3 Things Sales-Driven CEOs Can't Afford to Delegate

Last Updated May 3, 2011 6:36 PM EDT

One of the great cries you'll hear coaches direct to CEOs of growing businesses is to "Work on your business, not in your business." I agree, it is absolutely critical to the growth of a company that CEOs delegate responsibilities and develop people to handle them... but let's not get carried away.

There are some things CEOs absolutely can't afford to delegate. I'll give you three:

Quality Control: I'm not just talking about the quality of your product or service; I'm talking about the quality of your brand and how you position it in the marketplace. Decisions about which clients to work with and how long they stay with your company are yours to make as CEO of the company. At a certain level, your clients are your brand. What you do for them, the stories that come from your performance, your successes and missteps make up your shared history -- this is your brand. On the other hand, everything your clients do independently also splashes onto you. Everyone loved having BP as a client until the mishap in the Gulf. Darlings of the market like Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, and others... they're great on your "wall of fame" until they become a name of shame.

It is your job to create the organizational parameters and make the tough choices on clients and prospects. It is your team's job to create the opportunity for those choices.

Cultural Absolutes: I was having this exact conversation with a CEO friend the other day: Should he say something about how one of his people dressed when presenting to clients?

In this world of individualism, tolerance, and hyper-sensitivity training, it is easy to lose one's bearings on your rights and responsibilities as CEO of your own firm. My attitude is that cultural absolutes are not decided by committee; they are up to you.

Some of these are easy: Do we pay for strip-club expenses? (For those of you struggling with that answer, let me help: NO.) Other questions take more thought:

  • How do we dress for client calls? Answer the phone? Address each other in front of prospects and clients?
  • What is our definition of the "customer experience ideal?" How do we manage it?
  • Which sales behaviors we will reward and which ones will we discourage?
Make your own list... but make one. CEOs who allow the culture norms of the firm to be dictated by others allow the degradation of one of their firm's key competitive advantages.

Influence: Delegate tasks, don't delegate your influence. Whether you're navigating difficult negotiations, resolving a service failure or smoothing over a faux-pas, your influence makes the difference, especially with your bigger clients. Too often I find CEOs try to move away from client-facing work in favor of either prospect-courting efforts or operational performance. CEOs cannot make this move unnoticed. Large clients don't resent it -- they'll just do the same in kind. They move the business relationship off of their list to someone further down the organizational chart. This is all perfectly normal as it relates to day-to-day work, operational execution and so on. However, CEOs must maintain contact to maintain influence -- you cannot move this to someone else.

For sales-driven CEOs, holding on to these three things will keep the ship righted and the culture strong.

To learn more about leading your organization into the future, read about Big Sale Factory training.

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