Here is why CEOs and Founders of scale ups are both the best ally and enemy of international sales

by: Christelle Damiens

One of the reasons I love what I do at Exportia, is that I get to work on a daily basis with brilliant minds. Founders and CEOs of small companies (they are often both) are amazing to work with, they are passionate about their business. They inspire their team and they create a vision and direction for the business. This is why they often are the best person to articulate the sales pitch. They know precisely what problem their business is solving and they know what makes a person buy their product or solution.

In our business, we often work closely with the CEOs to get our sales pitch right before we approach European distributors or multinationals. And this is when the challenges start. When companies move from the status of Small Business to scale-ups. It is often hard for CEOs to change and grow into a different role. 

At that stage, it’s critical for the CEO to make sure sales accelerate. However, here is the challenge: she mostly has been the ‘Super Sales Representative’ for the business. Now is time to hire a sales team to scale internationally and to hand over part of that role to sales persons. Hiring the right person of course is a challenge, you can read one of my blog articles specifically on this topic. Once the recruitment is done and the sales person is hired, or for us at Exportia when we start working with a CEO, we find it’s really hard for them to let go of their sales role. 

And this is where we work with the CEO on their sales process. We need to reassure them that their vision, story  and their drive will be conveyed in our message as their sales team in Europe. 

We also spend a lot of time on bulletproofing the approval process when it comes to pricing and responses to customers. 

This is where I sit back and observe : where is this CEO going to be on the control freakiness scale?  It always makes me smile to see what will happen. The CEO is our best ally because this is from the CEO, my sales team and I will get inspired and motivated to sell. At the same time, they can really be a bottleneck for us as a sales team, wanting to control in detail what we say to customers, and get involved in every meeting. That used to frustrate me a lot as it would slow us down considerably. CEOs are so time-poor, that constantly waiting for their approval would take weeks, and European prospects would find us unresponsive, which would really get in the way of our sales.

This is how we have solved this issue: first we clearly outline a sales process to follow, that the CEO is comfortable with. It usually includes  a step-by-step sales process, sales scripts, emails templates and a quoting process. This helps tremendously, as I get our European sales team to get the first sales. This way we are not held up.

The other hurdle we come across as a sales team, is an omnipresent CEO and here is why. As we work on scaling small businesses in the European market, and we mostly work in technical sectors and in B2B, we therefore often target multinational companies. This is how we can quickly get large deals. To create credibility with large European companies, we cannot be seen as a micro-business. And if the CEO is with us during the sales calls, it does create the impression for the European customer that this business is a one-man band. What we really like is to have the ability to call the CEO at critical times when closing a sale. They usually are our secret weapon. 

The other reason why I like CEOs to stay away from sales at times is because CEOs carry a lot of pressure on their shoulders. Sometimes it’s hard not to communicate this stress to customers, even without realising it. You would have experienced that feeling, when you have just entered a shop, and the sales person comes straight to you to ask if you are looking for something in particular. That’s when I just want to go straight out of the shop, I hate being pressured! 

We really don’t want the European customer to feel any stress from a CEO, or get a sense that we are desperate for the sale. Having the CEO present sends to the customer the signal that his transaction is important to the business. It’s not always a good position to be in for negotiation.  It does also create some uncertainties in their mind about the reliability of the business. That’s why sometimes I ask the CEO not to be there and I kindly explain why.

What we also watch for is also a tendency for small business founders, who are sometimes really technical to confuse new prospects or customers with too much technical details too soon. 

Overall, I found it was really critical for our success in scaling businesses in Europe to have a clear sales and approval process that the CEO is comfortable with. Our CEO being our best ally we really want to make sure we use them at times when it’s critical to sign a deal. 

Do you find it hard as a CEO to get your international sales team up and running? Or have 

any questions about scaling your business in Europe and setting-up your sales processes to grow internationally? Get in touch with me for an evaluation call. Just email me on


About Christelle:

Christelle turned her back to a successful career as a sales representative in the corporate world in Europe. When she moved to Australia in 2006, she started Exportia to share the wealth of her Europe-wide sales experiences for a small business as an export manager and as a sales representative at IBM in Paris.

“Having taken dozens of Australian businesses to Europe, I personally know the difficulty for a small business to significantly grow their sales in the European market. It is a very diverse market and small businesses often don’t know where to start. Small business owners are often caught up with running their business and with their domestic market to be able to allocate enough time to the European market. Lowering the risk for small businesses and guiding them to maximise the export sales results are what drives us at Exportia.”

Christelle has also encapsulated her learning into a book called “Ready Tech Go! – A definitive guide to exporting Australian technology to Europe”. French native speaker, fluent in German and English, with Basic Italian and Hindi.