At some level, of course, all business leaders must "sell." But why do so many CEOs, owners and presidents either remove themselves from the sales process altogether, or limit sales exchanges to "closing" or "top-dog" meetings?
The answer is that most leaders of companies have gotten used to delegating. Even though they make a habit of exercising their significant analytical, interpersonal and persuasive skills during interactions with employees, suppliers, board members and other key players, most CEOs find a way to rationalize away any personal commitment to ongoing involvement in their organization's selling activities. Maybe they've forgotten the importance of selling; maybe they feel they've outgrown the world of sales; maybe their idea of selling is coming in at the end of the process and hobnobbing with a client or prospect.
An elite group of dynamic, revenue-focused CEOs knows better. (I'm interviewing a group of them right now for an upcoming book.) They know there's much more to a sale than a close, and much more to a relationship with a customer than schmoozing. In my experience, CEOs who get out there and sell tend to do so in very large volume indeed-by adhering to the following principles, all of which can and should be adopted by entrepreneurs.
1. Personally and consistently model the ideal sales process. Talk about a morale-builder! Everyone needs role models. Who plays the role better than the head of the company?
2. Establish personal visibility within the marketplace. Imparting a touch of personal accountability and a sense of mission enhances the organization's brand(s), image and reputation.
3. Personally monitor changes in the marketplace. There's nothing like talking to customers directly about how they're using your product, service or solution. Leaving this to the marketing department or a team of consultants can lead to missed opportunities and a slower-than-necessary time to market for new products and services.
4. Constantly build interpersonal skills to secure one-on-one loyalty from customers. Top CEOs send personalized, handwritten thank-you notes to each and every one of their colleagues at client/customer organizations. (Don't underestimate the power of a hand-written note-these can build truly extraordinary customer relationships.)
5. Increase the amount of high-margin add-on business. Often, this occurs when a CEO assumes direct, personal responsibility for connecting with people at the highest level of the target organization and building long-term partnership plans.
6. Call a meeting of your best (noncompetitive) customers. Not a fiscal quarter should pass when you don't have a customer "touch point" that will keep you and your ideas in the "top of the mind" category. Customer summits are a great way to do this.
7. Send a gift that dramatically illustrates the value of the relationship. Here's a real-world strategy I love: Get a fancy coffee mug with your company's logo on it, place your signed business card inside, and attach a large "Sale Price" tag to the handle. On the front of the tag, list the hard-dollar value that your business relationship has delivered; on the back, list the harder-to-quantify soft-dollar value that has accrued to your customer. Send the mug to the CEO of your top customer. Then repeat the process for the next most important customer after that.
So what would happen to your own "top line" if you took action in each of these seven areas? If you modeled the ideal sales process for others? Established a personal sense of mission that reflected well on your organization? Monitored changes in the marketplace firsthand? Sent handwritten thank-you notes? Called meetings for the express purpose of building long-term partnership plans? Held an event to honor and celebrate a group of key customers? Sent a gift that dramatically illustrated the value you've already added? My guess is that if you did all these things on a consistent basis over the next 60 to 90 days, you would gain additional high-margin business, and you'd build massive loyalty within your customer base.
The moral of the story: When CEOs sell, two great things tend to happen. First and foremost, more deals (and bigger deals!) close. Second, every employee gets to witness top-down involvement in Priority One: revenue-generating activity. Let's face it: When a CEO, president or owner does something, everyone in the organization takes notice and perceives that activity as important. So if you're a CEO who wants ground-level selling to take on added importance, hit the phones and make some cold calls in a visible way. If you're a salesperson who wants to hit the top, start selling like a CEO!
Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.