Sell With the Confidence of Your CEO
More than one CEO has said, “If prospects just knew what I know, every prospect would become a client.” When CEOs (or founders) talk with prospects, their closing rate is extremely high. This is a common sales challenge for companies. Transferring the knowledge and experience from senior leaders so the sales team can close at the highest possible rate is a riddle that needs to be solved. In this article, we will discuss how junior sales reps can sell like their CEO.
When we talk with CEOs, we recognize their deep knowledge as a potent sales tool. They often share a great founder’s story. They know their customers’ challenges better than the customers themselves. They know the particulars of each department and the “why” behind every company action. This data is a valuable sales asset for the entire organization. Extracting that knowledge and transferring it to the sales team can be a challenge. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s why.
Facilitate CEO Mindset
Early in my sales career, I adopted a CEO mentality. This made selling very personal for me. In essence, viewing myself as the CEO, my clients were selecting me over the competition. This mindset was not driven by ego. It was facilitated by the company. They made it clear they had a selective hiring process and only the sales reps they felt could best represent the company, were chosen. The company made known that they trusted each sales rep as an extension of the organization. For new sales reps, this is an empowering and confidence inspiring feeling.
Over the years, I’ve recognized how critical it is to instill confidence early with new sales hires. Group hiring, fast-track onboarding, and probationary periods do little to promote confidence for a new sales hire. When you add virtual selling and remote sales teams to the equation, enabling a CEO mindset among the sales team becomes more evasive. Company swag is great, but it’s no substitute for the conviction of belonging to a team. Team-building exercises often end up being counterproductive. Instead of racing go-carts, nothing fosters a sense of belonging as when leaders invest one-on-one time. This demonstrates to reports that they are appreciated. Emotions and achievement are correlated with sales performance. When salespeople lack confidence and a sense of belonging, sales performance suffers. If you want your sales team to have the confidence of your CEO, let them know the CEO has full confidence in them.
A Tale of Two CEOs
What makes a CEO so convincing? Two things that have always stood out to me: First, they speak with conviction. Second, they have an air of authority. How can sales leaders develop conviction and authority for their sales team? The best way is by sharing their experience. CEOs have years of experience and the battle scars to prove it. For example, I met a CEO who built a successful international electrical equipment manufacturer. His company had sales offices across the US and Canada with manufacturing facilities overseas. The CEO was in his early 60s and created his company in his mid-thirties. When new sales reps joined the company, they saw a 25-year-old business with hundreds of employees and customers like Boeing and the U.S. Government.
What they didn’t see is that the company started out as a partnership between him and his wife. He would drive from state to state, calling on any manufacturer that would allow him to walk in their door. It took five years before he hired his first employee and ten years before he opened a regional sales office. He made it a point that everyone at his company knew his story. He was quick to share with the sales team how major accounts became clients. This was not because he needed to brag but because it took him years to close his first major account and he wanted to compress the learning curve for his sales team. His favorite saying was, “Lions don’t chase field mice.” He learned the hard way, chasing small deals in the early years, nearly forcing him into bankruptcy.
Another CEO I was fortunate to meet ran an import/export company as his primary business. It grew to the point where they hired developers to create custom software to improve operations. This led to forming a second company to sell the software. By all accounts, this CEO was highly successful, well respected, and an industry innovator. The problem he faced was that among the 400 software accounts, all the enterprise accounts required his direct involvement. The top 100 accounts represented nearly 80% of total revenue. Missing the enterprise accounts kept their client acquisition costs higher than it should have been and frustrated this CEO to no end.
When I met the sales manager, I asked his opinion on enterprise accounts. He looked at his feet, shook his head, and mumbled, “It’s an issue.” He explained that before there was a sales team, the CEO sold the first 50 accounts himself. These were high margin, high profit accounts. If an inbound enterprise lead was submitted, the CEO handled it instead of his sales team. When the CEO became too busy to handle even the biggest enterprise opportunities, the sales manager and sales team took over. The sales manager explained there was a time when both he and the CEO would be on enterprise calls. The sales manager as the presenter, and the CEO as backup. Without fail, the CEO would take over the call, win the business, and the issue would repeat itself at the next enterprise opportunity.
In essence, the CEO created his own bottleneck. He built a great solution, proved the model by selling to large accounts, but struggled to scale because nothing was documented, and all the sales knowledge was siloed in his head. On top of that, instead of instilling confidence and trust with the sales team, they felt insecure when selling to enterprise accounts. Because the sales reps struggled to win enterprise deals, they had to focus on volume. This led to burnout and high turnover among the sales team. The CEO is a genius, an innovator, and a great salesperson. But by failing to transfer his knowledge and experience, he created obstacles to greater sales success.
Lesson for Sales Reps
As a sales rep, if you book an appointment with a big opportunity and you feel uncertain, do not hesitate to ask someone senior to you to attend the meeting. Early in my career, I mistakenly thought if I asked a sales manager to join a meeting, it would be assumed I could not do my job. Why did I think this way? First, I noticed the sales manager was only attending meetings with underperforming sales reps. Second, it was never communicated to me that I could. Since the top-performing sales reps never included senior leaders for their sales meetings, I followed their example.
This was a costly mistake for myself and the company. Fortunately, a top producer allowed me to accompany him to a few of his client meetings. On the drive to the client, he would walk me through his strategy. On the return drive to the office, he would break down why he said what he said. This unofficial sales training took my sales performance to a new level.
A new sales rep with a headful of sales tactics, unearned confidence, and a desire to make the big bucks can be a recipe for disaster. This is a rep who’ll interrupt the prospect mid-sentence, talks in a condescending manner, and makes assumptions without evidence. This sales rep sees themselves as a CEO, but it’s a distorted and dysfunctional view. Unearned confidence is fake confidence, and I have witnessed it do more harm than good.
As sales leaders, we instill confidence by fostering a sense of belonging. Confidence begins by doing something we are proud of. If sales reps do not feel proud to be part of the team, performance will suffer. When a sales rep feels that their company has confidence in them, their own confidence grows. In addition to instilling confidence, junior sales reps benefit when leaders make a commitment to transfer their knowledge and experience. It’s natural for junior sales reps to see the success of a high-achiever and think, “They got lucky, they had it easy, they don’t know what it’s like selling today.” When leadership shares their struggles and how they handle it, junior sales reps can apply those lessons to accelerate their performance. High-performance selling requires more than teaching sales tactics, a few rebuttals, and closing statements. Zig Ziglar said, “Confidence is going fishing for Moby Dick and bringing your tartar sauce.” A sales team like that is unconquerable.
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