November 9, 2012

Why CEOs Need to Understand Selling

By Gerhard Gschwandtner

How do great brands shape a great customer experience? Their leaders walk the walk.

Bill Marriott became famous for his habit of traveling around the globe spreading the company’s “spirit to serve.” Apple store salespeople are not preprogrammed; their sales process allows their personalities to shine through. At the core of Starbucks’ training is helping employees fully engage their passion and talents every day in every interaction at work. Ritz-Carlton employees carry a guide that details their basic code of conduct: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

With all the wisdom available for creating a great customer experience, why is it that so many companies forget how to treat their customers?

While everyone focuses on the omnipotent customer, companies tend to overlook the salesperson as the chief creator of the customer experience. If the customer experience is so critical to the success of a business, why do so few measure the salesperson’s experience with their company? After all, customers see the company through the lens of the salesperson. How many times do you hear sales leaders ask salespeople, “Is marketing giving you enough leads to reach your goals?” or “How would you rate your experience with our CRM system?” or “What incentives or rewards would be most meaningful to you?” Or simply: “How can we help you create more customers?”

A CEO whose company credo states, “We believe in candor and open communications” complained about how hard it is to communicate with salespeople. He said, “I can’t rely on their forecasts, I can’t rely on their data in our CRM system, and I can’t make strategic decisions based on their input.” What happens when the CEO responds to salespeople with doubt or skepticism? The CEO’s doubt impacts the salesperson’s experience with the company, which inevitably echoes back to the customer.

A recent Selling Power online survey found that 29 percent of sales leaders judged their CEO useless when it comes to creating a sale. If these CEOs don’t understand what selling is all about, how could they improve the customer experience?

The CEO of Four Seasons Hotels, Isadore Sharp, gets it right. He insists on treating Four Seasons employees with the same level of respect that they in turn are expected to give their guests. The outcome: higher employee engagement and higher customer satisfaction.