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Can A CEO Be An Effective Sales Leader?

There are great CEOs juggling many things at once. They are the owner and take on the roles of marketer, sales leader, and even salesperson. That is a lot of hats, to be sure. But could playing all those roles be hurting your company? Here are five reasons why the CEO may not be the most effective sales leader.

No Sales Background 

According to a Business LinkedIn study of 12,000 CEOs, "Among the CEOs in our sample, computer science was the most popular field of study listed on their LinkedIn profile—by a pretty wide margin." Sales doesn't even make it into the top three in this category.

Many owners have not come up through sales and do not have a passion or the most current selling skills. There is a certain finesse that comes with being a good sales leader. You may not know all the intricacies of a sales operations plan, or all the steps resulting in a good one-on-one.

If this is you, it may be time to do what's best for your team and hire a sales leader.

Lead The Over All Company

CEOs are charismatic leaders who have a vision for their company and direct the company’s overall growth. Their primary responsibilities include making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company. They also act as the main point of communication between stakeholders and corporate operations, often being the company's public face.

According to a Harvard Business Review study, "The leaders in our study worked 9.7 hours per weekday, on average. They also conducted business on 79% of weekend days, putting in an average of 3.9 hours daily, and on 70% of vacation days, averaging 2.4 hours daily." That is a lot of dedicated time.

That does not leave them much time to lead every department and be in charge of every detail. That means essential things like one-on-ones and ride-a-longs in sales could get completely cut out for something more pressing.

CEOs Sell The Company, Not The Product

Clearly, most CEOs know how to sell. They have been selling their vision from the start. But their audiences are different. CEOs know how to sell to investors or shareholders, but probably not to the product user or customer. While they have been running things from up top and selling the company as a whole, they have been far removed from the individual customer.

That does not mean CEOs should not visit prospects or customers. But in general, most companies have sales teams or business development teams who are accountable and responsible for identifying opportunities. They are in charge of converting those leads into paying customers.

Your teams know those leads best, where they came from, especially if they were a referral. You may not have that insight.

Salespeople Can Get Confused

Once the CEO starts getting more involved in sales, managing salespeople, or with customers, this can cause confusion. The owner is often out of touch with what's been happening in sales. They do not always check in with their leadership team, and as a result, the employees are getting confused.

There have even been cases where the owner gives one set of directions, and the sales leader (if you have a sales leader) gives another. Salespeople can quickly get confused as they receive different messages from the CEO and their sales leader. They don't know who to listen to or who to go to. This causes results to be disappointing at best.

It Costs The Company Too Much

There is often an endless cycle that ensues when hiring a sales leader if the CEO is not ready to give up the reins. The CEO knows they should have a sales leader, so they hire one. But then the CEO fires the sales leader because they were not "very good," and they were doing their job for them anyway. Then the owners take over sales again for a while until they again run out of time and hire another new sales leader. This same process is repeated again and again. Nothing changes, and the CEO cannot grow the company.

This cycle can cost the company almost double financially, but it can also cost them productivity and staffing fees. It can cause the company culture and morale to become toxic, and worst of all, it can result in lost customers.

If the CEO and company aren’t at a capacity to have a full-time sales leader then a fractional sales leader may be a better fit.

The Results

This is not to say it can't be done. There are good CEOs-sales leader hybrids out there, but they are rare. To be an effective sales leader, there needs to be 100% dedication to the sales team and their goals. Having lots of customer knowledge, time, and passion.

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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