leader powerless and out of the loop. A salesperson will often play "Mom vs. Dad" and keep going back and forth until they get the answer they like - this happens a lot. 
  • You may contradict the direction from the sales leader. You are less involved in the daily conversations with the sales team and thus not know exactly what is going on. The sales leader has been having more in-depth conversations with the salespeople and has more information than you. This can cause you to unknowingly undermine the direction the sales leader has given. 
  • You cause a lot of confusion. Not only do the salespeople not know who has the final say in decisions, but your sales leader is left to wonder what their role is, because you're doing their job.
  • One of the main reasons you hired the sales leader in the first place was to focus on being more efficient. But when you start to get more involved with sales, that plan goes out the window— no time for you to focus on other things.

The Result

In the end, you fire the sales leader because they weren't "very good," and you were doing their job for them anyway. You then take over sales again for a while until you get tired and hire a new sales leader. This same process is repeated again and again. Nothing changes, and you don't grow the company.

What Can You Do?

When it comes to relinquishing the reins, it's easier said than done. When it comes to thriving, you need to be more flexible and adapt. You must welcome change and embrace the unknown. Use these tips to help you deal with your discomfort and worry.

Identify the Role

When you decide you want to hire, a sales leader, get very detailed about what you are seeking for that role. What does your company need? If you need more insight, check out our blog on, "Did You Hire The Right Sales Leader?"

Personalize their Onboarding

Onboarding new sales leaders is critical for many reasons; it sets the tone for their experience and success within your company, dramatically impacts how long they will stay, and helps them learn about your company, customers, and role. If done correctly, the onboarding program helps them get up to speed and productive quickly, retains talent, helps you identify promptly who is not a good fit, and sets clear expectations for the salesperson and the sales leader.

Define the Authority Level

Right from the get-go, you need to clarify what responsibilities the sales leader can do without you, can tell you about, has to ask you about, or needs to involve you. So, what can your sales leader do without your permission?

We have an Ask/Do/Tell tool that can help you clarify some of this with your sales leader. Let us know you are interested by emailing us at info@pivotaladvisors.com.

Illustrate the Information you Need

You are continually looking at reports, trends, numbers, financials, etc. But what is it that drives your company? What information do you find valuable every day? Your sales leader wants to know how they can best benefit you. Do you want to see daily sales reports or daily/weekly product trends? Let them know what is most helpful to you.

Have a Regular Meeting

Set a weekly or bi-weekly meeting between you and the sales leader. Without them, you tend to get out of alignment. Having an agenda for every meeting is essential, but even more vital with your sales leader, as you will want to cover relevant topics. It also ensures that the meeting starts and ends on time and remains productive. Review specific items and concerns you or your sales leader may see.

In The End

Creating something is challenging. There is a lot of effort, time, and passion that goes into it. No matter what, you want your company to succeed, so you take control and play a sales leader's role even if you know that's not the ideal situation. Letting someone else take control of something you've worked so hard for is difficult. Suppose you define the role, have a structured onboarding program, explain their authority level, illustrate what information is valuable to you, and meet regularly with your sales leader. In that case, you and your company will hit a new height.

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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