What’s the most important difference between a sales leader who always seems to be juggling emergencies...and someone who prevents emergencies from arising in the first place?
The answer is: sales leaders in the first group haven’t yet learned to think like CEOs, while sales leaders in the second group have. Not every sales leader adopts the CEO mindset.
Here is my list of three essential, non-negotiable starting points for sales leaders who aspire to this elite group.
Own it: Don’t “go native” when it comes to your accountability for forecasting accuracy. If you are a sales leader, it is your responsibility to provide consistent forward visibility about revenue in an accurate, meaningful, and transparent way.
Own that responsibility. Accept that consistent forecast accuracy is among the most important deliverables the organization as a whole counts on you to provide. Meeting this responsibility may mean doing things differently than you’re currently doing them. It may mean, for instance, communicating more effectively with the members of your team about how (and whether) deals are progressing through your sales process. If they aren’t moving forward, they don’t belong in the pipeline!
Owning your responsibility to deliver accurate forecasts also means making sure that all live opportunities are coded properly, and that the essential supporting information for each deal in the reporting standards, making accurate reports you are ready to stand behind, and being willing and able to discuss your forecasts in detail with senior management are all central components of your job description.
Owning your responsibility to deliver accurate forecasts also means making sure that all live opportunities are coded properly, and that the essential supporting information for each deal in the pipeline is available to stakeholders and colleagues who may need it. Meeting reasonable agreed upon reporting standards, making accurate reports you are ready to stand behind, and being willing and able to discuss your forecasts in detail with senior management are all central components of your job description. Looking for ways to get around any part of that job description (by, say, holding back critical information, or underestimating your pipeline totals so your team looks like heroes at the end of the quarter) undermines your credibility, your team’s ability to support others in the organization who count on them, and your own standing as a leader.
Forecast accuracy is becoming more, not less, important as an organizational challenge, yet too many sales leaders still choose to “go native” in this area. To give one common example of this: When salespeople complain to them about reporting protocols, the sales leader agrees with them, sympathizes with their complaints, and sometimes even covers for their failure to meet the agreed-upon reporting standards! That’s not how an effective CEO would deal with such conversations, and it’s not how you should, either.
Channel the voice of the customer -- collaboratively. Nobody is closer to the customer than you and your team are. Nobody has fresher, more actionable competitive intelligence about what’s happening on the front lines. Nobody has more relevant information to contribute to the strategic conversation. That means any and every growth initiative your company invests resources in should be shaped by your input on whether customers will respond positively to it. Similarly, any and every important initiative that touches customers should be shaped by your input on how customers will react to it. If that isn’t happening right now, take a moment to ask yourself why it isn’t happening.
What we find, in many organizations, is that it’s not happening because sales leaders are not making collaboration with other teams a priority. Instead of asking big questions that affect multiple working groups (like “How can we improve NPS?”), they focus on petty rivalries, old grudges, and toxic stereotypes (like “Accounting found another way to sabotage us -- the invoices went out late”).
This pattern becomes a serious problem when sales leaders use such victim-mindset narratives to strengthen their ties with members of the sales team who report to them! This is another example of “going native” -- one that undercuts organizational cohesion and, ultimately, makes you and your team less competitive in the marketplace. Good CEOs avoid needless drama; they broker solutions. If you make a habit of doing the same, you’ll be in a better position to share what you know about the problems that need solving in the customer’s world -- and you’ll be able to get in sync with people who can do something about those problems.
Schedule senior-level meetings strategically. There are two ways senior-level executives tend to be brought into sales discussions: as part of a lastminute fire drill designed to save a deal in jeopardy, or as a structured, carefully thought-out plan for peer-to-peer contact that sets up a long-term alliance. Can you guess which road CEOs and other C-level executives prefer to walk down?
In the fire-drill scenario, they’re expected to put on their Superman cape and save the day often by talking to people several levels below their pay grade. That’s not a good play, and it often fails to produce the desired result. In the long-term alliance scenario, the sales leader steps back and thinks about the future, identifies a critical subset of accounts where peer to peer meetings are likely to produce outcomes that help both sides over the long term, and sets up a series of meetings as part of a regular business review. Lean into that second scenario, and away from the first one, and you’ll be thinking more like a CEO.
Of course, these three steps aren’t the only ones you can take to enhance your personal accountability, your CEO mindset, and your leadership profile. But they are, I would argue, the best steps you can take if you are serious about starting that journey.