How Do You Best Leverage Networking? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is actively marketing to prospective clients and also engages in networking. They want to assure that they are up to speed with current trends in marketing. What are best practices for following up on marketing or networking contacts? How do you best leverage networking?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Timing is everything. A prospective client may or may not have an immediate need for your product or service, but may develop a need in the future. Assure that you have a program that provides ongoing follow up via:
    • Social Media
    • Phone calls
    • Emails
    • Regular personal follow up
  • Initial follow up should be rapid. Ask for permission to follow-up and set the time frame when you meet a new prospective client. Ask how the prospect prefers for you to stay in touch. Do they prefer newsletters follow-up via social media, or personal follow-up?
  • Draft letter, email and social media communication templates ahead of time so that rapid follow-up is easy.
  • Use an electronic or print newsletter to stay in touch with prospects. Social media have become an increasingly important way to stay in touch with networking contacts.
    • Basic newsletters are usually 2-3 pages, or a one pager with links to see full articles.
  • Look at contact management software: for example Salesforce.com or ACT.
    • Basic sales and marketing subscriptions from Salesforce.com start at $25/user/mo. for up to 5 users, or $65/user/mo. for a complete customer relations management (CRM) system.
  • Quality of collateral is important. It is a face of your company. High quality collateral should have a consistent look and feel, and should remind the prospect why they were interested in you and your company in the first place.

Should You Conduct Random Drug Tests at Work? Seven Points

Situation: A company is in the skilled trades. When there is an injury at work, Workers Compensation does not cover the employee if they were using drugs or alcohol at the time of the injury. Should you conduct random drug tests at work? How do you make employees aware of company policy on random drug tests?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Laws governing Workers Compensation vary by state. Be sure to get the latest update on regulations from your State.
  • The best policy is preventative. Always test for drugs and alcohol prior to hiring. Let potential employees know that this testing is a requirement of employment, and that a positive test disqualifies the candidate. A candidate has the option to disqualify him or herself rather than be tested.
  • The use of medical marijuana with a doctor’s prescription does not preclude a candidate or employee from failing a drug test. State laws regarding medical marijuana are evolving, so monitor state regulations.
  • In your employee policy, specify that you can test for drug use at any time, at your discretion. Additionally, state that you have the option to perform a drug test in case of an injury. If there is an injury on the job, have the treating physician perform a drug test on the injured employee.
  • Assure that you are consistent in treatment of employees and in how you apply your policy.
  • There should always be a reason for a drug test – tie it to employee safety.
  • As you institute a new policy, let all employees know about the policy. Prominently post the policy at your place of work, and remind employees about the policy at appropriate company or employee meetings.

How Do You Structure a Transition Proposal? Three Insights

Situation: A CEO is transitioning her role in a company that she founded to new ventures, while maintaining a part-time commitment to the company. The company seeks a proposal as to how she will split her time and what compensation she wants during the transition. The CEO seeks guidance on the focus and content of the proposal. How do you structure a transition proposal?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This sounds like a set of half-decisions.
    • The CEO envisions a transition from the current position to a transition position to a new position. The more likely scenario is that the CEO will go straight to the new position. As soon as one new venture starts to solidify, this will demand 100% of the CEO’s time.
    • Given that this is most likely the CEO’s priority, the important question is what the company wants and needs from the CEO. Deliverables, time commitment and compensation should follow these needs.
  • Another approach is to look at an exit package, including a long-term consulting retainer. For example, full salary for 6 months with a retainer for another 6 months. This will allow the CEO more freedom and flexibility to pursue the new ventures.
  • The current negotiation is just a starting point. Here are the things to consider in the proposal to the company:
    • Does the CEO need income from the current company during your transition? Will a new venture benefit from financial or professional assistance from the company?
    • If the CEO is not fully engaged with the company, leadership will likely want the CEO out sooner than later.
    • The company mostly will want a non-compete and the ability to use the CEO as a resource as needed.

How Do You Manage Internet Use by Employees? Six Suggestions

Situation: A CEO notes that the company’s employees surf the Internet during work – some excessively so. The CEO has visited other companies and noted very different behavior around surfing. Does your company monitor or manage employee Internet use? How do you manage Internet use by employees?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The first question to ask is whether your company culture allows or does not allow surfing during work.
    • Do you want it to or not?
    • Based on your desires for the company’s culture, set a policy that works for you.
    • If you want to more tightly control surfing, look at Surf Control software which allows you to create surfing rules, and allocate time allowed to surf.
  • Create and communicate your policy. It’s OK to let employees know that you’re not comfortable with what you’ve observed and that it’s time to set boundaries.
  • Act quickly, keep the message positive – for now – but make clear the consequences of inappropriate behavior in the future.
  • Don’t create double standards. Furthermore, a free-for-all atmosphere is corrosive.
  • Once you set your policy, if it is necessary to deal with a chronic and unresponsive offender, let everyone know what action you’ve taken and why.
  • Different companies around the table have created varying policies consistent with their cultures.
    • Company 1: Surfing during breaks and lunch is OK, as long as sites are appropriate.
    • Company 2: Surfing is OK – on your time and with our equipment – as long as you ask.
    • Company 3: As long as you are productive, we don’t monitor your surfing. Caveat: it is important to define and measure what is meant by “productive.”

How Do You Raise Capital for an Expansion? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company needs to expand to meet growing demand and has opportunities to expand in several locales. They can finance this expansion through bank loans, or by selling either a minority or majority interest in the company. How do you raise capital for an expansion?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Minority shareholders have appeal. Just be aware that they have rights. If they own interest above a certain percentage, they gain legal rights such as the ability to force liquidation. Research this percentage, and figure out a percentage of minority ownership that will work for you. Based on this, look for a minority partner who will give you the capital to expand for ownership below this threshold.
  • Consider a hybrid solution combining a smaller loan with sale of a limited percent of the company.
  • This is a risk equation.
    • The loan option is risk / reward for long term profit. You may have to secure the loan with personal assets.
    • On the other hand, selling a minority interest could set you up for life.
    • Look at both options, plus your personal goals and decide which combination of risk, reward and personal security fits you best.
  • One sale option is a phased buy out.
    • Example: sell 30% now, with options under conditions that you accept, to buy a larger share of your company later.
    • Continue to involve the key stakeholders in these discussions.
  • Assure that you secure your own future, and then secure the future of other family members.

How Much Should You Pay a Salesperson? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company hired an experienced individual to sell for them as a consultant. The individual initially asked to be paid on an hourly basis. Results have come with surprising speed. Now the consultant is asking for a commission on sales. How much should you pay a salesperson?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Tailor the commission structure to company objectives. For example, if the objective is to reward new business development, and to retain the individual, try something like:
    • Offer 10% commission on Year 1 sales.
    • If both the customer and the consultant are still with the company in Year 3, the consultant gets a 5% bonus on Year 2 and 3 sales.
    • Repeat this for successive years.
  • If the interest is a long-term relationship, determine the nature of the sales services where the consultant excels.
    • What is the individual’s focus?
      • Hunter/Gatherer
      • Contact manager
      • Relationship manager
    • Have a highly qualified sales expert do a telephone interview of the consultant and offer their assessment of the individual’s talents.
  • One successful sales model includes one measure to retain the job, and another to calculate commissions:
    • Set a dollar quota for sales performance – if the individual does not hit at least 85% of quota, they lose their job.
    • However, calculate commissions based on the gross profit that their sales generate.
    • This properly balances the focus between revenue and gross profit generation. To succeed, the individual must pay attention to both measures.
  • If the individual wants a substantial commission, then don’t pay a substantial base. Instead pay a draw against commissions to allow them to support themselves between sales.
  • Pay on receipt of payment, not on receipt of orders.

How Do You Delegate Yet Stay Informed? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO wants to push project ownership down to lower levels of the company. This is not happening unless the CEO pushes. How do you delegate yet stay informed as you push authority down the organization chart?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The company needs systems and guidelines to clarify on what and when the CEO wants to either have input or hear back, and what can happen without the CEO’s knowledge.
    • Set levels of approval – dollar impact or decision type – and clarify what decisions can made at what level, what decisions need higher level approval and at what level, where they must inform you, and where you must sign off.
    • Similarly, establish regular reporting and meeting schedules, along with guidelines as to what is to be reported – again by budgetary impact or decision type – and assure that this reporting takes place.
  • “The Great Game of Business” by Jack Stack describes a company which has implemented these systems with astounding results. It provides a template and describes in detail how the system is implemented and what bumps they encountered along the way.
  • Invest more time in setting roles and responsibilities for your direct reports.
  • Keep reporting systems aligned across the company.
  • Expect over time to adjust levels of authority as individuals grow in responsibility and accountability.
  • Most importantly, lead by example. If a team member comes to the CEO for guidance on a project, refer them back to the proper manager for advice.
  • 2015 Top ranked software systems to manage projects and processes from selected searches:
    • Capterra: Microsoft Project, Basecamp, Atlassian, Wrike, Podio
    • Insider.com: Smartsheet, Mavenlink, Wrike, Posoda, Metier
    • PC Magazine: Zoho Projects, Teamwork Projects, LiquidPlanner, Workfront, Wrike

How Do You Introduce a Product to New Customers? 7 Thoughts

Situation: A company produces a high performance product which is priced modestly higher than competing products. They are finding customers resistant to cost increases, even when they acknowledge the advantages of the higher cost product. The company needs to develop a new way to position their product. How do you introduce a product to new customers?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Don’t compete directly with existing technology. Position yourself distinctly, as a new solution to address unmet needs.
  • Sell your solution “for those times when you need to save time.” Once they start to use your product, they will find it simpler and easier to use than the old product and will convert themselves to your product.
  • Use the pitch: Book an extra client today because this will save you this much time. This plays to customers’ incremental revenue opportunities to justify the cost.
  • At conventions, conduct contests among attendees – try our product versus your old product. Those who can use it fastest, or below a set time have their business card placed in a jar for an iPad drawing several times a day.
  • Sell a lower priced “starter” kit – or provide a free sample with easy to follow directions. Once the customer is sold on the product’s advantages they will be less resistant to the modest cost increase.
  • Conduct seminars:
    • Local gatherings
    • Regional meetings
    • Larger companies
  • Focus on specialty functions within larger target clients – the functions that will benefit the most from your product’s advantages.

When Are You Dominant and When Do You Facilitate? Three Keys

Situation: For a CEO to lead effectively, she or he needs to be able use both dominant and facilitative modalities of leadership. James Church, in Navigating the Growth Curve, ties the use of each mode to the growth stage of the company. A CEO asks whether the use of each modality is purely a question of growth stage, or whether there are situational guidelines for the use of each modality. When are you dominant and when do you facilitate?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate situation with a clear desired outcome; whereas the Facilitative Mode is appropriate when fixing a broken system that produces issues, or to increase team communication and contribution. As examples:
    • The Dominant Mode is appropriate when there is an immediate issue to be resolved, with clear legal implications and a clear response based on established policy.
    • The Facilitative Mode is appropriate when you want to develop and institute policies and procedures to handle issues ahead of time, or to establish guidelines for action. In these cases you want both input from the team as well as buy-in to institute the resulting decisions.
  • Strategic Planning shifts from Dominant to Facilitative Mode as the organization grows and becomes more complex. Early on, strategy needs to come with a single, decisive voice. In larger companies strategy becomes a group exercise because there are many moving parts and teams.
  • Another way to think about this is that Dominant is appropriate when “the buck stops here,” and will shift from CEO to managers for specific decisions when you reach a stage where the managers are now dominant. Facilitative becomes appropriate when managers and employees – those below the level of company or division leader – need to make the decision instead of the leader.

How Do You Cut Excessive Overtime? Five Suggestions

Situation: A family-owned business has a family member on hourly pay who puts in excessive overtime. The cost of overtime significantly cuts into company profits. The CEO wants to cut back these overtime hours and get the employee to work more efficiently. At the same time, she feels that maintaining peace within the extended family is important. How do you cut excessive overtime for a single employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Situations like this within a family business are delicate because of relationships beyond the work place. Treat this individual respectfully, but make it clear that you have to act in the best interests of the company and all employees.
  • Develop a job description with this employee that will help to get their overtime under control.
    • Communicate to the employee: “I don’t want to take advantage of you by requiring this much overtime.”
    • Let the individual know that you are looking for additional talent and want to more tightly define the roles.
  • Develop a company policy on overtime that limits the amount of overtime that any one individual can accrue. If anyone starts to approach this limit, then have a process in place that shifts additional overtime to others.
  • This is a serious problem for the company. It calls for company transformation. Enlist the employee as a champion for the cause of transforming the company. Keep this a positive vision.
  • If the individual is not a keeper: start controlling hours, but don’t give a raise. Let them leave on their own time.
  • If the individual is a keeper: give them raise, while cutting overtime hours.