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The Only 5 Things CEOs Should Do in the Sales Process

"That's just stupid!"

I swear these words came out of my mouth before I could reach out and grab a hold of them and rein them in.

I was talking to a CEO prospect at an event in Seattle last week and in the course of a lively conversation, enhanced by a Tito's Vodka martini and the jet lag from my flight from Atlanta, I gave my inner voice an outer voice and said, well, what I said.

He looked as if he'd just been slapped (by me). Then he smiled about as big as you can and said, "I know. I'm the one doing it and I don't know how to stop."

We were talking about CEOs who insist on being on all of their company's sales calls. I outlined (quickly, lest the smile fade...) the big dangers of CEOs being on every sales call...

  • Inflation. One of life's simple definitions: the more there is of something, the less each unit of that thing is worth. Overuse a CEO and you have a problem -- they don't bring weight to the important conversations with a prospect or a client.
  • Impatience. It is not a certainty, but it is frequent: CEOs want to make things happen and they can be impatient in a meeting. It creates an artificial urgency that can damage a sales call.
  • Pricing. CEOs are terrible on pricing. Either they give away everything or they won't concede on anything. In either case, CEOs are usually best regarding pricing when they are involved "out of the moment," back at the office when time and distance from the deal make things a little more rational.
  • World domination. Well, maybe not world domination, but word domination at the very least. This goes back to inflation -- CEOs create conversations that are out of balance. Use sparingly and you will get great leverage. A little bit goes a long way.
So, what should CEOs do in the sales process?
1. Set the target filter for what accounts we want and don't want.

2. Approve all major hunts for prospects.

3. Define pricing and negotiation strategy.

4. Connect at the senior-most level with the prospect on vision, culture and commitment.

5. Provide a tactical sounding board to the head of sales on deal strategy.

My new friend and I agreed that he needed to change his point of entry into the sales process until much later. He needed to allow his sales people to do their jobs and replace them if they could not. Finally, he needed to not dilute the great value he brings to the sales process through eagerly inserting himself into it too early.

How can CEOs help and what shouldn't they be doing in the sales process? I would love to hear your thoughts...

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