Think Like a CEO

By Heather Baldwin

It’s human nature to always be looking to the next opportunity. Now that you’re a sales manager, no doubt you’ve begun to think about what’s next in your career – vice president, maybe even CEO one day. Whether you want to move up the ladder or retire as the best darned sales manager the world has ever seen, you need to think like a CEO. That means viewing closings through CEO eyes, say Roy Alexander and Charles Roth, authors of Secrets of Closing Sales (Penguin, 2004). Alexander and Roth provide these examples of managers who excelled by thinking and closing like CEOs.

  • J.D. Brooks is the eastern regional sales manager for Mycogen, an agricultural biotech firm. He accepted a salary that was about 25% lower than his competitors’ in exchange for stock options he knew could be lucrative. He is on top of all aspects of his business and industry, including all the latest government changes. He frequently pitches in to drive tractors or bag potatoes at harvest, which endears him to customers. But he also knows that even loyal customers will switch to another brand if the local distributor doesn’t have Mycogen in stock when it’s time to spray. So Brooks spends a chunk of his time making sure ag-chem distributors are stocked with Mycogen. In short, he thinks and acts like CEO of his territory.
  • Lois Dale is CEO of Barter Advantage, New York’s premier barter exchange. She observes, “Knowing how to close sales is vital and exciting, but knowing how to pick the profitable prospects makes you promotable.” She learned her lesson in the early days of her business when she extended credit to a travel agent who suggested he’d put his services into her system in exchange for her help. It was potentially a big sale so she went with it. But the day after she delivered her end of the bargain, the agent didn’t return calls. He ultimately went to Brazil and his company went down the drain. “No sale is better than a bad sale,” Dale says. “I found out how to evaluate a potential customer with CEO eyes and not be just a salesperson seeking another scalp.” Know how to sell, she adds, but know when to collect in advance and when to reject a sale.
  • Phil Taggart is a Houston, Texas-based consultant in corporate and individual investing. For 18 months he called every 6 weeks trying to get a meeting with Bob Gow, CEO at Stratford of Texas. When Gow finally agreed to give him 15 minutes at 5:00 p.m., Taggart knew he needed to do something striking to convince the skeptical Gow that he could help him. His solution was to draw a simple picture that made Taggart’s services tangible. It worked. They talked until 6:30 p.m. and made a deal. Taggart thought like a CEO by explaining his service simply, clearly and quickly, unearthing a genuine need the client was unaware of and doing it all in an interesting way.