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.

 

What is the CEO’s Role in Sales? Three Answers

Situation:  A company has customers scattered around world. When the company was small, the CEO was very involved at all levels of sales and customer relations. Now that the company is larger, the CEO is more strategic but misses client contact, particularly for gathering market intelligence and understanding. The CEO does go on regular sales calls with reps but is getting push-back from the Sales VP. What is the CEO’s role in sales?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make an effort to understand the push-back coming from the Sales VP. Probe – where is the resistance coming from? What is the basis of the resistance? Is it personal or functional? Keep probing until the roots of resistance are clear, and then deal with these.
  • As CEO, insist on continuing customer contact. This is essential to your role and your understanding of your market.
    • Sit down and discuss this with the Executive Team. Go over your travel schedule and your objective in meeting with customers. Where appropriate meeting opportunities exist, let them know that you want to be included. Follow-up and repeat the message if they do not schedule you for calls.
    • How does the sales rep position this with a client? Let the customer know that the CEO will be visiting the area and would like to meet you. Here are the broad objectives and the benefit to you. Knowing that the CEO is interested in meeting with the client can be a powerful way to deepen the relationship with the client.
  • Having the CEO accompany the local representative on the first meeting with a customer sends the wrong message. Let the representative establish the relationship first. Then bring in the CEO to deepen and strengthen the relationship when the opportunity is right.

How Do You Establish Accountability for Results? Four Ideas

Situation: A CEO has difficulty gaining realistic projections from sales – projections for which they will be accountable. For example, the VP of Sales promises X but delivers Y – a result substantially below X. What methods have you have used to get realistic assessments and commitments from sales executives? How do you establish accountability for results?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Shift the issue from their accountability to your own accountability to the company.
    • In order to ship to the projected sales targets, we will need to scale up production to X level, hire Y personnel, and invest in Z inventory. If we miss the target by 20% here’s the impact on our financial performance for the next period. Are we comfortable, as a company, with this exposure, or should we adjust our plan to reduce the exposure.
    • This makes it easier for the sales executive, for the good of the company, to reduce the projection if they are not confident that they will make it.
  • Do you need to examine your commission structure as well as bonuses for sales executives? Consider scaling commissions to make sure that the sales team hits their targets. Make them hungry by offering lower commissions for lower targets, but increasing total commissions for meeting and exceeding targets.
    • Have the sales team project their sales. If the projected level meets company objectives and they meet them they make X%. However, if they fall short they make successively smaller fractions of X% depending upon how much they fall short.
  • Currently, the ratio between new and repeat sales is 20% / 80%.
    • To focus the sales team on new sales, reduce commissions on repeat sales, and increase commissions on new or increased sales and/or accounts.
  • Good sales people are competitive and often respond to pride. Give them in incentive – hit the sales target and get trip to Las Vegas with your spouse or guest.

How Do You Make The Best Use of Your Board? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A private company has a Board of Directors that functions more as an Advisory Board than a traditional Board. For example, they do not have the power to fire or replace the CEO. The CEO wants feedback on how to interact with the Board, and how to work with them between meetings. How do you make the best use of your Board?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decide what you want from the Board, and clearly communicate this to the Members.
  • Treat the Board as a single entity – not as individuals. Avoid politicking individual members between meetings. Use the Board to drive decisions.
  • At your next Board meeting have a discussion with the Board:
    • Let the members know that you are concerned about whether you are using them effectively as a resource.
    • Lay out strategic elements to be dealt with over next period, and ask for their advice.
    • For example, if you are moving into a new market you need advice on how to succeed. Are they the right group to provide this advice? If not, what other expertise should be added to the Board?
    • Consider having this conversation in a special session of the Board.
  • Bring in expertise – if your industry has shifted, adjust the make-up of the Board to reflect the new realities. If you need to raise capital, look for expertise in this area.
  • Eliminate less productive members from the Board.
  • If you are looking at a new market, build an Advisory Board that is knowledgeable about this space, but who are not necessarily customers. Consider retired executives from companies in this market.
  • Additional needs that you might want to address either through your Board or an Advisory Board:
    • Financial expertise in new markets.
    • Where should you partner to make a complete offering or to supplement your offering?
  • Another CEO has a similar Board situation. In this case, the CEO makes it clear that Board members are expected to:
    • Make connections.
    • Assist in bringing in business.
    • Members are expected either to produce or they are off the Board.
    • Meetings are driven to a specific agenda with expectations of deliverables.

How Do You Raise Cash Short Term? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO has identified a new business opportunity that looks promising but will require raising additional cash short term. What are good sources of short term cash, and what will simplify access to these resources? How do you raise cash short term?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • You must be the biggest critic of this opportunity. If it doesn’t fly to your critical eye, it will be hard to sell to others. As a reality check, ask yourself whether the opportunity is something on which you’d bet your house.
  • Build the new capability around a web distribution system that compliments your other capabilities. This broadens the appeal of the offer.
  • Generate an investment proforma and revenue stream. Most investors or debt financers will want to see this. You can position it as an immature business plan backed by your best estimate of the numbers.
  • You’ll need a business plan unless you’re lucky enough to find someone who believes that you can turn any opportunity into gold.
  • Presell subscriptions to target clients to prove the value of the offer – both to you and for investors.
  • Assure that any payments due from you go into an escrow account, to be released on a quarterly or other phased basis pending performance from the other parties within this deal.
  • This is not a venture capital story. Angel investors will seek a lower return for lower risk than VCs. Set some milestones for the Angels that will help them to see that you are monitoring their risk.