My father used to say, “Nothing happens until you sell something.” As the CEO, your number one responsibility is to ensure a future cash flow for your company.
You must be able to sell your ideas. Customers, employees, and investors will want you to ask the right questions and get the right fit. If you can’t do that, it will be difficult to move your business forward. I’m not talking about devious sales tactics – instead I am referring to useful sales skills. Ask detailed and specific questions, learn about pain points, understand fears, and provide solutions. And, remember to listen: Two ears, one mouth should remind you to listen at least twice as much as you talk.
Here are a few points you may want to consider:
Understand your target audience, their interests and opportunities. This will provide you with basic knowledge as to the issues faced within an industry and assist you with asking more detailed questions. You may also drill down to find out more about a particular company or person within that company. A word of caution – internet research is not a good substitute for asking questions directly as assumption may lead you down an inappropriate path.
Understand how your firm can best serve the market:
This will allow you to develop goods or services that will directly solve a problem for your target market, and assist you and your marketing team in zeroing in on the correct set of prospects. You will then be able to direct your message to the right people with relevant and compelling content.
Ask probing questions and get a full understanding of the problem or opportunity:
Asking the right questions and listening to the answers will help you be of high value service to clients and others. Please don’t stop at superficial questions and answers as you have an opportunity to differentiate yourself by digging deep to find the true (or more true) answers. Asking expanding questions such as, “tell me more” and “what else?” can yield significant conversational results.
Find innovative solutions:
It is your job to innovate and you better do it or perish. As the CEO of your firm, it is imperative that you look out further than anyone else internally and externally to the organization. What will my customers need in 18 to 24 months? If your firm can be part of the solutions of the future, then you have a future cash flow. I consider this a mark in the win column.
Know when you are not the answer:
If your company’s product or service is not the right solution for a customer, it is your responsibility (and that of your people) to indicate such. Great firms will help a customer find the right solution or combination of solutions.
Teach and mentor others in the organization to fill the sales role:
At some point in a company’s growth cycle it will be too large for the CEO to handle the Chief Sales Officer (CSO) role. In preparation for that day you should consider developing people within your organization that will be capable of handling those responsibilities. The size of the company where this transition occurs varies by firm and industry, and it could occur anywhere from a few million in sales to somewhere are one the one hundred million mark. On occasion (okay quite often) we need to come to grips with the reality of having the right staff that can fill the sales role if you are not the right person to do it. Someone must perform the role. Hire wisely as a CSO is a mission critical role within a company.
Revisiting my father’s words on the order of “nothing happens until you sell something” should serve as a stern and thoughtful reminder to get out there and make something happen. Working with your prospects, customers, employees, and investors should be a win/win journey around serving needs. Good sales skills are part of good communication skills and need to be an accessible component of any CEO’s toolbox.
Brad Mishlove is a graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business and is a fourth generation entrepreneur. Having managed his own entities, including multi-million dollar concrete, landscape, and trucking firms, Mishlove formed Catapult Groups in 2011 to provide leadership training and business coaching to CEOs in a confidential and collaborative environment.