Controlled Demolition Inc. was chasing the largest sale in its 50-year history: a $10 million contract to blow up and remove a Russian radar facility in Latvia. So company CEO Mark Loizeaux sent his best closer. He sent himself.
"You can’t replace the fact that people want to talk to the boss," said Loizeaux, whose privately owned CDI in Phoenix, Md., is one of the largest companies in the demolition industry. To close another deal earlier this month, Loizeaux traveled at the last minute to London and stayed over the weekend—missing the birthday of his twins.
"The beauty of putting the CEO on the road is that he has the authority to make a decision on his
feet," Loizeaux said. "If you send the lesser person out, he has to call home for authority. A CEO can make decisions finitely, professionally and with confidence."
More senior-level executives than ever are leading the salesperson’s life, according to experts. Driven by a slowing economy, in which b-to-b sales are tougher to come by, corporate CEOs are out to give the field salespeople a helping hand, said Glenn Hughes, VP-business development for The Sales Strategy Institute Inc., Herndon, Va.
"There’s more receptivity than ever to any sales discussion on impacting revenue, margin or market share," said Hughes, whose company has advised such companies as Hewlett-Packard Co., Oracle Corp. and Pechiney Group.
Where Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. Chairman Richard Branson’s long-standing policy of calling on 50 customers a week used to be unusual, it’s becoming the norm in 2001, Hughes said.
Enterprise software company Requisite Technology Inc., Westminster, Colo., has seen the value of sending senior-level executives on sales calls. Requisite’s four senior managers have begun making quarterly calls to the hottest, largest prospects, as well as ongoing customers, said Louis Faust III, CEO, president and COO.
"It is the old [New York] Mayor [Ed] Koch thing. We’re travelling around asking, ‘How are we doing?’ " Faust said. "This is going to be a long-term rather than short-term change for our senior management."
In fact, Requisite closed a sale to Dallas-based steel marketplace Quadrem only after Faust and Requisite’s chief technology officer met with Quadrem’s CEO and COO. In another case, Requisite nabbed an unspecified global financial services company in the first quarter of 2001 after Faust called on their CTO.
Minard meets and greets
During his 30-plus years in marketing on Wall Street, Frank Minard was among the best, landing watershed contracts, including a $10.4 billion account from Fidelity Investments, when he was chairman of Bankers Trust Co.’s global investment management division.
These days, as chairman of InvestorForce.com, a research, news and consulting portal aimed at the institutional investor community, Minard spends more time selling than ever.
"I would say that most of my time is spent out in the field, working with plan sponsors and consultants," said Minard, who before joining InvestorForce in 1999 was global head of marketing at Morgan Stanley Institutional Investment Management.
For InvestorForce, Minard’s visibility has helped the 2Â½-year-old company from being another strapped dot-com. It has instead gained a client base that rivals those of some of its established, offline competitors. The Wayne, Pa.-based company has signed on 2,287 registered institutional investors, overseeing $6.2 trillion in assets.
"Speaking immodestly, it’s been critical," Minard said of his selling efforts.
For Duncan Anderson, president-CEO of Global Knowledge Inc., the world’s largest private provider of IT education services, selling comes naturally.
Before joining Cary, N.C.-based Global Knowledge in 1996 as VP-sales and marketing, Anderson spent 18 years at Digital Equipment Corp., where he started in sales and worked his way up to a series of upper-level sales management and sales training posts.
Given the slowing economy, Anderson believes his background is now more critical than ever.
"Those people that have business models that depend on revenue growth had better be willing to be involved in that [sales] process," said Anderson, who gets involved in major contracts involving hundreds of millions of dollars.
"These are major deals that could make or break the company," he said. "Customers want to see senior members involved so they know they’re going to get one-stop shopping when things go wrong."
For John Urban, president of GT Nexus Inc., Alameda, Calif., closer involvement in the sales cycle has meant a lot of international travel. A developer of shipping software, GT Nexus sells into Asia and Europe. And while the company has field salespeople in those markets, a senior-level call often helps close a deal, Urban said.
"When your C-level executive is willing to travel overseas for a customer, it adds weight to the relationship," Urban said. "There’s lots of demand from our field sales representatives to visit their markets. So far this year, about the only place we haven’t been is Antarctica."
When CEOs should stay home
Yet there are dangers to having the top executive tapping prospects and closing deals, said Stephan Schiffman, president and founder of international sales training company D.E.I. Management Group Inc., New York. Schiffman reckons he’s trained 450,000 people at 9,000 companies. And senior-level people, he said, are the most likely to push too hard and not have command of all the facts.
"CEOs have a tendency to screw up a deal because they don’t know the details," Schiffman said. "When taking a meeting, a CEO absolutely has to listen to everything a field sales representative is telling him." Another problem: "CEOs also tend to oversell," he said.
Sometimes, a CEO is most effective when he or she simply pops in, says thank you and assumes the company is closing the deal, Schiffman said.
Anne M. Pauker, president of human resources consultancy The Pauker Consulting Group, Princeton Junction, N.J., said it’s important for senior executives to understand when to stay out of the picture. Although they can bring a sense of credibility to the sale, a field sales representative is the best person to prospect and close, she said.
"A CEO should spend between 20% and 60% of their time on sales, depending on the size of the sale and the size of the organization," Pauker said. "But there’s no magic number. It is a poor long-term strategy for the CEO to be the only one able to bring credibility to a sales call. The CEO should be spending some time replicating credibility throughout an organization."
That’s been the approach taken by Eric Thomas, CEO of direct marketing technology provider L-Soft International Inc., who has immersed himself in building a sales force that carries out his vision.
Thomas, who started his company on $3,000 and a laptop, closed L-Soft’s first $1.7 million in sales himself. But today, with over 2,200 customers for its Listserv and e-mail delivery products, Thomas has a handpicked and personally trained sales force of more than 20 field reps.
"Our top-level executives get involved in sales, but it is never a primary activity," said Thomas, who has recently relocated from L-Soft’s Andover, Md., headquarters to his native Sweden.
But when the prime minister of Sweden called, Thomas was quick to answer. The government was trying to send out an e-mail blast to Sweden‘s citizens, but the effort was stymied by the technological challenge of distributing hundreds of thousands of e-mails.
"I closed the sale the same day we were called," Thomas said. "We realized this was not only a sale, but also a kind of marketing lever. People might not recognize us as the developers of the original Listserv, but banks and other clients catch on immediately when you say you handle e-mail for the prime minister’s newsletter."