For over 18 years, I have been leading sales teams through the trenches of sales war. I have experienced corporations deeply connected to what was “actually” happening in sales, and other situations where it was quite the opposite.

Throughout my professional career, I have navigated multiple industry segments from professional services to consumer goods and served a decade+ stint in the insurance sector. Corporations that become deeply connected to their sales force typically saw increased revenues, more substantial margins, lower employee and contractor turnover, and a dramatic increase in morale. Who doesn’t love a business hack that expends very little time, energy, or invested capital?!

Here are five simple strategies for optimizing your corporate-to-sales team connection:

  1. Communicate transparently: I met with the CHRO of a $1 Billion global steel company the other day, and she talked about being respectfully direct in communication across all functions. There is nothing worse than a conversation that “feels good” but lacks purpose and transparency. Before you pick up the phone, think about the intent of your message and frame out how you want the conversation to go. Then identify one thing you appreciate about the person you call and say it out loud to yourself. This gets your mind and heart ready for a purposeful meeting. Another strategy for the entire C-Suite (regardless of function) is to take time every week/month to be intentional in reaching out to someone (rookie or veteran) in sales, just to say hello. Don’t talk shop, and it doesn’t matter if they report to you or not! Just say Hi and do your best to leave the conversation knowing something new about the person you didn’t know before calling. 
  2. Get your hands dirty: Intentionally plan to get in the field of sales and then do it. It shouldn’t matter if you are in the finance department or leading the marketing team. Visit the “trenches!” As the president of a multi-million $ insurance agency, I would get in the field at least 3-5 days a quarter and shadow my top veterans as well as up-and-coming rookies. I wanted to know their needs at the level they were operating, and there wasn’t a data point or spreadsheet in the world that could trump simply seeing them in action. If you can’t get in the field, then sit in on a few quarterly Zoom sales meetings to listen in. The best way to inspect what you expect is to dive right in! I recently talked with the Chief Human Resource Officer of a significant player in the insurance industry about this exact topic. He told me that he has been intentional about spending a considerable amount of time on the phone with their independent broke sales reps about various topics affecting their performance. He validated that these “in-field” conversations provided invaluable insights and provided a great relationship-building avenue to bridge the sales to corporate gaps naturally occurring over time. Don’t be afraid to be your own Undercover Boss every quarter without ever having to go undercover. 
  3. Consider the Chief Revenue Officer position: Many corporations are adopting the executive-level position called the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) to bridge the corporate revenue strategy, marketing, and business development (sales) initiatives. In his article titled Three Ways CROs Can Become Revenue Driving Machines, Kevin Knieriem CRO for Clari wrote, “In this new environment where sales is a much more complex and nuanced process, there is no clear hand-off between marketing and sales teams. For this reason, successful companies I’ve worked with are adopting the paradigm of full-funnel accountability, meaning revenue teams —  marketing, sales, and customer success — constantly tag teaming and communicating across the buyer’s journey.”
  4. Give when they don’t expect it: All employees and contractors love to feel valued, especially salespeople. However, the greatest value is felt when they receive the recognition they aren’t expecting. Find opportunities to create surprise and awe campaigns to delight your sales force. As an example, my wife and I use a $30 Elf on the Shelf with our daughters during the holidays. Our elf continues to provide years of holiday fun and bliss for our family. Every morning Buddy the Elf appears in a different location in our home, and our girls wake in anticipation of the unknown location! The author of Giftology, John Ruhlen, writes, “Tangible gifts through the year are a very subtle way to communicate that your employees are valued. When they feel valued, they respond accordingly in their jobs, their responsibilities, and their accountability.”
  5. Catch people doing things right: For the next week, count how many times you criticize your sales leaders for missing targets, as well as the number of times you catch your sales force doing things right. As a general rule of thumb, you should catch them doing five things right for every 1 point of criticism.

As leaders of corporations, we can’t expect ourselves to do everything right all of the time. In the same vein, we can’t predict the business development sales function to be perfect either. Do we value our customers? Absolutely! Do we value our board? Of course! Do we value our corporate peers? Every Day! Remember that without the sales function we wouldn’t have any of the latter! 

A peer once told me that business has a heartbeat. For most companies, that “heartbeat” is its sales force.