Wanted: CEOs with Skin in the Game

It is often said what separates one company’s ability to develop, execute and sustain a CRM strategy is the active involvement of the CEO.

But it goes deeper than that.

Too many times channel management, pricing, order capture and even order management initiatives fail because the CEO pays lip service to project but doesn’t really get behind it. The projects that succeed have the unmistakable imprint of a CEO’s commitment.

Change Comes From The Top

In many public companies these days there is a polite but cold distance between senior management and middle managers. Senior managers in unprofitable companies act as if they don’t trust the management beneath them anymore.

This is certainly the case among C-level executives of public companies that have not seen profits in three or more years. Yet these are the companies most in need of channel strategies, improved pricing and a better handle on their existing customer relationships.

Often the managers who bring in channel strategies, pricing, CRM, order capture, order management or services applications fight for months, even years, to get needed changes implemented.

What’s impressive is that these managers know what CEOs have forgotten or may have never have known: Only passion for change produces results –nothing less really works.

There are manufacturing engineers at global conglomerates who worked passionately for years to bring changes to quoting and proposal systems. That’s true commitment to positive change.

What Separates Good CEOs from Bad?

Customers and Products

Good CEOs personally visit and get to know the top 20 percent of the customer base. The CEOs truly understand CRM are excellent on sales calls and understand their place in the sales process. They genuinely enjoy meeting customers. To these customers the CEO is the face of accountability for the company.

Similarly, good CEOs spend at least 30 percent of their time on the road learning from customers, especially those who are doing the most innovative work with their products.

A CEO must also understand sales pipelines, even for unsuccessful products. What’s amazing is that many CEOs have no idea how some of the less talked-about products or services are doing in their companies. If CEOs are going to be the agents of change, they need to understand why some products move slowly.

Outsourcing and Struggle

A company’s global outsourcing strategy should be thoroughly understood by the CEO. And the CEO should be unafraid to talk about it.

Too often, CEOs don’t acknowledge the struggles involved in outsourcing their manufacturing operations. As a result many CEOs pretend their outsourcing is going well when it is in fact a disappointment — or at least far more difficult than expected.

No CEO wants to admit failure or even struggle — and no company has openly admitted that its manufacturing outsourcing strategies were failures. It is a couragous CEO who can own up to successes and failures honestly.

This issue has important ramifications for customers. The link between outsourcing and CRM is critical, especially in manufacturing, where quotes and proposals need to have delivery times mentioned.

The Passion of the CEO

A good CEO should be personally involved with automating channel and customer strategies. This is when change really starts to happen. What’s ironic is that the mid-level managers typically given the job of championing change are not respected enough in the field to enforce any kind of carrot-and-stick strategy.

And, finally, to be effective a CEO must have a passion for the company’s business. While it will never be mentioned in a 10Q or 10K filed with the SEC, if you know companies well enough, you can recognize a lack of passion at the top.

When CEOs lose their fire, their solutions to problems sound more like apologies than action plans. Channel strategies and CRM implementations fail many times either directly or indirectly because of this.Heavy Investment by CEOThe bottom line is this: For channel and customer-facing strategies to work, C-level executives must have “skin in the game.”

CEOs have skin in the game when they have so much invested — commitment, earnings or both — that they give a project their complete attention. They are genuinely committed to the success of an initiative and make sacrifices to ensure success.

If CEOs lose their passion for improvement, they have lost their careers. And while there are plenty of ways to excel as a CEO, the one that employees, suppliers and customers respect most is a passion to improve how well the company serves those outside its own four walls.

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