Bean Counters to Strategic Accounts

Reality is chaotic.

Annual Planning for Sales and Strategy is ordered and logical.

The two don’t get on well.

It might seem a little inflated but, I’d like to talk about what I do.  Chief Sales Officers, CSO (not to be confused with Chief Security Officer or Chief Strategy Officer) are one of the top managers in the organization.

Businesses have changed. Disruptive change is now a norm and the modern CSO has to see planning as a continuous ever-evolving function that is driven by market events like launch of a new product, competitor marketing campaign and pricing cuts and ever emerging information. Thinking long term strategically and tactically is important but not the only ingredient. One cannot steer a parked car – visions and goals will need to be adjusted in real time to the current market volatility and challenges that companies face.

Some CSOs have a more traditional approach of preserving the assets of the organization by minimizing risk and getting the books right, but I think the mix lies in having the experience and insights to guide major operational and strategic decisions within the company, playing a role even as the external face of the organization.

Challenges that a CSO helps a business face

As the speed and nature of businesses have changed, so has the role of finance. Over the last half century, finance and sales leaders have gone from bean counters to the boardroom; the responsibilities of finance leaders have evolved to encompass everything from business strategy to operations to IT risk management.

A new generation of employees are forcing organisations to rethink how work is done, big data is providing business leaders with access to more information than ever before, both providing more opportunities and different risks everyday.

A Chief Sales Officer is focused much more on execution. A tactical master laser-focused on beating the competition, building and implementing strategies to grow revenue effectively.

Personally I have found my daily challenges involve aspects of marketing, customer relationship management, sales of products or services, for employee development, aligning the objectives of the organization with customers’ needs.

Together with CEO, CFO & CMO, the CSO sets the product strategy and product portfolio, balancing the needs of the organization and its customers, deciding on the optimal sales channels and also maintain strategic relationships with key customers.

In some enterprises, this role is divided between the Sales Director (responsible only for the sales and trade) and Marketing Director (responsible for promotion and marketing).

For me, I’ve always found the CSO’s managerial challenge to plan, lead, organize, decision making and control talent, processes and information. How do I lead, how do I motivate?

Technology and the Modern CSO

As a result of growing technological demands in the workplace, technology has become both a major expense and capital asset. Because of the financial demands technology has created, it is important that CSOs have a view of these large financial line items and how the sales figures impact the overall picture.

It’s imperative that processes aren’t just efficient for you but the tools must uplift the team & improve workflow. That means having opentable discussions on the best proprietary or open-source software for cross-functional teamwork and communication.

The evolving social media sector is another space in which the advice of CSOs is increasingly being sought. The way in which an organisation is being portrayed on social channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can have a direct impact on future expansion plans, product launches and turnover. While the marketing department is likely to have oversight of social trends, layering this on financial performance reports and projections allows the data to add even more value to the business.

I feel that a lot of buzzwords like “cost management”, “organizational efficiency” and “business continuity planning and digitization” are new ways of saying the same thing –  collaboration and transparency across departments are important.

Talent challenges

A CSO is becoming more strategically-focused, more value-focused and more future-focused. CSOs aren’t just about sales accountability but also about customer centricity, cutting edge technology, workforce excellence and fostering a high performance culture.

As we develop the next generation of leaders, the Chief Sales Officer’s role is set to expand and his/her experience and skills must be above and beyond with the organization’s culture, strategy and level of technology readiness, otherwise they are just more of the same and unable to bring something new to the table, to grow the company.