I have often heard from sales people that the last thing they want is the CEO or Chairman going anywhere near their customers or sales deals. They fear a repeat of being embarrassed and having lost deals because their seniors have proven a liability.

A lot of CEOs and Chairmen have come up through the ranks without getting sales training and experience and as such, shy away from direct customer contact. Whether a liability or shy of sales deals, there are missed opportunities to close sales or give a boost to customer relationships.

In almost all turnaround situations the CEO and other directors have had little direct customer sales deal contact and as such their plans and decisions bear little resemblance to market reality. It is a sure way to ensure the company looses it’s way. I can remember on more than one occasion where the future of the company was bet on one deal and yet no one had actually visited the customer in a long while. This made private equity investors very nervous and non believers in the forecast. It certainly destroyed their confidence in the management team.

Missing these opportunities is a great pity. Many customers never get the opportunity to meet a supplier’s or potential supplier’s CEO. Having the CEO take an interest in the customer’s problem and hear about the commitment of the CEO to making the customer’s project a complete success is a great motivator and can accelerate you ahead of competition.

If you as CEO have little sales experience then stick to the basics. Sales is about listening and not talking. It’s about asking about the customer’s specific needs and helping that customer relate to how your solution will meet these needs. Establish the customer’s purchasing and decision process and the timescale to reach a decision. This will help solidify your forecasting. Seek from the customer the key criteria behind their decision and ask how they perceive your ability to meet those needs. Be bold when appropriate and ask the customer gently what you could do to secure their business. If you can do this in front of your sales person you will win their respect and they will be keen to take you to more customers, which in turn keeps you close to your market.

If you are CEO or chairman that has good customer sales skills, my advice is to go out as often as you can to support your sales people in their sales deals or simply make visits to ascertain whether you are supporting your customers properly and are happy. Customer visits strengthen rapport. If you want to know how to best market your company or how to best look after your customers to competitive advantage, these meetings can tell you everything you will ever need to know.

All CEO’s and directors should acquire, top up, or maintain their sales and customer skills. Here are some good sales training companies: