Higher Power

10 secret weapons that will make you a hands-on leader for your sales team
Magazine Contributor
12 min read

This story appears in the August 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Some entrepreneurs love to take matters into their own hands when it comes to selling face-to-face. Others choose to delegate selling authority-and in so doing, they cheat their businesses out of a great deal of selling impact. My question: What does the first group know about selling that the rest of us wish we knew?

Here, based on interviews with some of the most successful top executives in the country, are 10 actions that CEOs who sell successfully do on a regular basis. Consider working these strategies and tactics into your daily routine, and have your sales team do so, too.

Secret #1Know Your Ideal Prospects. CEOs who sell hate wasting time, so they target the people and groups most likely to buy from them. Wasted time in the sales process adds to the cost of sales and extends the critical time-to-revenue benchmark. Bob Palmisano, CEO of MacroChem, a transdermal drug delivery company in Lexington, Virginia, learned about targeting ideal prospects early on at Bausch & Lomb, Playtex and Mobil Oil. "You must figure out very quickly how you fit in with a given prospect," he says. "You must back away quickly when what you have doesn't fit what they need."

In addition, CEOs who are successful in sales have no qualms about calling another organization's top person to find out whether there's a potential fit between their respective companies. That means you should be willing and able to do the same. It's also helpful to identify all the sales that are taking too long to close. Go ahead, pick up the phone and don't be shy-you'll quickly find out what's taking so long and speed things up in no time.

Secret #2Understand That Other CEOs Use Similar Criteria to Buy and Sell. CEOs who sell take the same energetic, visionary approach to buying as they do to selling. If you were to pick up the phone and call Mike Borer, 43-year-old CEO of Xcel Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, you would likely get shunted to one of his staff. Why? Because Borer learned that giving employees ownership of their ideas and making them accountable for their decisions works. He trusts his people to help him in the buying and selling process. He has to: His organization operates in a market where strict government regulation is the norm, so he looks for high degrees of accuracy in all sales pitches. And he relies on his team of experts for help. The moral of the story: Find out what the target CEO's buying and what the selling criteria are before approaching him or her.

Secrets #3 - 4

Secret #3Have the Final Say. Even when they delegate, successful CEOs are the final approvers of every initiative with which they come into contact. Their employees are charged with the task of conducting the fact-finding process and making decisions and recommendations, which the CEO must approve. They manage a tight circle of influence and authority.

"My persistence and my ability to identify and clarify set the pace in my organization," says Andrew D. Horowitz, 34-year-old CEO of The Estate Management Group, a wealth management consulting firm in Valencia, California. "Everything echoes back to me."

Horowitz never settles for what he calls a "stopper" in a sales situation or decision process. As he puts it, "Failure is quitting." Horowitz takes responsibility seriously, no matter how much he delegates. You should, too.

Secret #4Model the Ideal Sales Process Consistently for Your Organization. No one plays the role of a model salesperson better than the head of the company. Here are thoughts on the ideal sales process, culled from successful CEOs who make it a priority to share these fundamental selling lessons with everyone in their organizations.

>> "Trust, integrity and honesty pave the way to successful relationships in all business endeavors."

-Jim Amos, CEO, Mail Boxes Etc.

>> Focus on the right prospect. "Yes, you need to sell-but you don't need to sell everyone."

-Karin Bellantoni, CEO of I-Mark, a voice-response marketing firm in Newport Beach, California

>> "Following up and persistence are critical. Answer and return all phone calls."

-Doug Simon, CEO of Mobility Elevator & Lift Co., a custom elevator manufacturing company in East Hanover, New Jersey

>> "Forget the typical ice-breaker. Get down to the real business issues first."

-Keith C. MacCumber, CEO of So-Luminaire Daylighting Systems Corp., a commercial skylights manufacturer in Carlsbad, California

>> "Constantly 'blitz' your territory."

-S. Cash Nickerson, CEO of Team America, an employee benefits outsourcing company in Washington, Ohio

At Team America, a territory blitz is a concentrated effort to reach out and contact many prospects or existing customers in a short time. You can do it by sending a letter or e-mail first, then picking up the phone or making a series of in-person calls.

>> "Always ask permission before you start to take notes. It lets the other person know that what they're saying is important and it clears the issues of confidentiality."

-Joe Mancuso, CEO of The CEO Club, an association of more than 2,000 CEOs and presidents in New York City

>> "Always be clear about the fact that you are here to sell."

-Bob Posten, CEO of Landis Strategy & Innovation, a research and consulting firm in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

>> "Aim high. It's best to cast a bigger net into your territory."

-Kevin Dyevich, CEO of Comfort Direct, a mattress manufacturer in New Brunswick, New Jersey

Think of the last big deal your business landed. Now take the total time it took to get the deal, and divide that number by the amount of the sale. Now, do the same with the smallest sale. Finally, compare the numbers. If you're honest, you'll find big deals are always more worthy of your time and effort.

Secrets #5 - 8

Secret #5Establish Personal Visibility Within the Marketplace and the Community as a Whole. Jennifer K. Ash, chair of Tomco Tool & Die, a designer and manufacturer of custom dies in Belding, Michigan, operates in an industry dominated by men. When she became chair, Jennifer had to learn metallurgy, the marketplace, her company and how to relate to her prospects and customers-and she had to do it all very quickly. She pulled it off. Ash's advice on how anyone can become familiar with (and therefore more valuable to) the organizations they sell to is direct and to the point: "Join professional organizations that relate to what you're selling."

In other words, try becoming visible in your community of potential and existing customers. Volunteer your time to a professional organization and get on the mailing lists of associations whose members can purchase your products. In addition, you should consider joining five organizations. "If you don't," Ash warns, "one of your competitors will."

Secret #6Personally Monitor Changes in Your Marketplace. Sure, this is extra work. But it pays off-and it's already part of your job description. That's what Mancuso of the CEO Club does. "Become a super information processor," he says. "Open all your mail, watch the phone log and visitor's log, read the business journal, spot a growth industry, and organize and attend a customer focus group." Chances are, you're already doing these things-but it never hurts to ask yourself "How does this information affect our selling process?"

Secret #7Build on Interpersonal Relationships to Secure One-On-One Loyalty From Customers. Posten, CEO of Landis Strategy & Innovation, puts it this way: "I had to get real about what I was doing for my customers. I had to use what I was selling. [Only] then was I able to articulate what I did to my prospects and customers." Once Posten did that, he earned the loyalty of his customers and was able to build new market share quickly for his business. Bob is an expert at building loyalty by making deposits into-rather than withdrawals from-the "relationship bank account." Perhaps we should all check the balance in that account from time to time.

Inspire Your Team
Make sure your mission statement isn't just a piece of paper. Read Missed Mission to learn how to create a mission that means something.

Secret #8Have a Crystal-Clear Understanding of Your Vision. Many would say that Howard Putnam, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, stands out as the ultimate "champion of vision." Before you internalize his advice, keep in mind that Southwest Airlines is the only American-owned, major air carrier showing a profit. "Vision is critically important when it comes to training customers on what your mission statement really means," Putnam says. "It's important when it comes to showing your marketplace and your team members. And it's a critical part of making sure all your team members become salespeople." How clearly do you articulate your vision to your organization, prospects and customers?

Secrets #9 -10

Secret #9
Make Intelligent Decisions Quickly and Independently. Joel Ronning, CEO of Digital River, an e-commerce outsourcing provider in Eden Prarie, Minnesota, makes decisions for his company based on this equation: "Experience plus intelligence equals intuition." To this, Ronning adds a degree of fearlessness and puts the element of time in front of every decision. When does a given outcome have to take place? What choices must be made now to bring about the necessary results? Follow Ronning's lead. Look at opportunities in your sales forecast and ask yourself these questions: When does an outcome need to take place, what has to happen to get the results that you, your prospects and your customers want?

Secret #10Stay Focused. Isn't it amazing what the power of focus can accomplish? In the field of medicine, a focused beam of light performs laser surgery that's less intrusive and less destructive than doctors 30 years ago could have ever dreamed possible. And in your own business, you have the opportunity to take the power of focus and use it to change everything.

Emil Wang, CEO of Latitude Communications, a provider of e-conferencing services in Santa Clara, California, is big on focus: "Come at me with what you're selling, but be honest and stay on purpose," Wang says. "Be very clear about what you want and don't ask premature questions. If anyone, regardless of title, sounds flaky, I'll brush them off." Further your own agenda by sticking to the prospect's. In fact, that might be the ultimate CEO selling secret.

Advice From a Pro


Having written 22 books on the topic, Brian Tracy knows a thing or two about selling and achieving top performance. In his book Focal Point (AMACOM), Tracy maintains that you should "compress every possible step when it comes to your sales process." This is especially true when it comes to making that big sale happen. The paradox is that you must combine this passion for compression with a willingness to be patient and persistent. The trick, according to Tracy, is to do a lot of little things over time-and not to obsess over a single opportunity.

This is especially true when you are trying to form winning relationships with the CEOs you want to do business with. "I've sent letters and unsolicited proposals, left voice-mail messages and played telephone tag for six months to three years to get an appointment with a CEO," Tracy explains. "I'll go on the Web and download the company's information, or make a request for sales literature. Then before I pick up the telephone to call a CEO, I'll check the organization's current stock price and its past three months' performance." Thanks to the Internet, most of this research can be done in just a few clicks.

Tracy's approach is worth emulating-and it doesn't take a lot of time. A minimal amount of research will provide you with the information you need to craft a great opening line. And after you finally connect with that CEO, follow Tracy's example. "I always send a letter to thank the CEO for his or her time," he says. "But that's not all the letter says. More important, it states specifically what I can and can't do to further the CEO's overachievement of goals, plans and objectives." As Tracy has found, this approach will make the return trip to any CEO's office a good deal easier.

Tony Parinello is the bestselling author of Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. His newest book, Secrets of VITO: Think and Selling Like a CEO, reveals insights into and lessons on selling from the CEOs of some of the best-run companies in America. For details, log on to www.ceo2mentoru.com.

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