Salesman in Chief
- by Brett Hurt
There is no more effective selling tool in a company than the CEO. However, this tool is not used nearly as often or as effectively as it should be, and that is because of the CEOs themselves.
CEOs must adopt the regular practice of selflessly serving the rest of the organization. They must realize that their selling megaphone is larger than any other. This is not because CEOs are better than anyone else in the organization. Everyone in the organization is just playing his or her role to the best of his or her ability. It is because CEOs possess the company’s highest executive title, and the title signals important distinctions:
- The CEO is the synthesis point for the organization. No other role can set the priorities and direction for the entire company as effectively because no other role is tasked with the management of the whole organization. Every other role, such as the head of engineering, is functionally focused.
- Hierarchy is learned from the very beginning of business education. As a result, everyone is trained on the CEO being the most powerful person in the organization. The CEO is the only one who can hire, fire and promote the executive team, and these responsibilities set the culture and performance for the organization.
- If the CEO is also a founder of the business, then he or she embodies the American dream. In my Lucky7 post on the similarity of the DNA of 1776, Steve Jobs and Israel, the point is that there is an entrepreneur in all of us—and therefore a call to action for all of us to help those brave souls.
It took me awhile to realize the importance of selling as a CEO. At the start of my founder/CEO career, what got me to that initial milestone were the technical skills I had developed. As a result, I felt very comfortable programming. I was in the flow of it. But I hadn’t developed presentation skills. I didn’t know how to sell.
I was lucky enough to be living my calling as a tech entrepreneur, though, and that is the most effective sales tool of all—because anyone you are trying to sell to will feel your energy, your authenticity. Your passion provides the best foundation around which to build selling skills. And you have to learn selling skills just like any other—practicing, reflecting and refining. Because developing a new skill is difficult, some CEOs shy away from it and make an excuse for themselves for not engaging in selling. These excuses range from:
- The product is beautiful. It should sell itself. I just need “coin-operated” people to sell it for me. This attitude is, “That is what I hired you for.”
- Selling is a “basic” activity. It isn’t as complex as managing the strategy and priorities of the overall company; hiring, firing, promoting the executive team; managing the board; fundraising; and other CEO duties. Selling is “easy.”
- I have no time to sell. I’m too busy with more important activities, and it isn’t in my job description.
These excuses are all terribly wrong. The attitude prevalent in them is a selfish one, not a selfless one. If CEOs adopt these excuses and attitudes, the rest of the organization will model them. The head of sales will be almost solely responsible for managing selling as a result. This is why some heads of sales complain about not being supported by the CEO, and why some CEOs go through many heads of sales, all while failing to meet their sales targets.
Instead, the CEO’s attitude needs to shift as follows:
- It is my duty to the organization to leverage the CEO megaphone that I have been entrusted with by our investors, the board, and all of our people to learn how to sell. My team will teach me, or I can hire presentation and selling coaches to do the same. I will practice, reflect and refine my duty to sell.
- This business is my calling. Everything I’ve done in the past has led up to this point. I cannot make an excuse to not learn how to sell, or I will hold the entire organization back from the great success it can achieve.
- It is too important to all of us in the company to change the world for the better for me to shy away from such an important activity. It would be selfish to do so. I must be better than that. I must be selfless. As CEO, I create my own job description.
Like any skill, over time, selling starts to click. And with more success at doing it, it starts to become more fun. What is more important than bringing in revenue? Without it your business doesn’t survive. What is more important than bringing in clients that are attracted to your mission? Without it your collective dream doesn’t become a reality. What is more important than contributing to a collective and selflessly serving one another? Without it you will not have the great culture you seek.
The last three days of each quarter at Bazaarvoice were always the most exhilarating. Thanks to our head of sales, Michael Osborne, we held the belief of: “We are all in this together, we will achieve our goals together, we are all selling.” As a result, we almost always beat our sales goals under his leadership—from $1 million to more than $100 million. Osborne inspired us. I played a part to the best of my ability. I would place calls and write emails to prospects who were on the fence. I would walk the halls asking the sales team how I could be of service to them. I would work with the executive team to ensure we could commit to deliver on a prospect’s unique request, and then I would communicate our commitment to that prospect. I would leverage my network to help us rise in the eyes of the prospect’s organization and to effect more change at their company. I would seek opportunities to present to large groups of prospects on the power of social commerce.
In summary, a CEO must learn how to sell. To ignore it is to be selfish, to shy away from developing a critical skill that will help the entire company. To belittle it is to silence the loudest megaphone in the company because CEOs are the only one entrusted with the title.
Once you develop the skill of selling, you will become a more effective CEO. You will be better at recruiting, better at raising money, better at developing business, and better at tapping the passion of all of the great people working in your company and looking to you to set the example. You will be better at leading the company to beat its goals.
Editor’s note: This is an adaption of an article posted originally on Feb. 21, 2014, on Brett’s Lucky7 blog.