As a CEO of a middle market company, you need to work closely with your head of sales during the sales process, especially in a B2B (as opposed to B2C) sales environment. Many midsized firms are young companies, so it's likely you were a founder or an early employee with sales experience and probably know more about the products or services you sell than anyone else. In this light, the sales manager should view you as an asset.

The sales manager should also be well aware that, as a C-level executive, you are involved in all facets of the company — not just the sales process. Frequently calling on you to close deals is simply not in the cards. But how exactly should the two of you work together?

  • The CEO should be regarded as a strategic-sales resource, to be used sparingly with maximum impact. Typically, a strategic sale is one that has follow-on potential, likely to be a proposal to a company much larger than yours. In these circumstances, it's appropriate to come in to close the deal and reassure the prospect, to say no to unreasonable requests, and to show your company's strong commitment to customer success. Conversely, never help out with a small sale, a sale with no follow-on potential, or a sale that requires a large amount of uncompensated custom work on the part of the sales team.
  • The head of sales and the CEO should already be working together closely. Regular discussion of the sales funnel, reviews of top prospects, and reports on sales staff, resources, and required training — these conversations are all part of your ongoing dialogue. The head of sales should always be tracking as many leads as possible, and when a strategic sale appears on the horizon, the sales manager should put together a plan and then brief you on the history with the customer and any issues and questions to expect. Armed with the required information, you can use your clout and know-how to close.
  • A CEO can signify the importance of a customer to their company simply by being present. You have the authority to say no to certain requests and explain why in a more direct manner. If the situation calls for it, you can make exceptions if needed. In the end, you can provide a reassuring voice of leadership that can go to great lengths to comfort a customer in a newly formed relationship.
  • By being involved in the sales process, a CEO can see what strategies are working and what methods need to be tweaked. You understand how outsiders view the company and how customer needs change over time. CEOs of large companies can delegate day-to-day sales and make the occasional speech to large audiences. As a middle market executive, however, you need to be close to the customer, and collaborating with the head of sales is a good way to accomplish this goal. It's good for everyone involved: you, the head of sales, the customer, and the company.

At what point during the lifespan of a strategic sale should the CEO be introduced to the customer? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Peter Miller is an NCMM contributor and a career entrepreneur who has built sales forces in multiple companies. He is currently COO of Genomic Healthcare Strategies in Charlestown, MA.