Who is Your Chief Sales Officer?

By Joe Connelly

When I am introduced to a company for the first time, I quickly try and figure out who is responsible for sales. It might sound like a simple question, but the answer, often complex, can highlight how a company thinks about sales, revenues, and most importantly about customers. It normally starts when I enter the headquarter premises, many of which are incredibly grand. I look for telltale signs of end-customer thinking on the walls. Whether it’s a mission statement that incorporates customers in a significant way, a customer-focused video playing on a monitor, or examples of customer products on display, it doesn’t take long to sweep the landscape for clues.

When inside the company, I am normally talking with one of the Executives. Sometimes it’s the VP of Sales and sometimes it’s another title that may or may not explain clearly what they do, or what they are responsible for. I always listen closely to our dialogue and in particular the remarks made over the early part of a conversation.

Customer-focused Executives will always seem to find a way of mentioning something about their customer base in some manner. Maybe not explicitly mentioning customer names for confidentiality purposes, but certainly mentioning something that clearly highlights how important customers are to the organization. It’s quite easy to spot when you simply take the time to look and listen. But what does that really tell you about them, their culture and their approach to business?

I recall when I was a young VP of Sales and someone on our Board of Directors (a very seasoned individual), asked me who was responsible for sales. I thought it was a really obvious question and so I quickly answered “Me!” Then he asked who was responsible for revenues. That was equally as easy and again I eagerly answered “Me again!” Then, since questions tend to come in three’s, he asked me who was responsible for customers. I thought a bit longer about this but knew I was on a roll, and blurted out, “Well of course that’s me as well!” The seasoned individual looked at me, sizing me up, while I racked my brains in the deadening silence. He then said “It’s unfortunate that in a company of hundreds of people its only you who has responsible for sales, revenues and customers. Maybe you are missing some leverage and empowerment opportunities!” I just realized that in our mental joust, I had just lost all three rounds!

Assuming that your company is setup to generate profit (as most companies are today), then you are immediately constrained by what I affectionately call The Rules of The Business Game. These rules appear universal in nature, are timeless in their application, and transcend size, type or location of the company.

The organizations that understand the rules of the game, use them in their favour and don’t try and fight them, will undoubtedly generate the highest profits (amongst other key business metrics). Consider the following and see which ones you fight, which ones you accept, and which ones your company has truly mastered:

1. Everyone in a company has responsibility for sales, revenues and customers: internal meetings, employee appraisals, key performance indicators (KPI’s) and other mechanisms should bring out this fact time and time again. The more you focus on this point the more your customer relationships will thrive!

2. Strategic customer relationships have the ability to stand the test of time: and in fact become part of your foundation of revenues and profit. Protecting this foundation is key to long-term company stability.

3. Over time long-term customers are more profitable than short-term customers: even although you might not always have the metrics to prove it. But instinctively this makes sense and with a little brainstorming with your team you will quickly come up with compelling reasons why this rule holds true. Once you get it, then it makes sense to apply more resource and effort to look after these accounts.

4. Every employee (if possible) should have some kind of customer metric as part of his or her appraisal: and be positively held accountable to it. With everyone in the company having this acute customer focus, you will surely drive creative ideas, decisive action and through this a common internal rallying point. Wow!

5. Customers like to be recognized: since they’re human! I always suggest you think of customers as a group of individuals (humans), and we all know humans like to be recognized. Use this inbuilt human need to positively recognize your most important customers in ways that are meaningful for them. You’ll feel good about it and they’ll feel even better!

6. Synergistic customer relationships are your biggest competitive differentiator: and can easily lock out your ever-hungry competition. When you are the incumbent supplier in a large account, then KNOW that your competition are thinking, planning and doing things to knock you off that spot. By working with key customers in a synergistic and partnership way, you will drive your competition mad! Its just part of the game of business after all!

7. Repeat business has the lowest cost of sales of any business: and is often the most profitable. As a VP of Sales I was astounded when I took the initiative to work out the actual cost-of-sales for each of our accounts. I then worked out the cost for repeat business versus finding and winning new business. To say there was simply no comparison is a real understatement.

So the morale of the story is – do everything possible to keep the customers you have – even although some of them might be a pain sometimes. They are likely to represent a significantly lower cost-of-sales to you compared to the cost of finding a replacement. As I often coach, when building a skyscraper-size revenue business, make sure your foundation is secure and strong enough before you scale rapidly.

8. Customers don’t always come back when they leave: and therefore should be protected from the eventuality. When you lose a customer for whatever reason, you are no longer the incumbent. You become the outsider, the ‘wanna-be’. The barrier to entry (or re-entry) is now higher than ever before. Customers can be re-won, but often at considerable expense, effort and time to the organization. Knowing this, it makes sense to do everything possible to fight to keep your existing customers!

Now in trying to answer the apparently simple question of “Who is your Chief Sales Officer?” I will leave it up to you the reader to decide. And of course there are many acceptable answers.

The one I like the best even although I was a VP of Sales for many years and thought I should be the CSO, is this: “We are a customer-focused company and all our employees have clear responsibility for sales, revenues and our customers.”

Now my esteemed Board member would undoubtedly be happy hearing that I had at last figured out a way to accept The Rules of The Business Game and use leverage and empowerment to their maximum. Incidentally when I figured this out our revenues and profits increased accordingly. Now that must be a coincidence surely!