Sales – the most important issue for Swedish CEOs

# 40 November 2014

At a recent gathering recognizing the “Swedish CEO of the Year”, a survey was presented. When asked to list the most important topic for their business, almost 40% listed sales. This was twice the number of the second most frequent response!

For us at Sahlgren & Skog, the response was both surprising and, well, obvious.

The response was obvious because sales is the fundamental issue in business. No sales, no company. No sales growth, no company growth. The question how big is your company will almost always be answered with a revenue figure.

The response is surprising based on our experience with Swedish companies. Few CEOs have a good, in depth knowledge of their sales organizations. The degree of control shown is fairly low, and clear expectations are seldom formulated. Oversight is limited to the monitoring of results, with little attention paid to the activities and parameters which lead to sales success. We see low performing sales organizations too often forgiven for performance that could be easily corrected.
This lack of involvement contrasts sharply against what we see in other areas of the business. Sectors such as production, logistics, and finance are quite closely watched. When underperformance is detected, corrective actions are swift.

Why the poor connection to sales related issues? In our last newsletter we covered this topic from the sales director perspective. Here are our recommendations for the CEO.

1. Set clear expectations on the sales organisation. Not only on results, but also on who and how they should work. Identify specific activities that lead to the desired results.

2. Establish follow up procedures on key performance indicators, just as you would normally do for logistics and finance. There are a lot of soft elements in sales such as relationship building, but systematic and structured working methods will make a difference in any sales organisation.

3. Make regular reviews of the sales organisation and its working methods. Markets and customers are constantly changing – analyse how you should best keep up with that change.

4. Have the courage to change your sales organisation. Our experience says that sales organisations are rarely subject to change, compared to other parts of the company. Perhaps this is due to a fear of losing motivation and speed. We know this fear is often exaggerated!

If you are interested in further discussion, please contact us – we’ll be able to help.