How Do You Manage Multiple Priorities? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company has developed a number of initiatives and priorities which are important to the success of the company. All of the initiatives are daunting.  What do they need to do to get all of these accomplished? How do you manage multiple priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with corporate level objectives and set these independently from your initiatives. Pick your top corporate goals and objectives – financial, performance, and so on. Once this is in place, rate your initiatives in terms of how they help to meet your company objectives.
  • Create an initiative list. Measure the upside and risk for each initiative. Based on the results of your analysis classify each initiative: critical, important, or nice to have. This, plus alignment between initiatives your corporate objectives will indicate which initiatives are most critical to company success.
  • Every company needs long and short term goals. Use these to align and prioritize initiatives. Only and your team you can tell what is important and importance is a matter of your strategic focus and objectives.
  • They key to accomplishing multiple objectives is focus. Focus on your top 2-3 initiatives first – if you can reasonably handle this many. Once these are accomplished, focus on the next 2-3, and so forth.
  • Look at your competitors – where are the opportunities in the marketplace. How will your initiatives make you more competitive?
  • What does your leadership development plan look like? If you plan to add new leadership, include in your thinking a transition plan to new leadership, taking into account your multi-year timeline.

How Do You Make the Most of Changing Your BHAG? Eight Points

Situation: A company recently changed their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to focus on premium customer acquisition, but as a small-to-medium sized company has a 3-year focus instead of the typical 10-20 year focus of a larger company. They want to make this a company-wide effort. How do you make the most of changing your BHAG?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, it is measurable and specific – grow to 10 times your premium current customer base in 3 years. Your marketplace is changing quickly, so a shorter-term BHAG makes sense. Call it your 10/3 Program or 10/3 Challenge.
  • Is it too shallow? No – this is something that people can rally around. It represents significant company growth.
  • What happens when you achieve the goal? Celebrate in a big way, and then set the next BHAG.
  • How do you create excitement? Every time you hit a milestone, bring in pizza, or conduct a special event. Celebrate.
  • Success = Change. What does that next milestone mean for the company and your capabilities? This isn’t just about new clients, but also includes scaling your delivery systems and customer service. Rally your non-sales staff around these important tasks.
  • Create milestones not just around sales numbers but also around timelines. Tie incentives to achievement of BHAG milestones.
  • Conduct a company meeting to announce the BHAG, and announce progress in future company meetings.
    • Progress against milestones.
    • Share pipeline data to maintain excitement.
    • Develop scale-up programs and share progress of non-sales departments as they ramp up services.
  • Think about building a competition around the goal. As long as this fits your culture it can add excitement to achieving both milestones and the BHAG itself.

Note: The term ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

Where Should You Focus – Eyeballs or Dollars? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company sells personalized content as well as a tool kit. The long-term plan is to monetize storage of personalized content. When they speak to venture capitalists, the VCs advise them to focus on just building their user base and not to worry about revenue.  What would you do? Where should you focus – eyeballs or dollars?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Take advice from venture capitalists with a grain of salt. Remember that their game is to fund companies that they like incrementally, taking a greater share of ownership of the company with each increment in funding. The more you lack revenue, the more you’re dependent upon them.
  • Gain traction by offering free content with up-sell opportunities for premium access.
  • The give-away strategy is a great model to build your initial user audience. Consider micropayment options for special features, content storage, and so forth.
  • Going slow and steady may not be the right model for this space. Company growth for a web-based platform is different from the typical bootstrap model.
  • It’s hard to get good advice for viral marketing opportunities from CEOs who have bootstrapped their companies. Look for other input. Seek the advice of CEOs who have been successful in the viral online marketing space and learn as much as you can about their business models.
  • Gaming is another opportunity – premium or virtual world sales.

How Do You Recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company has grown to five times the size that that were when they hired their last Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and are looking for a new VP of Sales & Marketing. What is your advice as they embark on this search? How do you recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Think coach as opposed to star player. You are a much larger company, and at this phase of growth you need an individual with good marketing skills combined with sales management skills. You need a brand builder.
  • Recently, another CEO went through a similar process. His mistake was hiring a person with deep domain experience, when what they really needed was a person with process/methodology experience in complex sales. In your case, consider an individual from a larger company in your industry, or an allied industry. Somebody with knowledge of similar technical sales processes to your company with similar complexity and similar lead flows.
  • Skip head hunters. Based on your knowledge of good companies in your industry use LinkedIn to find who’s who. You can look at three pools of candidates – those that you can hire away from these companies, those who have worked there but are out of work, and early retirees who have found that they now need to go back to work.
  • Research current salary ranges in your industry and plan to be competitive, both base and bonus target.
    • As this individual will be a doer-manager make bonus qualification a combination of personal quota and team performance (overall new sales growth vs. existing projects).
  • While another CEO agrees that you don’t need a head hunter, find someone who can organize the process – review resumes, perform screening interviews, schedule higher level interviews, follow-ups, etc. – and who will work on an hourly basis.
  • Have a job application and be sure to ask for the following:
    • Criminal records,
    • Copies of last W-2s.
    • State on the application: falsehood is grounds for immediate termination.
    • Do or outsource formal background checks including verification of education and degrees.
  • Personally call references for your finalists. Ask these references who else knows this person and speak to them, as well.

How Do You Make Time for Priorities? Eleven Recommendations

Situation: A CEO is building a new company. She has a small, highly qualified team, and much of the work is hands-on. In addition, there is fund raising to support the venture. The CEO also makes time for exercise and keeping in shape. With all of this on her plate she is getting overwhelmed. How do you focus on priorities in an early stage company? How do you make time for priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Maintain your exercise and health – this makes everything else easier.
  • Decide on your strategic platform. This creates a larger conceptual framework and helps to clarify priorities.
  • Identify the gating items. Focus effort here and spend scarce resources strategically to push your goal.
  • Within your gating items, identify the factors that make you scalable. Focus most of your effort here.
  • Create a weekly focus.
  • Lay out your to-do list in a Covey quadrant – most and least important vs. urgent and not urgent. Review this weekly to eliminate or delegate less important priorities.
  • Operational issues are usually symptoms – identify the causes and fix them.
  • Daily, list what you’ve done. Look back every 1-2 weeks and assess how you spent your time. Eliminate time wasters.
  • Don’t let you passion be undermined by the drudgery.
  • As an early stage company, you have to react – understand and appreciate that some aspects of early stage company life will not be very strategic.
  • Fix things rather than adding people and complexity. This compliments Fisher’s Stages of Growth recommendations for a company of under 11 people.

How Do You Fund a Start-Up? Four Suggestions

Situation: Early stage companies often find it difficult to raise funds from traditional sources. An experienced CEO wants to help certain new companies of which she is aware in two ways – assisting them in receiving funding, and then helping to assure that they reach key milestones.  What is the best way to profitably address this ambition? How do you fund a start-up?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Build relationships with a few select sets of local investors – venture capitalists, angels, and private investors – with whom you have strong credibility. For a retainer or fee, agree to bring them a number of new pre-vetted companies in the next year, and post-finding, help the companies to succeed and hit milestones. From the companies that you bring to funders, ask for equity in return for securing funding and providing guidance.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person who will pay you – what do they want and how do you deliver this for them? Develop statistics from your past successes that highlight your capabilities. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments.
  • What are you passionate about? If the answer is development – linking technology entrepreneurs to strategic partners and then being an accountability partner to assure that milestones are met – this will be your focus and your pitch to both funders and tech companies.
  • Your value is linking the entrepreneur to the funding source and being an accountability partner.

Do You Launch a New Brand or a New Company? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is launching a new service – using existing technologies to address a new market. The CEO is curious as to whether it makes more sense to create a separate firm or corporation, a division within the current structure, or a new brand to take advantage of this opportunity? Do you launch a new brand or a new company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Because you are utilizing an existing process in a new market, don’t create the additional conflict or complexity that you might by splitting this into a separate entity just yet. Utilize the collaborative talent within the company to create a new brand rather than a new division or corporation.
  • Adding the additional overhead, accounting and other complexities of a separate entity is overkill – start it as a division or a brand.
  • Use this as an opportunity to grow your overall company brand. Create a series of icons to represent the company’s various capabilities. The icons will also help you to describe the range of capabilities of the company to prospective clients.
  • The market which you are addressing is early stage. By developing this new market as a new capability of your current well-respected brand, you have the opportunity to become the category leader.
  • When another CEO created new capabilities as extensions of existing technology he followed the following route:
    • Create a sub-brand as you develop and start to develop the new capability;
    • If it is successful and grows, develop it into a division;
    • If the capability grows to the point that you attract and decide to take outside funding to accelerate growth, create a separate company so that you don’t give away ownership of the parent company.
  • Think “effective vs. efficiency.” Start with efficiency. Add effectiveness (dedicated people) as opportunity proves itself out.

How Do You Balance Multiple Businesses? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A company has had one primary focus for the last few years. They are now developing another capability which takes significant attention from the CEO. How do you balance multiple foci, while maintaining a balance with family life? How do you balance multiple businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Find people you trust and delegate – ask them for help. Give them lots of leeway – just ask for updates.
  • Prioritize your weeks – big boulders and small rocks – decide weekly how you will focus. A week is a good planning time frame.
  • Identify and come to grips with your situation – the brutal facts – this will help you to prioritize.
  • Set boundaries based on time, relationships, priority – have realistic expectations of what you can accomplish. Set others’ expectations on when you will respond to their calls, emails, etc.
  • Compartmentalize your time for full concentration and focus. Focus on one thing at a time instead of multi-tasking.
  • Eliminate non-value added “stuff.”
  • Avoid letting others impose their schedules onto yours.
  • Use exercise time to refresh your endorphins, clear your head and give you time to reflect on priorities.

How Do You Define Your Sales Offering? Four Recommendations

Situation:  A company is having difficulty finding the right sales candidates for the opportunity that they offer.  They have had good conversations with prospects, but once they present their offering the candidates reply that they’re not interested. How do they define their offer to attract good candidates? How do they adjust the conversation to produce better results? How do you define your sales offering?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is the same conversation that you have with your biggest client prospects.
    • Good people have options. If you have not convinced yourself that you have a great opportunity, you will never convince them that your offer is better than other options.
    • You are selling YOU.
  • Change early process.
    • Be sure that you are as passionate about your opportunity as you are about positioning your services with clients.
    • Divorce the conversation about the opportunity from the general screening interview.
  • Here’s the process:
    • Your recruiter does not sell.
    • Just ask the recruiter to identify potential; not to initiate the sale.
    • Do this sale yourself.
  • Aspects of the story – much of this is the same story that you present to your clients:
    • Your performance within your industry.
    • Strength of your people and brand name.
    • The quality of your clients.
    • The unique opportunity that the prospect has joining you at this stage of your business growth.

How Do You Respond to Unreasonable Demands? Three Thoughts

Situation: A CEO has observed an increase in the frequency of demands for last minute meetings from an important foreign client – sometimes with 12-18 hours’ notice. Requests for these meetings are often the evening before the requested meeting and with no regard to preexisting calendars. The client always says that they have sound reasons for the request. What are the likely consequences of push-back? How do you respond to unreasonable client demands?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • While allowance must be made for specific circumstances, there is a tendency within some cultures to press for special consideration. Part of this may be a negotiating tactic. One CEO has found that when he pushes back, the side requesting special consideration often yields to his needs and backs off the special request.
  • Treat these as you would similar requests from a domestic investor or client. Point out the late call and that you are already booked for the time requested. Ask whether there is any flexibility to the requester schedule and offer available time alternatives. Listen closely to the response and proceed accordingly.
  • Depending on the importance of the client and individual calling, some CEOs prefer to comply with requests like this, at least the first few times that such requests are made. However, when the requests become a regular occurrence, as described above, they rely on the recommendations outlined above.