How CEOs Can Improve Sales Leadership

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Savvy and forward-thinking CEOs recognize that good leadership is about more than just rallying the troops and getting people to show up on time. The best CEOs are able to boost sales leadership and expand revenue from quarter to quarter.

The Role of the CEO in Sales Leadership

As a CEO in 2016, sales leadership has to be one of your primary focal points. Though you might have the ability to hand off this responsibility and merely “oversee” execution, you owe it to your organization to get involved and play a primary role in the execution of sales leadership.

According to business strategy consultant Carolyn Aiken, it’s the duty and obligation of the CEO to pursue impact relentlessly. “There is no substitute for CEOs rolling up their sleeves and getting personally involved when significant financial and symbolic value is at stake.”

When it comes to sales leadership, significant financial value is certainly at stake. But most organizations go about the process in a totally backwards manner.

Research by the Sales Management Association (SMA) conducted earlier this year shows that 49 percent of firms are spending more per salesperson than they did only a few years ago. Additionally, 60 percent expected to increase spending further in the coming months. It’s also worth noting that Global 2000 firms are spending more than $2.4 trillion on digital sales channels and tools.

However, in spite of this substantial investment in salespeople and tools, there seems to be a lack of suitable sales leadership, as well as dissatisfaction with the tools and strategies employed.

Here are five specific tactics that CEOs, like yourself, can adopt in the coming months to improve sales leadership and grow your company’s revenue.

1. Emphasize Objective Data

The problem in many organizations is that the firm relies too heavily on subjective data provided by salespeople who go off little more than “gut feelings” and hopeful predictions. You cannot afford to follow such a rudimentary approach when there are opportunities for much more objective insights.

“To succeed, sales leaders need timely and accurate data about their pipeline,” says Graham Curme, CEO of LiveHive, Inc., provider of a sales acceleration platform. Seasoned executive Curme explains,”Sales leaders should be able to see how their team engages with prospects and the level of activity in real-time. If they don’t have this insight, they’re simply passing inaccurate and subjective data up the food chain to the CEO where it can cause bigger problems for the business.”

In other words, CEOs must make solid data a bigger priority at the foundational level of their organization. Even if objectivity is a priority in the C-suite, creeping levels of subjectivity near the ground level can muddy the waters and have a negative impact on upper-level decision-making.

One of the most tangible ways to improve sales leadership is by emphasizing objective data.

2. Realize the Cost of a Bad Hire

You understand the value of hiring the right people strategically, but you can’t allow yourself to get lazy in this area. Consistently hiring quality sales managers that fit your organization is a key responsibility of effective sales leadership.

But just how important is it? New research says that it’s very important. According to Jason Jordan of Vantage Point, the average cost of a “low-performing” sales manager is roughly $3.5 million in lost revenue.

And that’s per manager. Make two or three bad hires and you could be putting your entire organization at risk.

One of the best things a CEO can do to achieve the goal of improved sales leadership is to be hands-on with all hiring decisions. The difference between a good hire and a bad hire can mean millions in revenue.

3. Demand Accurate Forecasting

If an organization is using subjective data to make decisions, then bad sales forecasting is the direct and potentially immediate result. This is something Curme feels strongly about and constantly reinforces, noting that bad forecast data has a negative impact in every area of business.

“Once again, it’s critical for sales leaders to have insight into the activities and activity level of their organization,” he says. “Without concrete data on what’s really happening — monitored on a daily basis — your sales leaders are just pulling forecasts from thin air.”

4. Research and Adopt the Right Tools

The solution for relying less on subjective responses and more on objective data that promotes accurate demand forecasting is to employ the right tools. Unfortunately, most organizations report that their sales tools aren’t very useful.

As this infographic from LiveHive shows, less than 25 percent of companies feel their sales tools work well together, only 19 percent are satisfied with sales tool integration, and just 13 percent report that they fully utilize their tools’ capabilities.

Effective tools do exist. To improve sales leadership, the CEO must research and adopt the right ones. This means looking for tools that offer a single platform that can be seamlessly integrated with other popular technologies the organization may utilize across the sales funnel.

Price is certainly one factor to consider, but it’s much more cost effective to look at tools from the perspective of how well they streamline processes, and their ability to infuse objective data into an organization. Over the long run, attention to these two aspects will result in tremendous revenue boosts that will more than offset upfront costs and fees.

5. Develop Leaders at Every Level

The best thing any leader can do is help cultivate more leaders. If leadership is only being nurtured at the upper levels of your organization, then you’re missing out on a big opportunity to push your company forward.

Leaders should be developed at every level. “High performing companies understand that execution takes place at the grass roots level. It is the line managers, supervisors, and middle managers who make things happen,” explains Josh Bersin, talent management and leadership expert.

“If the CEO doesn’t push his or her leadership strategy down effectively, it won’t take hold. In fact, our research shows that the best companies develop leaders from the bottom up. Senior executives ‘serve’ the needs of line leaders, like an inverse pyramid.”

In other words, your best opportunity to improve sales leadership is by grooming others who also feel strongly about it. This will inevitably lighten some of your load and create consistency and commitment throughout every level of your organization’s pyramid.

Make Sales Leadership a Bigger Focal Point

Here’s what it all comes down to: Sales leadership needs to be a bigger focal point for most CEOs.

While you’ll need to follow Aiken’s advice and pursue impact relentlessly by rolling up your sleeves consistently, it is possible to transform your organization’s approach to sales.

Instill the right behaviors, find the best tools, and look to the future with high expectations.