Involvement of Executives in B2B Sales

Sales Management
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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Involvement of Executives in B2B Sales

As a B2B supplier, is it recommendable to involve your CEO (senior leaders) at strategic or key accounts? Professors Capon and Senn argue it is, provided it is the right type of involvement.
In a recent article definitely worth reading as a sales manager, they provide a very useful and good classification of leadership involvement styles in strategic B2B sales/accounts:
  1. HANDS-OFF. No involvement. Let the sales force do its job.
    Pros: The executive can focus on other things. Good approach if sales team is very professional.
    Cons: No added value in truly strategic accounts or deals.
  2. LOOSE CANNON. Also referred to as "Seagulls". Meets with customers without informing or cooperating with the own account management before and after their meetings. Sometimes makes unrealistic promises to clients.
    Pros: Hardly any. Can sometimes open a door to higher echelon at customer.
    Cons: High risk of damaging customer relationships. Lack of internal communication before and after a meeting makes them poorly informed and ineffective.
  3. SOCIAL VISITOR. Is a strong relationship and trust builder, has little interest in the customer's business or in the current deal.
    Pros: Builds good, but personal relationships with key customers. Demonstrates commitment and creates trust.
    Cons: Competitors might engage at a more meaningful level. Tendency to not broaden their personal relationship into account management.
  4. DEALMAKER. Low relationship focus, engages at the moment when significant deals are to be closed.
    Pros: Highly focused and effective in increasing revenue. Good in win-back situations and closing deals.
    Cons: Undermines the position of the account manager. Requires very good internal coordination. May agree to unnecessary concessions like large discounts.
  5. GROWTH CHAMPION. Builds strategic customer relationships through regular in-depth business meetings.
    Pros: Effective in both relationship and revenue building. Role model for key account managers. Direct interface between strategic customer demands and the business/corporate strategy.
    Cons: Only possible for a very limited number of truly strategic customers. Tendency to pressure and micromanage their sales team.
What I liked about the article is the 5 roles and their characteristics. I have seen all of these types on several occasions and agree with their pros and cons. However, I would like to make 2 critical comments:
  1. The authors repeatedly mention "CEOs" of large B2B firms having to participate in these processes. Perhaps it is more realistic to focus on senior leaders, like (Senior) VPs, Country Managers or Divisional Managers and the likes, depending on the company size of course.
  2. The authors recommend the 5th model/style (i.e., growth champions). I recommend the first one (= no involvement) for top leaders, perhaps with an occasional touch of the 4th and 5th one in extremely exceptional cases. In my view, again depending on their company size, top executives/managers should not be growth champions, but rather operate hands-off while ensuring they get the right sales directors (and sales managers) on board, create superb conditions for them to establish the best and most professional sales force in the market, and trust them to do their job.
⇨ I am looking forward to your comments and opinions...
Source: N. Capon, C. Senn, "When CEOs Make Sales Calls - How top-management involvement in B2B relationships can drive - or kill - deals", HBR March-April 2021, pp. 40-47.


Management Consultant, United States

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