The 5 Top Frustrations CEOs Have With Their Sales Function

Mysterious figures

In our work it’s noticeable how often the same complaints about ‘sales’ come up in talking to CEOs. Given the tightening of many market-places we thought it was worth collecting them together in one place:

1. By far the most common one was fantasy forecasting. There are many reasons that explain the difficulty of accurate forecasting but in some organisations the process is far too much about bluff and double bluff. If we put the obvious requirement of actually meeting the numbers to one side as a given requirement, the first thing CEOs want is accuracy, the (close) second thing is predictability and the third is reliability.

  • Accuracy – the numbers come in close to where they were forecasted to be; at the right margin and mix.
  • Predictability – hitting numbers one quarter and being wildly off the next and then being back on track helps nobody.
  • Reliability – sandbagging numbers, expectation massaging and under selling the future are all part of the sales ‘black arts’. However, authentic dialogue and a real engagement around budgets and business plans are much more grown up.

It’s fair to add here that often the issue of ‘gaming the system’ is a function of the wider organisational culture rather than something sales are necessarily guiltier of than any other function.

2. Making excuses for poorly performing salespeople/managers that should be have been replaced long ago. We are still surprised how many Sales Directors would rather have somebody not up to the job keeping the seat warm than having an empty chair.

3. Sales using their ‘Voice of the Customer’ status to constantly justify why the market is like it is, with nobody else showing any understanding. CEOs like to see some ownership of difficulties, not dodgy justifications.

4. A sub-set of point 3 is wanting to ‘protect’ customers from the rest of the organisation, sales being the only function that cares about ‘the people who pay the bills’. There is often some truth in this, but rather than trying to keep their organisation at bay, they should be engaging with their board colleagues in ways to improve things.

5. Sales being resistant to change. You might think sales would be receptive to change given how close to the market they are. However, because many sales organisations feel beleaguered and constantly under pressure, any change is seen as making life more difficult for them. Worry about any sales organisation that ‘just wants to be left alone to get on with things’.

I’m sure none of our readers suffer these issues, perhaps you should circulate the article to board colleagues and ask for feedback, just to make sure!