By Si Conroy, owner of Scarlet Monday

As I was sliding out of a recent Platinum Club event, he stopped me. MD of a multi-location global business he gently berated me for sidling off so early. I smiled, half-jokingly suggesting that he was the one who had less need to be there… before I saw the piece of paper with scribbles all over it clutched in his hand. It turned out that it was the list of people he had researched to talk to that evening. He was a little tired as he’d only just flown back from a multi-day US conference – where he confessed he’d been the last person out networking each night.

The MD in question has a sales director, probably has high net worth and has more than a few business years under his belt. So why was he still out there networking?

Because he has to. Because you have to. Because all CEOs/MDs have to. And don’t fool yourself otherwise. The labels may change: you may say you’re working on new channels, partnerships or strategic alliances. But it’s sales. Exploring new products or services? New things to sell. Strategic leadership? Leadership of long term plans of action in how to sell more, differently.

Why does this matter? This matters because I meet too many leaders either desperate to distance themselves from the ‘grubbiness’ of sales to get on with the ‘strategic’ stuff; or doing a half-arsed job of sales because they’re not taking it seriously and ‘owning’ their accountability. The businesses I see failing are where the boss has lost sight (or never had sight!) of why people want to buy what they do.

The common problem is a failure to recognise that all businesses are sales-led. Being product-led means creating something people want to buy. Being customer-led means selling people what they want. Marketing-led means knowing how to develop relationships in advance of transactions with people who want to buy from you.

So run a quick sales triage:

1. Do you actually have a sales strategy? Before you hand over accountability for your sales front-line put together a slide deck on your sales strategy to present to an imaginary industry conference on the best sales strategies. When you get stuck after you’ve written the title and your name, own your accountability.

2. Ensure you’re levelling up. As your business grows, so you need to too. Most of the time you’ll follow a path to being involved in bigger sales, bigger accounts, then partnerships, new territories, new strategies etc. What got you here, probably won’t get you there so own your development: who can you learn from? Shadowing, mentoring, books, courses – these are the raw materials you’ll need to continually devour to avoid failing your business.

3. Be brutally honest. Earlier in the life of your business, you probably needed to cover all aspects of sales and account management. Now you need to be honest about what you’re best at, and get in the people to own the other elements. Ban ‘Should’ from your vocabulary, and do what you’re best at in the best interests of the business. A good friend recently sold his business after rapidly expanding into the Asia-Pacific (APAC) territory following relatively slow expansion in the Americas and EMEA. The difference? He hired a CEO and jumped on a plane every fortnight to Singapore as APAC sales director.

Be clear about my message. Despite the examples used this isn’t about the need for a macho hard-driven sales culture. It’s about recognising you are always ultimately the Chief Revenue Officer – whatever form that needs to take for your business.

End of Message.

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