What It Takes to be a Chief Sales Officer Today

Dan Perry

The Chief Sales Officer’s role has dramatically changed in the past several years. What qualified for the role before no longer gets you the gig. The truth is, too many CSOs are merely super sellers. But, this profile no longer works. In today's sales environment, buyers no longer buy the same way. At the same time, sales team demographics and organizational models are rapidly evolving. Effective CSOs must manage a complex set of internal and external dynamics.

Success in the CSO role starts with a solid sales strategy. But what really is a sales strategy? A sales strategy is a company's plan for driving profitable revenue growth. It defines where a company will play and how it will win in the competitive market. A true sales strategy includes the following components and activities:

  • Market Insight: Defining the total and serviceable addressable market, ideal customer profile with propensity-to-buy criteria. Understanding these elements helps sales teams build their target buyer personas and buying process maps. Knowledge of the customer deciding journey also provides the foundation for an adaptive sales process.
  • Go-to-Market: What is the optimal revenue model and go-to-market coverage mix? A sales strategy bridges the company's overall strategy with field execution. It maps the direct and indirect channels for growth. And it also defines the linkages across marketing, product and customer success.
  • Organizational Design: This involves assessing the best sales organizational design for a company’s markets, products, and services. Beyond reporting lines and boxes, org design must also address the talent requirements. Territory coverage and quotas must also be defined. Finally, the structure should be reinforced through compensation plans that incent the right behaviors.
  • Process & Plays: This element involves determining how qualified prospects are guided through the buying process. It means designing targeted selling actions for winning new business. Modern salesforces deploy adaptive sales methodologies that focus on running the right play at the right time. A formal process and toolset is also needed to manage and expand account relationships. The CSO is responsible for strengthening the situational awareness of reps. This is key to executing a sales process that pivots to the customer’s deciding journey.
  • Messaging: A great sales strategy identifies the messaging for engaging multiple influencers in today’s consensus-driven sale. This process starts with a strong voice of the customer. It includes the value proposition and competitive differentiators for the most common deal situations. Ultimately, this insight is translated into rep tools that support adaptive selling behaviors: What to Do, What to Say, and What to Show in specific selling scenarios. An effective messaging plan drives tight alignment between sales and marketing.
  • Enablement and Operations: Every great sales strategy includes a combination of enablement (sales effectiveness) and operations (sales efficiency). Executing powerful enablement and operations is multifaceted. It typically includes playbooks, onboarding processes, training, coaching reinforcement and much more.
  • Metrics: Sales strategy hinges on the ability to measure key lagging, leading, and behavioral indicators. These KPI’s help develop a great pipeline and forecasting process. Equally important, they provide the roadmap for front-line sales management and coaching. Clarity around metrics is also central to effective sales analytics and reporting.
  • Technology: Finally, a sales strategy leverages technology. A great CSO knows how to maximize their sales technology stack, including CRM, marketing automation, enablement tools, and talent management. For many sales models, world-class configuration, pricing and quoting systems are essential to reducing selling time. Today’s sales leaders know how to use technology, data, and business-artificial intelligence to improve performance.

The sales strategy isn’t static. A CSO must continuously refine it in response to shifting external and internal factors. But being a great CSO doesn’t end with the sales strategy. Executional excellence is also needed. To accomplish this, a high-performing CSO must be:

  • In the field every week. This field work includes riding with reps and sales managers, visiting customers, and attending local sales meetings. These experiences provide the fast feedback loop to help CSOs know when to adjust their sales strategy.
  • Hunting for talent every day. Today’s great CSOs know their ability to make the number is an equal combination of talent and performance conditions. If the CSO isn’t always upgrading the team, they will fall behind. This focus on maximizing talent covers the full hierarchy – from inside rep to the most senior sales leader.
  • Relentless on coaching. CSOs must create a ‘coaching culture’ in which the entire sales team coaches on a continuous basis. The CSO must personally role model this behavior. Expectations for coaching should be clear and actual coaching activities regularly monitored. Effective coaching leads to increased sales productivity.

The statistics around CSO turnover are depressingly high. Don’t be another failed CSO. Success starts with knowing how to create a complete sales strategy. But is also requires knowing how to execute against that sales strategy. The right combination of strategy and tactics equals success.

Contact us to learn more about how we can help you maximize your performance as a CSO or fine tune your sales strategy. For other sales executives, we’re also happy to help evaluate if you’re ready to be the next great CSO.

Dan Perry

Dan Perry

Daniel Perry is a partner at The Brevet Group. He leverages nearly 30 years of experience leading sales teams and helping complex sales organizations become elite performers.