A call to action for CEOs: You must sell

There is no more effective selling tool in a company’s organization than the company’s CEO. However, this tool is not used nearly as often or effectively as it should be. And that is because of the CEO 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 they are better than anyone else in the organization. Everyone in the organization is just playing their role to their best ability. It is because the CEO possesses the company’s highest executive title, and the title signals several important distinctions:

  1. The CEO is the synthesis point for the entire 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 entire organization. Every other role, such as the head of engineering, is functionally focused.
  2. 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 that can hire, fire, and promote the executive team, and these responsibilities set the culture and performance for the entire organization.
  3. If the CEO is also a founder of the business, then they embody the American dream. In the Lucky7 post on the similarity of the DNA of 1776, Steve Jobs, and Israel (see links below for further reading), the point is made 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, thanks to my mother allowing me to focus on my calling in life from the age of 7. 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. However, I was lucky enough to be authentically living my calling, and that is the most effective sales tool of all. It is the most effective because anyone you are trying to sell to will feel your energy, your authenticity. It provides the best foundation in which to build selling skills. And you have to learn selling skills just like any other. Practicing, doing, reflecting, refining. Because developing a new skill is difficult, some CEOs shy away from it and therefore make an excuse for themselves not engaging in selling. These excuses range from:

 

  1. The product is beautiful. It should sell itself. I just need “coin-operated” people to sell it for me. The attitude is, “that is what I hired you for”.
  2. Selling is a basic activity. It isn’t as complex as managing the strategy and priorities of the overall company, hiring, firing, and promoting the executive team, managing the Board, fundraising, and other CEO duties. Selling is “easy”.
  3. 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. Because the CEO is the synthesis point of the entire organization, if they 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:

  1. 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, do, reflect, and refine.
  2. This business is my calling in life. 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.
  3. 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. I create my own job description.

Like developing any skill, over time it 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 working as a collective and selflessly serving each other? 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, and his mysterious green soccer ball, we adopted the color green as a symbol 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. Osborne inspired all of us. I played a part to the best of my ability. I would place calls and write emails to prospects that 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 get higher in their organization and to affect more change at their company. I would seek opportunities to present to large groups of our prospects on the power of social commerce (the voice of the marketplace).

In summary, a CEO must learn how to sell. To not do so is to be selfish, to shy away from developing a critical skill that will help the entire company. To not do so is to waste the most valuable megaphone in the company (again, not because CEOs themselves are important – there are no lesser or greater than any other human being working at the company – but because they are the only one entrusted with the CEO title). Once you develop the skill of selling, you will become a more effective CEO overall. You will be better at recruiting, better at raising money from investors, better at business development, and better at passionately tapping the energy of all of the great people that are in your company and looking to you to set the example. You will be better at leading the company to beat its goals.

Other Lucky7 readers would love to hear your story on how you developed your selling skills as a CEO, or how you have seen your CEO do so. Or if you are struggling to convince your CEO to develop this skill and need advice. Please share in the comments below and we’ll get a good discussion going about this.

More Lucky7 reading on this topic:

  1. Steve Jobs on asking for help, and the DNA of 1776 and Israel - why we are all entrepreneurs at heart and why prospects will respond well to founders
  2. Your first clients - start with who, and win over the 'cool kids'
  3. Your first clients - how to win over the 'cool kids'
  4. The tale of Bazaarvoice, as told through the shirts on our backs (2007-2009) - part two - the legend of Michael Osborne's green soccer ball and a window into the Bazaarvoice sales culture
  5. 7 lessons learned on the journey from founder to CEO
  6. A rant on derogatory language in business - get words like "coin-operated" people out of your mind and vocabulary
  (photo of Michael Osborne and the sales team hitting their stretch goal, which was way above the normal sales goal, and winning a trip to Las Vegas after three quarters of trying)

(photo of Michael Osborne and the sales team hitting their stretch goal, which was way above the normal sales goal, and winning a trip to Las Vegas after three quarters of trying)