In helping CEOs execute sales transformation initiatives within their organizations, we regularly see top executives struggle with the effectiveness (or perceived lack thereof) of their chief sales officer.  In truth, it’s sometimes difficult to isolate whether the CSO is causing poor sales results or simply suffering from a deeply rooted poor selling model.  Nonetheless, it’s the CSO’s job to be the catalyst for the necessary sales change, and if they aren’t being successful they may in fact be the problem.

Why Does It Seem So Many Chief Sales Officers Are Struggling to Succeed?

Old Dogs Aren’t Learning New Tricks

Some sales experts believe because the CSO job has become so complex, many sales leaders simply don’t have the skills to execute.  “The new reality of the sales profession has been particularly challenging for sales veterans who came up through the ranks when face-to-face selling was king and product knowledge could get you the sale. And yet these senior folks hold many of today’s sales-leadership roles.” 

Top Sales Reps Don’t Always Become Great Sales Leaders

In the world of sports, great players often fail as head coaches.  Likewise, the skills it takes to be a top individual sales performer are different than those needed to manage top producing sales teams.   We often find struggling CSOs are first timers in that position and were formerly an individual performer.  Maybe they were promoted internally as a matter of courtesy or perhaps they ‘interviewed well’ for the job as an outside, but unknown candidate.  Regardless, extra caution is required when considering a first timer for a sales leaders position.

Broken Alignment, Poor Selling Culture or Weak Sales Process

Even the right Chief Sales Officer will struggle when other systemic issues drag down sales effectiveness.   It’s difficult enough to make your sales number when your team is solid, your sales processes are finely tuned and your well aligned to company strategy and the rest of the C-suite.   Sales leaders that are hired into broken situations often fail despite doing many of the other things perfectly.

Breaking the Cycle of Poor Sales Leadership – Three Steps for CEOs

Based on our experiences in real world sales transformations, here are three things CEOs must do to break the cycle of weak sales leadership.  Maybe not the easiest or least painful tasks you will undertake, but when necessary they are highly effective.

1) Wrong Sales Leader? Rip the BandAid

If you know you have the wrong person in the role, regardless of how or why they got there, remove them immediately.  Struggling sales leaders know they are struggling and can do a lot of damage to client relationships, team morale and future pipelines as they flounder along.  Find a short-term way to manage the sales team and start the recruiting process for a new leader.

2) Address the Process

Even good sales processes can be tuned to perform better.  Look at these key areas:

  • Targeting and Lead Generation
  • Qualifying and Proposing the Right Opportunities
  • Sales Team Throughput and Efficiency

These areas can be improved even while you’re looking for your new leader.  It will be one less issue they have to deal with when they join the team and shorten the time they’ll need to generate positive momentum.

3) Engage the Full Leadership Team in Sales Improvement

For the new sales leader to be successful they will need the support of all departments and functions.  Make sure each of your company’s operations understands their role in the sales process and do what they can to improve how they engage with and enable the sales team to succeed.

If you’re a CEO facing a challenge in the sales leadership role the sooner you resolve the issue the better for your company.  Perhaps it’s not the CSO on their own that is the issue – or perhaps they are in fact the problem.  Either way, the situation must be dealt with decisively and with the right approach.  If it is, you’re on your way to breaking the cycle of poor sales leadership.