Should a CEO always be selling?

A CEO should always be selling, but what and how they sell should change over the lifespan of the business

Should a CEO always be selling

Most founders have to sell to start and grow the business initially. However, what you sell and to whom should change as the business progresses through various stages of growth. 

Last month at the Elite Business Live conference in London, I had the opportunity to join a panel on Supercharging Your Sales. It is a vast topic and one of the biggest challenges in business today. The questions flowed thick and fast. An established business owner who’d been at the helm of his company for 16 years and on the path to a hopeful billion asked, “Should a CEO always be selling”?

The answer is yes. But what and how you sell depends on why you do what you do.

A job can appear to be a business. And an asset can also. Both present as an incorporated entity with a team, customers and suppliers. The difference is that an asset meets three non-negotiable, interlinked criteria. An asset grows its income, actively and deliberately deepens its capital value and can be traded and sold to a buyer who can enjoy the same. A job only builds income. 

When you build an asset, a framework to guide you on what and to whom you should be selling as your company grows becomes useful.

From start to early growth

A business needs sales to start. And getting the first sales onboard is likely to come from you. This act is vital and valuable in enabling you to position your company. Positioning answers several critical questions, including who you serve, what problem you solve for them, how that problem comes about, and how they buy a solution. Gleaning these invaluable insights and data in the early stages helps to distinguish your business offering and inform the development of your commercial systems. As the CEO, you should be front and centre of leading sales to secure cash flow and clarify your positioning. You will use the blueprint to scale your business in the next phase.

Build a scalable platform

The blueprint extracted from effective positioning informs how you build your commercial operating system – marketing, sales, fulfilment, retention and procurement – and its best done with your team. Doing so accelerates the process, spreads the load and capacitates and empowers your team to operate, manage and lead the commercial system aligned to your positioning. Selling your team into this process is vital.

Accelerate sales off your platform

With a clear positioning and system of delivery enabled and operated by your team, your attention should now be on accelerated growth. Growth must be led. If you deepen growth in your established segments, you sell new marketing campaigns to your team and market. If you are onboarding new products or services, you sell them to your team and customers. If you are growing through acquisition, you are selling a vision to your team, funders and acquired targets.

Securing your capital return

In the final phases of your commercial career, with an asset in hand, you invite the option for a big exit and reward for the years of hard work and risk preceding. It’s the prequel to your final sales act. 

Convincing buyers to buy your company and convincing your team, customers, and suppliers that they will benefit from the acquisition is vital to enabling the transaction. Successfully delivered, the last act of sales is your entry into a new career. 

Building your legacy

Retirement is for the birds. I say this because if you have succeeded in these activities, you have a gift and a responsibility to serve humankind. Giving back and playing it forward creates meaning and value in one’s life; your final selling act should be to yourself. Convincing yourself of what and how you’d like to pay it forward might be the most challenging sales engagement. It might also be one of the most worthy.

Never stop selling, but be sure that you are always selling something different. If not, you’re likely building a business that is a job.

Pavlo Phitidis
Pavlo Phitidis

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