6 Ways the CEO Can Generate BIG Sales
Guest: Ken Eissing, a coach at CEO Coaching International. Ken has served as President, COO, General Manager, or Advisor in the Technology, Media, Telecom, and BPO Financial Services industries in public and private entities ranging from Fortune 100 to less than $20 million businesses.
Quick Background: Did you wake up this morning wanting to lead a single-digit growth company? Didn’t think so. Exponential growth is the product of an empowering sales culture that stokes competitive flames and rewards top performers who aren’t content to clear the low bar.
On today’s show, Ken Eissing discusses six ways CEOs can assemble, manage, and motivate a top sales team that will drive fast growth and Make BIG Happen.
Keys to Growing Sales from Ken Eissing
1. Identify your best sales channels.
“The first step is really understanding what your product is and who your target customer is,” Ken says. “Obviously the sales channel and the sales approach would be very different for an enterprise-level software solution than it would be for a B2C service solution. So have a good understanding of who the target market is, who the offering is most applicable to, and then how you need to package it differently to be most relevant in each of those segments and channels.”
When you’re zeroing in on your key channels, less is often more. Companies that don’t have enough clarity on their products or customers often dilute their brand and waste capital by flooding the market with excessive SKUs. Focus on what you know worksand what you know is going to drive the company towards your BIG goals.
2. Profile your ideal salesperson.
Once you’re sure of what, where, and to whom you’re selling, you have to get equally specific about what your ideal sales team looks like. Ken explains, “If someone’s selling an enterprise solution and it’s an 18-month sales cycle, and they’re selling to the C-suite of a large fortune 500 company, the profile you’re looking for is dramatically different than if you were selling a B2B solution to a small business where it’s typically an owner-operator and a very short sales cycle.”
Fine-tuning your team to meet higher sales goals usually involves a mix of challenging your existing staff to go up a level and bringing in new talent. Talent insight assessments can help CEOs understand what makes their team tick and how to get the most out of every person. And in this tight labor market, you may need to look beyond resumes to find the best people available. CEO Coaching International client Jim Bennett loves coaching up former Division III college athletes. In a previous position, Ken found an ideal candidate by putting drive and ambition ahead of traditional experience.
“We met a woman who had been very successful selling B2B in the mortgage industry,” Ken explains, “who had absolutely no experience selling to Wall Street firms. But what intrigued me about her was that while she was this top producing sales leader, she went and bought two pizza places and flipped them for a hundred percent profit in three years. She came in and immediately connected with us and then gave me her 30, 60, and 90-day plan. She ended up being one of the best hires I ever made.”
3. Show your sales team that you care.
Running a business can be an isolating experience for CEOs. But as the business grows, employees can also feel more and more isolated from the CEO. The trend towards decentralization makes it even more important that CEOs find ways to execute on top-level responsibilities without losing their connection to their people.
“If you want to build a true high-performance sales culture, the frontline salespeople have to know that the person in the CEO seat gets it,” Ken says. “It’s not enough that the head of sales gets it. There has to be a belief that the very top of the organization is focused on having salespeople win and be successful. Go spend time out in the field with them. Ride along and knock on doors. I’m not saying do it every day, just do it a handful of times and the message spreads that the CEO spent a day doing that. Or if you’ve got a call center, spend time doing side-by-sides with the agents who are taking calls and really understand what their issues are and how well the system works.”
Ken also likes to ask his best people a potentially powerful question: If I gave you a magic wand, what are the three things you would fix about this business? Not every idea is going to be a winner. But if your staff alerts you to a billing inefficiency or a staffing shortage that you do fix, they’re going to feel heard, empowered, and cared for.
4. Focus on the right metrics.
Granting reasonable autonomy to your sales team can be a powerful way to connect with them as well. If you know exactly which needle you need your team to move, let them do the work their way. Obscuring your top targets with a bunch of smaller targets will only create confusion and make it harder for your best people to do what they do best.
“I was president of a B2B company that sold in-store music to business,” Ken says. “The sales team had a quota of $1,000 in new recurring revenue per month. There were a lot of other metrics: how many contacts, how many opportunities, what the conversion rate was. But what we focused on was, are they above $1,000 per month in new recurring business. If they got there with one new customer or 20 new customers, that was secondary to the revenue number, as opposed to bogging them down with all of the other metrics. If they hit their quota, we largely left them alone. Now, if they weren’t on quota, that’s when you get into diagnosing why aren’t you getting there. But having clarity on what the most important things are and, if they are attained, not worrying as much about the others, is important.”
5. Build positive momentum.
Every top-level sales team may be unique, but the best sales people do tend to share certain traits, such as competitiveness and a can-do attitude. As a leader, how can you get that engine revving at a high gear?
“I believe momentum, both positive and negative, in a sales organization is critically powerful,” Ken says. “In addition to contests, do something creative. Every time a sale is made ring a bell, bang a gong, do something so there’s just a constant flurry of noise to recognize success. I think leaderboards and being completely transparent is important. If you’ve got a hundred salespeople in a call center, here’s one through a hundred. And that drives people. People want to see themselves at the top and no one wants to see themselves at the bottom. I’m a firm believer that everyone comes to work every day to succeed. Keeping that energy and momentum going is critically important.”
Putting some skin in the game yourself can also add fuel to the fire. Your contribution could be as simple as gift cards, lunches, or giving up your parking spot to a top performer. But when he was presented with a goal that he thought was a bit too ambitious, Ken went the extra mile to see if his team would rise to the challenge.
“I said I would shave my head if we hit that goal,” he said. “The audience went wild, but the way we kept the motivation and the focus on that was we created this really cool internal campaign. Every week or so our marketing team would send out different hairstyles on me. We had our thermometer showing how close we were getting to the goal. We ended up doubling sales and got 100% growth in that channel. So at that same meeting, the following year, on stage in front of 200 people, I had my head shaved. And I only did that once in my career, because as I get older, I’m not as convinced my hair will actually come back.”
6. Work for your customers.
No matter what you’re selling, the people you’re selling to are ultimately going to determine how BIG you can get. The easier it is for your customers to get what they want, the easier it will be for you to grow that customer base and generate that positive sales momentum that your team will feed off of.
“It’s critically important that every department understands that ultimately everyone in the business works for customers,” Ken says. “The whole reason any business exists is to serve customers. And those that are closest to customers are typically the sales team. That doesn’t mean you let the sales team run wild and do whatever they want. But the sales organization is the window to our customers. So how do we make it easier for our salespeople to sell? How do we make it easier for our customers to do business with us? I think it starts with the leaders driving home that message that we all ultimately work for customers.”
1. Maintain focus on your optimal sales channels, your ideal customer, and your top-line KPIs.
2. Hiring top talent is just step one. The company’s sales culture also has to put high performers in a position to succeed and reward BIG wins.
3. Make it simple for your team to do their jobs and for your customers to do business with you.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 67.8% during their time as a client, nearly four times the U.S. average and a revenue CAGR of 25.5%, more than twice the U.S. average.