CEO's: Brand Evangelists or Honest Salespeople?

19 Dec 2016

Laurence Cruse | Talent head & HR, Gyana Limited

CEO's: Brand Evangelists or Honest Salespeople?

Let’s first understand the difference between evangelism and sales. We’ll consider this from the perspective of a startup, rather than a Multi National Corporation (MNC).

An evangelist Is a person who builds support for a given technology, then establishes it as a standard in the given industry (Source).

A salesperson is someone that focuses on outbound prospecting whose focus is qualifying leads, scheduling meetings and converting them into paying customers.

The two are often confused, so let’s hand over to one Guy Kawasaki for clarity. Guy leads the charge for the front of the ‘I popularised evangelism’ line (he was the Chief Evangelist at Apple after all).

Evangelism isn’t a job title – it’s a way of life.

Guy Kawasaki

Among his many musings on this subject, perhaps his most recognisable contribution is the table below, published in his popular book, Selling the Dream.

Credit: Guy Kawasaki, Selling The Dream

Evangelists create stories that inspire passion. Beyond sounding clichéd, what does this actually mean? A startup CEO has an unlimited pool of resources to dip into to inspire those they interact with. Surely, you say, startups are starved of resources?

Not in this case. When a startup CEO is interacting with someone, be it customer, partner, employee, or random person on the bus, they are speaking about their company with a conviction that stems from total sacrifice. A conviction that draws on the knowledge of what it means to put your life on hold for the sole purpose of creating something extraordinary. That’s where you inspire passion from.

Evangelical CEO’s rely on authentic connections with customers, often established by taking a strong and opinionated line on issues relating their industry/market. Whilst this can be bluffed to a certain extent, true conviction is hard to fake, and again stems from a deep and (at times overwhelming) passion for the business.

Isn’t this coming across a bit strong? Certainly not. Evangelism develops a base of customers that have such belief in the company that they actively promote it to other people. This belief is not financially driven, instead it’s a genuine passion and excitement about a technology and they want to share that with others.

CEO’s as honest salespeople

Why it’s important for CEO’s to be sales focused:

The case for the evangelist CEO is compelling, but what about the more ‘traditional’ sales focus? This is approach is less about spreading the gospel of your amazing technology, and more about creating a consistent and repeatable process that others (who are less personally invested in the product) can imitate and grow your list of paying customers.

This lets you:

  • Understand why customers are buying from you – an opportunity to deep dive into what delights them
  • Equally, why customers aren’t buying from you – exposure to typical complaints/concerns/scepticism
  • Work towards a repeatable sales process – with all the enthusiasm in the world, you can’t be a one-person sales army
  • Learn what works and what doesn’t when you’re searching for a VP of sales to take over responsibility

Sales is the backbone of progress – whether it’s raising capital, expanding teams, expanding pipelines – it all derives from repeatable sales process.

Evangelist or sales?

  • Evangelism can take time to mature into revenue – it definitely works better in the long run, but if time/financial pressure is tight, leads need to be converted to keep the lights on
  • Evangelism lays the foundations for everything, not just revenue – company culture, hiring, investors you attract, media you receive – if you plan on building something truly big, all of this is essential
  • Sales can be taught/delegated, evangelism can’t – it comes from tangible and intangible sacrifices made for the company
  • Sales needs structure/repeatability/track record/testimonials – in the earliest stages these aren’t possible/won’t exist, so evangelism is what’ll get you over the line (particularly with bigger brands that have endless options)

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