When Chuck Robbins assumed the helm at Cisco Systems, he replaced John Chambers as one of only two sales leaders-turned-CEOs in the Fortune 100. Today, where customer experience trumps product and price as the competitive differentiator, a sales-ready CEO can be an advantage in front of customers and shareholders alike.
Recent Fortune 500 addition Salesforce.com has started signing nine-figure deals by selling directly to CEOs. The company’s founder and CEO Marc Benioff? An entrepreneur. Before that? A sales leader at Oracle. Asked to comment on Salesforce.com’s recent success selling these larger deals, Benioff remarked, “When I look at the largest transactions…every transaction was done with the CEO. I think it’s really unusual, and that’s why we’re really selling more enterprise software than Oracle or SAP.”
The SBI 100 list shows that large enterprises have invested billions of dollars in their sales teams. The investment these companies make in the sales team is more than the investment in R&D. It trails only cost of goods sold as the second-biggest expense item on an income statement.
Nonetheless, at 98 percent of the world’s largest companies, CEOs rose to the top through finance, operations, or product management—with little or no experience in sales strategy. Let’s hope boards hire more sales leaders as CEOs.