For business owners and leaders, actually growing the business has surpassed survival as the number one priority. Whether your objectives involve growing customers, margin, or top line revenue, you'll likely turn to sales and marketing to help you achieve them. Or at least you should.

A few years back I became friends with a guy I profiled for a business magazine article. At the time he was chairman and CEO of a Berkshire Hathaway-owned company, but he retired not too long after the article came out (no connection I presume).

So I guess he got bored, because at the beginning of the year he landed a new CEO spot at a billion dollar company that is somewhat beleaguered. Out of curiosity I went to the company career site to see if he was making any strategic hires to immediately add to his leadership team. Lo and behold, after just two weeks on the job, he is seeking a new VP of Sales & Marketing to report directly to him.

CEOs who put sales management at the top of their strategic plans outstrip their peers by 50% to 80% in terms of revenue and profitability.

Why turn to your sales team? The authors of the book Sales Growth found that CEOs who put sales management at the top of their strategic plans outperform their peers by 50% to 80% in terms of revenue and profitability.

McKinsey and Company partners Ram Trichur, Maria Valdivieso de Uster, and Jon Vander Ark excerpted their Sales Growth book in this piece in the Harvard Business Review. They say the best CEOs use sales for growth by focusing on three actions in particular:

Champion a “sales as a science” approach by demanding key performance indicators and then holding sales leaders accountable.

Crank up the analytics CEOs need to champion this “sales as a science” approach by demanding key performance indicators and then holding their sales leaders accountable for delivering on them.

Build a lean selling machine Optimizing sales operations with automated tools or dedicated back-office units for specific tasks can improve revenues by 10% to 25% and reduce back-office costs by 20% to 30%.

Make sales a team sport Foster collaboration within other areas of the company and raise the profile of your sales team within the company. Recognize and reward the best sales performers and give them a seat at the proverbial strategy table, say the Sales Growth authors. Also know that developing your sales reps to be "A" performers requires consistent coaching, sales training and motivation. Don't scrimp in this area.

Admittedly if you're running a company these days it's hard to keep pace with the changes in selling; new kinds of data, new technologies, new markets, new channels, a shrinking or bifurcation of your field sales team, and on and on.

It's worth making the effort, though. Even small improvements in sales productivity can add to the bottom line of fast growing businesses. So if you are serious about growth, you need to get serious about sales.

Tags: Business, Harvard Business Review, Inside sales, Salesforce, Growing your business, Sales growth, Sales trends, Berkshire-Hathaway, Sales analytics, Field sales