To drive that kind of growth with new clients, new product or service configurations, and expand your business with existing clients, use the most powerful lever you have—your sales organization. Effectively mobilizing your sales team involves much more than setting a stretch target and funding a compensation plan to reward its achievement. It is about utilizing your sales organization to shift from communicating your competitive advantage, to being your competitive advantage. Here are three points to help you accomplish that goal.
1. Involve your sales team in corporate strategy and goals. As the CEO, you’ve thoughtfully formulated a winning strategy, but the moment when employees interact with customers or prospects is when that strategy comes to life. According to a study by McKinsey, organizations that made the sales organization a vital part of their strategy outstrip their peers 50% to 80% in revenue and profitability. Make sure your sales leadership team gets your strategy. That doesn’t mean just understanding the strategy at a basic level, but being able to pragmatically apply it to daily decisions, especially relating to priorities and focus. Is your sales team working with the right kind of prospects? Are they playing to the advantages you’ve carefully invested in and determined matter most?
2. Be as engaged with your sales leader as you are with your executive team. I’ve worked with a lot of CEOs whose main interaction with the sales organization is an inspection of last month’s performance and next month’s forecast. CEOs often are more comfortable working with finance, technology or operations, and as a result, push a lot of the sales interaction to the VP of Sales. Obviously, those other areas are crucial, but don’t make the mistake of delegating the direction of your sales organization. You must establish the focus of this function of your business to ensure it creates value for your clients. I describe that in my HBR article, Would Customers Pay for Your Sales Calls, which highlights that sales is much more than just being the conduit for your products and services to reach clients.
3. Marry sales and marketing. These are two sides of the same relationship. Sales nurturing, for example, actually takes place within marketing. Define your expectations for collaboration as a means to better acquire, expand and serve clients. Establish interdependent objectives and let investment decisions flow from them. If they are separate, you are the only person in the company who can steer their relationship toward a powerful synergy.
When CEOs utilize their sales organization as a substantial part of the value or differentiation the company provides for clients—not just the communicators of that value—it becomes a considerable advantage. It is difficult for competitors to recognize or copy, and it becomes an additional source of brand equity. The key is that this can’t be delegated to your VP of Sales, or worse, to HR to run training programs. It’s a strategic decision about organic growth that the CEO must lead.