Private Party

Selling Short

More and more customers say CEOs or company owners, rather than salespeople, are the most important people in their vendor relationships. The bad news: This isn't because CEOs excel at selling but because salespeople are falling short.

In a 1997 survey by The H.R. Chally Group, 33 percent of respondents said the salesperson was the most critical person in the vendor relationship--down from 44 percent in 1993. Meanwhile, the number of respondents citing the CEO as most important nearly tripled, from 8 percent to 22 percent. The respondents--nearly 1,100 decision makers at large and small companies nationwide--said they turn to CEOs for satisfaction because salespeople often lack product knowledge, understanding of the customers' business and the authority to make decisions.

How can you improve your sales force? Start by selecting salespeople who have a broad background in business--not just sales--and understand the economic forces driving both buyers and sellers. Provide training that goes beyond mere product knowledge to include general business and management skills. Finally, be willing to let go of some authority. Once you have people who can make decisions, you have to be willing to let them.

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Private Party.

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