Can We Talk?

Sometimes we all need to channel our inner Joan Rivers and have one of those “Can We Talk?” conversations. While her raunchy sense of humor turned this phrase into code for “Here’s my advice for what an idiot you are”, there is a good lesson in the overall idea. Sometimes we have to sit down and talk in order to get to the bottom of things. Did you know that one of the top reasons Sales Leaders are let go is because CEOs lose confidence in what they’re hearing and eventually trust breaks down? I think that proves we could all benefit from a little more conversation.

In our Management Advisory Program (MAP) one of the first things we do is assess how well the CEO and Sales Leader are aligned. The CEO is nervous about the sales numbers, isn’t sure if they’re making progress, and is getting impatient while waiting for results. They’re not sure exactly what’s going on but it certainly doesn’t seem like things are going in the right direction. The Sales Leader keeps reassuring the CEO that the plan is on track, the pipeline is building, and a few orders (or the one big one) will put the company back on plan. Unfortunately, the CEO has been through this before and has little confidence this time will be any different. They’re not sure the Sales leader is guiding appropriately and often have strong opinions about what should be done. This makes the Sales Leader frustrated as well. They’re implementing the plan and building momentum. They don’t want to abandon ship after putting all their time into making a plan, coaching, and giving assignments. The Sales Leader feels like the CEO doesn’t listen and doesn’t stay the course long enough for any approach to truly make an impact. Basically, everyone is frustrated and anxious.

We’re invited in and hear these stories over and over again so guess what we do? Yep, we stop everyone and ask a few questions. “How often do you talk? What data do you share? What leading indicators have you agreed to? What contingencies or adjustments will you implement, if things aren’t where you need them? When will you implement them? What we often hear back is, “I don’t have time to get into that level of detail, that’s what I hired the Sales Leader to worry about.” Or, “I couldn’t possibly spend that much time reporting, I need to get out there with my team and sell!” This is when we say, “Can we talk?”

Clear, fact based discussions can build trust and cure many of these insecurities. Both the Sales Leader and the CEO need to change how they approach their conversations in order to build a strong and productive relationship.

First of all, most of the people we work with in a MAP simply don’t talk often enough. Quarterly meetings aren’t going to keep everyone on the same page. Think about a football team. With 16 games in the season you wouldn’t wait until the fourth game to talk about progress and make changes. You call timeouts during the game and make adjustments as you go. Sending weekly reports doesn’t get the job done either. Sales Leaders often feel like the CEO isn’t really reading the reports and the CEO feels like all they get is data, not insights or results.

Once you set up regular meetings you need to make sure the meetings themselves are effective. There are three questions you need to answer at every single meeting:

  1. Did we work the plan? (hit our leading indicators)
  2. Did the plan get the right results?
  3. Do we need to adjust the plan? If so, how and when?

Of course, the only way to answer these questions is if both parties bring the right mindset to the table. In order to have a productive conversation the Sales Leader and the CEO have to fulfill the following expectations:

Sales Leaders:

  • Bring facts and data that support what’s happening. Don’t manage from stories without proof to back them up.
  • Be realistic. Don’t sugar coat a situation or the CEO won’t trust your findings.
  • Share bad news early and good news often. This will build trust and ensure that any problems don’t get out of hand.
  • If you’re sure that the plan is being executed properly but it’s still not working, change it.

CEOs:

  • Be clear about the plan and make sure you understand the metrics around it. Keep asking questions until you’re aligned.
  • Hold the sales leader accountable for executing the plan by keeping track of leading indicators.
  • Be patient enough to allow the plan to work. The next big idea can often be very distracting to a sales team (especially when it’s only half baked).
  • If you’re sure that the plan is being executed properly but it’s still not working, change it.

Communicate to stay on the same page, make adjustments faster, and build trust. Regular conversations driven by facts can easily fix any misalignment between the Sales Leader and the CEO.

How well are the Sales Leaders and CEOs aligned at your company?

*For more information on our Management Advisory Program and how we could help you click here.

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About Mike Braun

Mike is a founder and owner of Pivotal Advisors, a national sales improvement firm dedicated to driving a new level of discipline, visibility and predictability into sales forces. Mike is a sought-after speaker, facilitator, consultant and expert in designing sales structures, processes and habits that drive results and create competitive advantage. His most recent work includes high-profile projects in sales strategy, effective hiring, sales process and measurement and sales management execution.

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