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4 behaviors to get your sales reps thinking like CEOs

4 behaviors to get your sales reps thinking like CEOs Blog Feature

March 19th, 2020 min read

For the best salespeople, sales isn’t just a job — it’s a craft. 

And part of mastering the craft is treating your territory as you would your own small business. 

You’re the CEO of that business and responsible for the success or failure of what you do on a daily basis.

But, what does it mean to think like a CEO? Why would adopting a CEO’s mindset help your sales approach? 

Let’s first consider some of the qualities and behaviors that make up a CEO’s mindset: 

  • Strategic thinker
  • Go-getter
  • Visionary
  • Team-builder
  • Confident decision-maker
  • Empathetic listener

Along with these qualities, an HBR study discovered that successful chief executives tend to demonstrate four specific behaviors that prove critical to their performance.

Those four behaviors are:

  1. Deciding with speed and conviction
  2. Engaging for impact
  3. Adapting to setbacks proactively
  4. Delivering reliably

We will look at each behavior separately and how it applies to sales but, before we do, let’s look at what it means to have the mindset of a CEO and how it differs from an employee’s mindset.

CEO mindset vs. the employee mindset

Being a CEO means having the ability to see the big picture. 

It means taking the time to step back and work “on” the business instead of “in” it, which requires thoughtful planning and consideration of the long-term goals and overall direction of the business. 

The CEO mindset is very much about creating a direction and a path for your business so you know where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. 

The employee mindset, on the other hand, is all about focusing on the here and now. 

An employee is in the trenches getting down to business. They are focused on short-term plans and everyday business tasks that need to get done. 

Unlike the CEO mindset, an employee oftentimes gets stuck in a to-do list mentality and can’t look past their job description. While this may be great for productivity, it can obstruct the big picture view. 

Neither mindset is right or wrong, but if you want your sales team to take ownership of their sales approach and grow their pipeline as if it was their own business, then you’ve got to get them thinking like a CEO.

To do that, help your team hone in on these four behaviors:

1. Deciding with speed and conviction

Believe it or not, high-performing CEOs don’t necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive. 

In fact, data from the CEO Genome Project shows that individuals who were described as “decisive” were 12 times more likely to be high-performing CEOs.

High-performing CEOs understand that a wrong decision is often better than no decision at all. 

Indecision may seem inconsequential but it can have negative side effects on the organization by exacerbating the problem trying to be solved, stagnating progress, or worse, diminishing morale and making you appear as an incompetent leader.

One of the CEOs who was interviewed was quoted saying: “A bad decision was better than a lack of direction. Most decisions can be undone, but you have to learn to move with the right amount of speed.”

How this applies to sales: Qualifying leads and opportunities


A salesperson’s ability to drive revenue growth directly correlates to their decisions about how they manage their time and pipeline. 

Sales reps must learn how to quickly qualify or disqualify leads and prospects.

As a sales leader, you can enable your team to make fast decisions about who they should or shouldn’t pursue by creating a detailed buyer persona(s) and a set of qualifying questions.

Arming your reps with this information will inspire them to trust their own judgment on decisions about sales opportunities, which will ultimately empower them to take ownership of their sales process and be confident they are making the right decisions.

2.  Engaging for impact

If you’ve heard the expression “brace for impact” you can think of “engaging for impact” in a similar way. It means communicating your message, or engaging with your intended audience, in such a way that will influence, or impact, your audience to take action.

CEOs are responsible for getting buy-in from employees and stakeholders as they set out on their journey to achieve a particular goal or take on a new business direction.

But to do so requires nuance and balance. 

The CEOs who are able to strike a balance between understanding key stakeholders’ priorities and taking their employees’ needs into consideration while remaining laser-focused on delivering business results are the highest performers. 

In fact, the CEOs who skillfully engaged stakeholders with this focus on business results were 75% more successful in the role. 

One CEO explained her strategy for engagement and buy-in as follows: “With any big decision, I create a stakeholder map of the key people who need to be on board, I identify the detractors and their concerns, and then I think about how I can take the energy that they might put into resistance and channel it into something positive.”

How this applies to sales: Getting your sales pitch to echo

Just like a CEO needs to get their stakeholders and employees on-board with their vision, your salespeople need buy-in from your prospects and customers.

But, as the decision-making process gets increasingly complex, it’s getting harder and harder to actually meet with all of the buyer’s key stakeholders.

Your salesperson may only have access to one person and that one person is likely responsible for communicating your sales message to the rest of the buying committee. That can end like a bad game of telephone, leaving your message muddled. 

Instead of leaving it up to chance, help your sales team take control of the sales process by creating a message that your prospective buyers will easily be able to repeat and share with others.

That means two things:

  1. Simplify your sales pitch. The more you can simplify and personalize your message, the easier it will be for others to repeat. Focus on the “job to be done.” In other words, what job is your solution helping your customers do? “People don’t simply buy products or services, they ‘hire’ them to make progress in specific circumstances.” 
  2. Create a stakeholder map. This strategy isn’t just for CEOs. Salespeople can use this approach to identify who is involved in the buyer’s decision-making process and how to simplify the sales pitch to personally resonate with each person and address the job they are ‘hiring’ you to do. 

3. Adapting to setbacks proactively

CEOs who excel at adapting are 6.7 times more likely to succeed, but that doesn’t mean they are always winning.

Adaptable CEOs recognize that setbacks are an integral part of changing course and treat their mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. 

In fact, almost 90% of the highest performing CEOs who were interviewed scored high on dealing with setbacks and the CEOs who considered setbacks to be failures had 50% less chance of thriving. 

Why does adapting proactively matter?

One CEO was quoted saying: “It’s dealing with situations that are not in the playbook. As a CEO you are constantly faced with situations where a playbook simply cannot exist. You’d better be ready to adapt.”

Highly adaptable CEOs prepare themselves for the twists and turns of running a business by engaging with a wide range of information from diverse sources. 

At first blush, someone from the outside may see unrelated pieces that don’t connect to their business, but the successful CEO knows this approach allows them to sense change and disruption earlier so they can make the right strategic move. 

For example, we are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and business leaders are faced with growing uncertainty and a disruption in the daily operations of their organization. 

This is the type of situation that calls for proactive adaptability and immediate action in order to protect their employees, address business challenges and risks, and help to mitigate the outbreak in whatever ways they can.

How this applies to sales: Adapting your sales approach 

Sales is a constantly changing profession with ups and downs; a lot of which is out of your control. Turbulent business environment. New technologies. Evolving buyer’s journey. Complex decision-making processes. The list goes on.

To keep up, it’s essential to stay up-to-date and prepared to adapt if and when necessary.

There are two general ways you can do this:

    1. Invest in yourself: When you commit to continuous learning and training, you’re not only investing in yourself, you’re investing in the success of your company. This is the thought process of a leader. In sales, you need to be prepared for expected and unexpected circumstances. Sales training and coaching provides a way to practice and rehearse how to handle whatever’s thrown your way. While training can’t prepare you for everything, it can give you the confidence to know when you need to switch gears and try a new approach.
    2. Learn from your mistakes: Everyone makes mistakes, but as indicated by the high performing CEOs surveyed, it’s not a matter of making the mistake, it’s what you learn from it that makes or breaks your success as a leader. Let’s be honest, sales professionals have to juggle a lot: leads, prospects, follow-ups, proposals, quotas, inputting data into the CRM, etc. with all those balls up in the air, mistakes happen. Help your sales reps see mistakes as a learning moment.

4. Delivering reliably

“Success is steady progress towards one's personal goals.” - Jim Rohn

To excel as a CEO, having a reputation for delivering steady, reliable results means being twice as likely to be selected for the role of CEO and 15 times more likely to succeed in it. 

This may seem obvious but is easier said than done.

As a CEO, it’s important to set realistic expectations and meet them. 

Whether it’s launching a new company initiative or being the new CEO on the block, it can be tempting to promise specific results before gathering all the right information.

CEOs who ranked high on reliability spent time digging into budgets and plans, and engaging with board members, employees, and customers to understand expectations. 

At the same time, they rapidly assess the business to develop their own point of view on what’s realistic and work to align expectations with that.

How this applies to sales: Create your ideal pipeline

Sales professionals understand the pressure of delivering consistent, reliable results month after month, but what separates the ones who can excel at this and the others who fall short?

Pipeline management.

Just like a CEO has to make decisions based on the risk of certain activities or choices, a sales rep does the same with their pipeline.

Too much risk and not enough things will close to hit quota. Too little risk and you may be playing it too safe, not reaching out to enough new people at new organizations.

This is why sales reps must document an ideal pipeline. That is, the pipeline picture you would ideally like in the first week of each month in order to achieve your goals.

With this vision in hand, you can better evaluate your actual pipeline to determine what you need to change to hit your goals and who you need to target to create the right blend of opportunities (small, medium, and large). 

High-performing CEOs make it a habit to assess the situation before making any decisions. 

They are willing to examine past behaviors, actions, and choices in order to improve.  

Sales professionals who adapt this mindset will be able to take an objective look at their pipeline and the decisions they're making about their time and attention.

Ultimately allowing them to make better choices, prevent any decision-making biases, and deliver more consistent, reliable results day-in and day-out. 

Change your mindset today

Challenging your sales team to shift their mindset from thinking like an employee to thinking like a CEO may take time, but it will directly impact the top-line growth of your organization once they’re on-board. 

It increases confidence, improves sales performance, and empowers reps to take responsibility and ownership of their actions and decisions. 

If you focus on challenging your reps to adapt these behaviors — deciding with speed and conviction, engaging for impact, adapting proactively, delivering reliably — you will begin to see improved revenue metrics and a transformative culture that embraces an entrepreneurial perspective.

Ready to change your mindset but need a little more encouragement? Tune in to my podcast, Food for Thought, for more insight about business, sales, digital marketing, and more.

DMTraining Podcast Food for Thought Lunch Break with Steve Bookbinder
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