Situation: The key to a career development company’s growth, historically, is leveraging relationships with insiders in potential client companies who know the needs of their own companies. The key benefits to these people are access to good people, no recruiting fees and feeling good about the experience. What is the marketing message to this group? How do you market to company insiders?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ask them. You already have a number of company insiders who work with you. Develop a detailed survey to query what they see as the key benefits of working with your company, and which of these benefits are most important to them.
Consider a broad quantitative survey that you can administer via the web.
Complement this with a smaller in-depth interview survey to understand qualitatively how they benefit from their relationship with your company and the service that you provide.
Your equity is the experience that these people enjoy when they work with you – this is your leverage.
Your pitch is emotionally oriented. Stick with this. Saving recruiting fees will not be as important given your focus and the company insiders that you are likely to attract.
Situation: A company is expanding. Some jobs that need to be filled are either utilitarian or don’t require full mobility. Labor through agencies runs $20/hour including agency fees. The CEO considering hiring the disabled including wounded warriors for this work. Have you hired people with disabilities?
Advice from the CEOs:
In San Mateo County California there is a group called Community Gatepath. They assess the work and work requirements and the company pays for disabled services a fair price piece basis. This worked well for sample product with simple packaging.
National groups include SourceAmerica.org and the Small Business Association which can assist with any regulatory questions pertaining to hiring the disabled.
Working with Easter Seals one company hired high functioning disabled individuals. For everyone involved, it was a very positive experience.
If you are interested in hiring disabled veterans, organizations like Hire Heroes USA provides both resumes and assistance. Tax credits are available for hiring disabled veterans.
There may be issues around how disabled workers process information or how they handle emotional situations that are different from non-disabled workers. Sensitivity among those supervising is important.
Interview and investigate the sponsoring organization and arrangements. Make sure that they are set up well for your needs as well as those of the disabled workers.
Situation: A company has determined that market shifts off-shore have neutralized their strategy for the past two years. They need to find new markets that offer growth potential. How do you find and evaluate new markets?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a classic competitive strategy challenge any time a company wants to expand within or beyond its core business. Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School is a top expert on competitive strategy. You can find talks that he has given on TED Talks and elsewhere on the Internet that can help guide your efforts.
Do a SWOT analysis. First, figure out your vision and analyze the strengths that you possess that will fulfill that vision. At the same time analyze your weaknesses to provide a counterpoint on what should not attempt to do. Then consider both threats and opportunities. Have these analyses in place before you expend major effort responding to or developing new opportunities. There are more opportunities out there that will end up as dead ends than there are profitable opportunities.
Don’t discount the expertise that you have developed over the years in your specialty. This is the area of your greatest profits both now and historically. It is likely to remain so in the future.
If you need additional resources to meet existing or new client demand – particularly if these involve activities that are less profitable to you – explore partnerships to access this expertise instead of trying to do everything yourself.
Situation: An early-stage company is in discussions with a high-powered individual who could invest, join their Board, or help them more directly as an executive. They want to involve him enough so that he is interested in working with them. How do you attract a high powered individual?
Advice from the CEOs:
You are still in fact finding mode. Get an NDA ASAP! Backdate the NDA to your first conversations.
o This individual needs to meet face to face with your current team. See how the dynamics work; be very sensitive to conflicts and jealousies. These can wreck an early stage company.
o You need to see how the new individual interacts with your current team to check chemistry before you go too far.
o Be gingerly with your co-founders about adding another “founder.”
Create a high level straw man for this person’s roles and responsibilities.
o Ask the individual what he sees as the potential for the company and how he foresees being able to contribute.
o Develop a business plan for this individual – with the appropriate title. Spell out roles and expectations.
If you offer an equity position, be sure that shares are on a vesting schedule and that you have a shareholder’s agreement.
o Be creative in your vesting. Rather than vesting on time, consider vesting on individual and company performance against milestones. If the company doesn’t hit the milestones what is the value of the shares? Make the milestones consistent with the individual’s objectives – bringing dollars into the company based on investment or revenue hurdles.
o If this individual wants to come in as a “founder” insist on some investment to demonstrate commitment – you and your co-founders have funded the company to date.
Situation: The CEO of a small-to-medium business wants to reduce day-to-day management activities and spend more time focusing on new opportunities. How do you shift focus from management to strategy and how do you identify the right person to take on the management role?
Advice from the CEOs:
As CEO your primary focus needs to be on the future more than the day-to-day. As a smaller company, the management role needs to be filled by an individual with broad multidisciplinary experience. To replace yourself, you need a Renaissance person – someone with industry knowledge and experience who buys into your business model.
As you evaluate candidates, look for attitude, not resume.
Analytical skills are critical – mental capacity.
These need to be complimented by guts – emotional intelligence.
Your current business is not the business that you and your co-founders started. It is a larger entity, more solid, and you need to bring in people who can take it to higher stages of growth. Finding the right person to fill your role is a long-term process.
Bring in 3 to 4 solid candidates as employees in important roles. Test them with challenges to see who can grow into the larger role of company manager.
Look for people who can grow your downstream businesses as candidates to manage the full business.
In the current market you have time on your side. While hiring is improving in some regions, there are still many more candidates out there than available jobs. This is unlikely to change soon.
Situation: A company is about to launch a Beta version of their web-based software. The CEO strives for perfection. What is sufficient for launch, and can the company tolerate imperfections in Beta version? When is “good enough” enough?
Advice from the CEOs:
Many successful software companies – think Microsoft – have realized that finishing the last 10-20% of a new release can be as expensive and time consuming as the first 80-90%. The challenges are often greater and it’s difficult to prioritize the final pieces. So they release when the software is 80-90% complete, prioritize the final pieces based on user feedback, and focus on quick response to user feedback.
You really have no idea how users will experience a new web-based program until you hear it from them. They will tell you what does and does not need to be fixed. They may even be able to help you fix it! Craig’s list stinks from a pure GUI perspective, but is highly popular and successful.
Get the Beta program out ASAP. What you perceive as imperfections may not appear as problems to young Beta users, and may in a way add a quirky appeal to the user experience.
Find a customer or group of customers who will pay for the program. Only this proves its actual worth. There can be conditions for a Beta release and discounts, but if nobody is willing to pay, where is the value?
Consider releasing your Beta version in a college campus environment and invite both participation and feedback. College students are very web-savvy, more tolerant of Beta programs, and crave the opportunity to contribute.
As an additional bonus, when you are ready to launch, college students are great at helping you generate buzz and early adoption because they talk to so many of their friends from both college and high school.
Situation: A company’s client is furious at the service they received from the company, It turns out upon investigation that the source of the client’s difficulty arose from their own actions, not from anything done by the company or its employees. How do you tell a client that their assumptions are wrong?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ask open-ended questions in an attempt to “clarify your understanding” of what happened. You want the client to answer these questions so that they explain the situation to themselves. Always allow them to save face in this process. Some people are better at this technique than others.
Try to understand the client’s experience of the problem as opposed to focusing on the problem itself. This may reveal more deep-seated challenges facing the client that are just being expressed through the current situation.
Email communications often complicate these conversations. Call or visit to let the client know that you are responding personally to their concern. The best communication is person-to-person through conversation. Let them vent. Peel back the onion through questioning to reveal the core problem.
Be honest. Not negative but simply honest. Listen to gain understanding and repeat the facts, as stated by the client, to assure that you properly understand their perspective. If you need to present your own perspective, and it differs from the client’s, do this in a neutral, unemotional tone.
Sometimes you will find a win-win in these discussions, and sometimes you won’t.
Situation: A company has been presented with a new business opportunity. The opportunity is compatible with the company’s current business, but also involves skills and markets with which the company is not familiar. How do you evaluate a new business opportunity?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are at least four critical questions to assess as you evaluate any new businesses opportunity:
What is the total available market, and what is the immediately convertible market for the product or service?
Can you acquire expertise in the new markets that this will open to you?
Do you have a track record starting and nurturing new business within your company?
Is there sufficient seed money available – through company funds or outside investment – to keep the effort going for at least a couple of years as you develop the core team that will operate this business and gain traction?
If there is an offer of outside investment, consider how many months this funding will support the salaries of the team that will build this business, plus operating and overhead costs. You want to be sure to give yourself an adequate runway.
New business development opportunities typically require huge energy, creativity and focus for the first few years. Key management will have to devote all of their effort during the start-up period. Can the company afford to lose the services of key personnel for the time that you estimate this effort will take?
Before deciding to pursue this opportunity, take the time to investigate the market for this opportunity.
In particular, look for other companies that have tried to enter this market, and learn from their experience.
Develop a network of advisors who understand this market and can help you understand both the workings of the market and why companies may have struggled trying to enter the market.
Situation: A Silicon Valley company finds it difficult to find good candidates locally, and also to attract qualified distant candidates to the Bay Area. They want to explore hiring talented individuals out of local colleges and developing them within the company. What are best practices hiring right out of college?
Advice from the CEOs:
Hiring out of college or graduate school is a good way to find long-term hires who can grow into positions. It is less useful if your need is for experienced and tenured individuals who can immediately get up to speed in a position of significant responsibility.
As in any hiring situation, you should review your hiring process before you start to hire. Many companies hire locally based on who applies or who’s a friend of a friend, rather than making an effort to recruit the best candidates.
What is your infrastructure? Do you have a system for identifying candidates who best fit your culture and needs? Do you have personnel who can mentor a new college hire, or are you willing to devote significant time to this?
An alternative is to hire consultants to develop a recruiting process or to mentor the new hire in specific areas of development during their first year or two on the job.
One CEO sponsors an annual competition at Santa Clara University for papers in his company’s field. This has won him considerable support at the school, and gives him access to promising students, several of whom he has hired. An advantage of this program is that the company gets to know the individuals and the quality of their work before making a commitment to offer them either an internship or a full-time position.
Be cautious using candidate assessment tools with college hires. An individual’s profile may shift significantly once they start working because there is a significant shift in priorities once an individual leaves student life.
Situation: Sales technique is constantly evolving. Based on research completed by the Sales Executive Council, this evolution has accelerated since 2008. The implications for selecting, training and retaining top sales reps are significant. How has sales evolved in the last four years?
Advice from Michael Griego:
A 2009 study by the Sales Executive Council (SEC) – Replicating the New High Performer– studied 6,000 international sales representatives from 90 companies comparing top sales performers with core sales reps across 44 attributes.
The study found that Challenger sales reps represented the largest cohort (39%) of the most successful sales reps, followed by Lone Wolf (25%), Hard Worker (17%), Reaction Problem Solver (12%), and Relationship Builder (7%) sales reps.
The Challenger sales rep is best suited for a complex sales environment, while the Hard Worker is best for less complex enterprise sales or sales of off-the shelf products.
Identify the characteristics required for your sale. In addition, identify the mix of sales people currently on your team – from young, eager people just out of school to seasoned vets who can be realigned to current methodologies.
Selection should focus on the prior experience of the candidate. What have they have sold in the past? Ask for details of sales situations. How do they usually open a sales conversation? How did they adjust their sales pitch to different audiences? Were they hunters or farmers? Top talent reps can deftly go both ways.
Training involves reinforcing sales fundamentals plus the modern application of provocative consultative selling where salespeople provide true insight and challenge customers well beyond feature/function/benefit selling.
SEC study results indicate that if you are involved in a complex sale you need to identify the challenges, acknowledge what is happening in your client’s market and the challenges that they face, quantify the implications, and position potential solutions for exploration; all of this occurs BEFORE you start selling your specific solution.
Retaining the best sales reps fundamentally takes good sales management.
Pay special attention to top performers, while attending to all your reps and treating them fairly.
Challenge them to be better in areas that will enhance their success.
Recognition is a great motivator. Make them an internal mentoring resource for the rest of the team.
Identify your core (average) players and train them to act like your top players.
If you do these things they won’t be attracted to the shiny objects dangled by head hunters.