About Tien Wong

CEO, Opus8, Inc. (Opus8.com) Managing General Partner, Opus8 Phoenix Fund Chairman, Lumious Chairman, Lore Systems Founder and Host, Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum (connectpreneur.org) Tech CEO, angel investor, community servant. Speaker, writer, mentor, YPO member. Champion of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education. My Passion is Excellence. Current and Former Boards: Maryland Venture Fund Authority Center for Innovative Technology's GAP Fund Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. Junior Achievement Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Association for Corporate Growth Startup Maryland Potomac Officer's Club Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce FounderCorps Advisory Boards: Parature Transactis DataRPM SpydrSafe CirrusWorks WishKnish SmartCEO Magazine cadre Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, Entrepreneur in Residence

Time for E-Commerce Entrepreneurs

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This is a Guest blog post from Andre Averbug. See below for more info about Andre.

Launching an online business, or e-commerce, has never been easier than in the past ten years. There are fantastic resources available that allow for the seamless development and operation of e-stores. For example, in 2017, working only nights and weekends, I was able to launch an online shop for apparel and accessories in just a couple of months. And today, given the COVID pandemic, with the difficult job market and the need for social distancing, e-commerce has become particularly opportune. It is a great time to be your own boss and become an e-commerce entrepreneur. 

Setting up an e-commerce doesn’t require technical skills. I had never coded or designed a website. Still, I was able to set up my e-store completely on my own. Platforms such as ShopifyBigCommerce and Wix provide you with the complete toolbox needed for your e-commerce, including awesomely designed templates, integrated payment methods, SEO best practices, storage, analytics and much more. To develop your website, they operate intuitively and all you need to do is tick boxes and drag-and-drop sections and images. They also integrate with several useful management apps, which help you with marketing, CRM, logistics and all other aspects of running the business. Finally – and very importantly – these platforms are quite affordable, with plans starting as low as $10 per month.

In terms of supply chain – assuming you will be selling physical products – our lives have also been made easier by fulfillment and drop-shipping companies, like PrintfulSPOD and CustomCat. Through these, you can automate the supply management of the business, from sourcing and production to distribution. Not only that, but depending on what you sell, you can set up your business with no overhead or inventory costs and have your products be manufactured and shipped on demand, one by one, as orders come in.

The beauty is that what’s left is what the majority of entrepreneurs would consider to be the most pleasant side of any business: value proposition, strategic positioning, product-market fit and design, marketing, and customer relationship. In my case, for the most part, I developed the business concept and worked on the strategy and marketing. My partner, who was a fantastic artist, took care of product designs. Other parts of the business, from video animations, to product copy and press releases, were outsourced to freelancers from websites such as Fiverr and Upwork.

Finally, there are plenty of free resources out there to help you refine your idea and assist you in running a successful e-business. For example, pick a few e-commerce podcasts to listen to, such as Shopify Masters and Ecommerce Fuel. Read relevant blogs such as Digital MarketerGet Elastic and Practical Ecommerce. This article on customer value optimization (CVO) is a great place to start thinking about your business.

If you have a workable idea for a product or service to sell online, this is the time to pursue your startup dream. Let’s get to work!

Andre portrait

Andre Averbug is an entrepreneur, economist, and writer. He has over two decades of international experience working in the intersection of economic development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He has worked and lived in multiple countries across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.

Andre has started and run four startups, in Brazil and the US, and was awarded Global Innovator of the Year in 2009 by World Bank’s infoDev. He has extensive experience supporting companies as mentor and consultant, both independently and as part of incubators such as 1776 and the Kosmos Innovation Center, and programs like Shell LIVEWire, StartUp Weekend and WeXchange.

As an economist, Andre has worked in topics ranging from innovation ecosystems, entrepreneurship and MSME development policy, competitiveness, business climate, infrastructure finance, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and country assistance strategy for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). He has also consulted for clients such as DAI Global, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), TechnoServe, among many others. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of London (UK) and an MBA from McGill University (Canada). Andre lives in the Washington, DC area.

He writes an awesome Blog called Entrepreneurship Compass and you can sign up here: https://entrepreneurshipcompass.com

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

Shark Tank star Mark Cuban has been a startup investor and serial entrepreneur since his teenage years selling garbage bags, creating chain letters, offering dance lessons, and even running newspapers from Cleveland to Pittsburgh during a strike of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mr. Cuban is ranked #177 on the Forbes 400 list for 2020 with an estimated $4.3B in net worth.

Anyone who has listened to Mark knows that he has a lot to say and has very strong opinions on many topics. My goal here is to summarize how to be successful in business, especially for entrepreneurs in the startup arena. I’ve distilled Mark’s approach down to 7 key factors.

Be Passionate

Passion is at the core of everything in business, especially a startup business. Our passion will dictate the energy we bring to our work and will transmit our excitement to prospective customers, vendors, and partners.

“Love what you do or don’t do it.”

Be Ready

The ideal time is now, according to Mark Cuban. You need to always be moving forward in a tangible way to achieve your business and startup goals. You’ll always have doubts and the world will always put doubters in your path to throw up obstacles, to hurt your confidence, and to smother your passion. Don’t let them stop you, and don’t let changing circumstances keep you from doing it now (see “Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”).

“Always wake up with a smile knowing that today you are going to have fun accomplishing what others are too afraid to do.”

Be Bold

Dictionary.com defines bold as “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger…courageous and daring…beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action; imaginative.” For a startup to be successful, an entrepreneur must be bold but not blind. They must have a clear understanding of what they are doing and why as well as what they’re strengths and weaknesses are. You really aren’t bold or courageous if you don’t recognize the challenges or dangers that you need to overcome to succeed. See my recent article on being bold in getting investor funding (“How Far Will You Go to Get Your Business Funded?”).

“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed. You only have to be right once.”

Be Knowledgeable

Knowing the business, the market, the players, the customers and their sentiments are all essential to being prepared to succeed in a startup business. Whether you need to convince Angels or PE/VC investors to fund your business or you are bootstrapping it, you need to know what it will take to win. Without this knowledge you have almost no chance to succeed. By the way, as your business grows and the market changes, you need to continually upgrade your knowledge to improve what you do and how you do it.

“Because if you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.”

Be Honest

Entrepreneurs who lie to themselves about their products, services, competitors, customers, and market conditions aren’t going to be in business very long. Don’t just make assumptions but deal in facts. If you’ve already formed assumptions, work hard to validate or invalidate them so you can prepare a genuine SWOT analysis. This will help you launch the business and bring the right product to market at the proper place and price with the proper message.

“One problem people have is that they lie to themselves…rarely is talent enough. You have to find ways to make yourself standout. You do so by playing to your strengths and making people aware of those strengths.”

Be Humble

Every startup entrepreneur wants to believe that their product or service has never been done before, but the ones who proceed with that mindset are inviting peril. Be a student of history. One of the first things you learn is that humankind doesn’t learn from history because we keep repeating the same mistakes. Humility will make you realize that somebody somewhere has probably tried this before. Do your research…and not just a quick Google search. Find out who tried and how they failed. Use their experience to learn the hard lessons without suffering the personal setbacks.

“One thing we can all control is effort. Put in the time to become an expert in whatever you’re doing.”

Be Unique

While your product or service may not be completely new, you need to make at least one aspect of it your own. Consider what characteristics you bring to the product, to how or to whom it is marketed, or how it is delivered to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you try to be the same, you have no basis other than price on which to compete, and someone newer and cheaper can easily come along to take your market away from you.

“Creating opportunities means looking where others are not.”

“When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?”

“Success is about making your life a special version of unique that fits who you are – not what other people want you to be.”

If you aggressively pursue these 7 areas, your chances of startup success increase dramatically. What are you waiting for? As Mark Cuban says, the perfect time is now.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Before setting 2021 priorities, ask “What’s my ‘WHY’?”



This is a Guest blog post from Sales expert Chris Tully.

Before setting 2021 priorities, ask “What’s my ‘WHY’?”

Before you go all-in on finalizing the 2021 business plan, maybe it’s worth a review of what drove you to start your own company in the first place.

Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, believes that true success comes from a core belief that inspires others and infuses every achievement.

When I’ve asked people “Why did you start your business?” over the years, I’ve heard as many unique answers as people I asked, many of which do relate to pursuing a passion or core belief. The Wright brothers did that. They believed that they could make a flying machine – and without financing, higher education, or even much help, they succeeded and changed the world. 

In my experience, a business doesn’t have to have such a grandiose goal to succeed – and there are surely multiple definitions of success. So, what’s yours? Make sure you can articulate why you started, and what you are trying to accomplish – as specifically as possible.

Take a little time to reflect

Examining where you started and where you are now can shed some light on where to go next.

Is the original reason for starting your business still what drives you every day? Is everyone who works with you on board with that? Do your colleagues share your values and core beliefs? Do they share your vision and mission or could conflicting priorities be draining some of your momentum?

If your motivation has changed, has that motivation been carefully communicated and incorporated in how you run your business? Or is confusion over the goal causing some unexpected consequences?

What did you originally hope to achieve? Are you still on track to achieve that? If not, why not? Getting back on track (or adjusting course) should be part of your business plan.

Move forward with confidence

Only when you can articulate the above concepts with clarity and certainty should you start working on your business plan for 2021. For the coming year you’ll need:

SMART goals (for a quick primer on goal setting, check this out).

The right people in the right seats on your bus – especially at the leadership level

A repeatable sales process  that anyone with the right skills and motivation can follow

Simple, easy to understand key performance indicators (KPIs)

A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to monitor progress

A reliable sales management process

If any of these are missing, or if you are wondering how to make what’s in place more effective, perhaps we should talk.

With everything 2020 has brought (wrought), now is a good time for introspection. If you begin with why you were inspired to start your business in the first place, then I believe you can work out the “what” and “how” steps for a successful 2021.


Are you satisfied with your company’s sales effectiveness? If you feel like you need to do a better job attracting and winning the right prospective clients, give me a call.


Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership – Part Four

This is the fourth and final part in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

Embracing Your Competitive Advantage

Ask any sports athlete what gives them the fire to take their field of play, and they will likely cite the prospect of beating their rival. Indeed, without the subplot of competition, sports would be exceedingly boring – for both the players and the viewers.

As CEOs, competition, too, represents our drive, our passion, our reason for being. Though we might actually prefer owning the playing field and having it all to ourselves, we can be relatively assured that we will have company as we pursue excellence and strive for the only true tangible measure of success – revenue growth.

As you know, this blog series has been keenly focused on helping you achieve this drive for excellence. In previous blogs, we have looked inward – talking about how being more engaged with your team and how focusing on the way consumers are embracing (or eschewing) your product or service, are critical keys to growth-oriented success.

Now, it’s time to take a look beyond our walls – at the competitive forces that we must manage in order to ensure survival. Understanding how our rivals are nipping at our heels is the essential insight to positioning our product or service appropriately in the marketplace. To be a successful leader, you must be able to identify where your company advantages are really resonating — whether it is product quality, customer service, uniqueness, corporate structure, or some other characteristic — and use those attributes in your promotional efforts.

In my work with companies, I have noticed that a surprising number have not considered these competitive essentials. Even more companies have stuck with antiquated methods to promote their competitive advantage – only to watch that advantage evaporate due to technology.

In these situations, there are some fundamentals that I recommend CEOs follow immediately to get their competitive efforts on track:

Review Your Positioning: With the world changing so rapidly, this is something I recommend doing on an annual basis. What may have been a competitive advantage five years ago may not even raise the consumer’s eyebrow today. This may require some internal restructuring – particularly with marketing – to ensure that the company can keep pace with market dynamics.

Take the Pulse of the Market: Now is the time to invest in robust qualitative and quantitative research that gets to the heart of changing consumer tastes. I often see companies that come up with a great idea for a new product and accelerate its launch, while skipping critical steps. Gauging consumer demand, surprisingly, generally is the step that is overlooked.

Understand the Essence of Sales Pressures: It has been easy for any company to blame flagging demand on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has been a smokescreen for some companies who were already experiencing the effects of competitive pressure. The ability to see the big picture through a regular, and in-depth, competitive analysis, is a critical part of sifting through the superficial and getting to the heart of matters.

Call in an Expert: Sometimes, putting the competitive landscape into perspective is a bigger job than your existing go-to-market team is able to manage. Even people who go to a doctor for regular checkups will, at times, need a specialist – or a surgeon! That’s why it can be wise to call upon a specialist in market analysis to make a true, objective, third-party examination of the forces that are impacting your standing in the marketplace. They can also help you assemble a library of resources so you can consistently be updating your competitive research and ensure that you don’t fall behind on this important strategy again.

As a CEO, it’s critical that you use the tools in your arsenal to earn – and keep – your competitive advantage. Rather than viewing competitive research as an expense item, consider it a priority to help you break through the clutter that has only been amplified due to the onslaught of digital tools.

In case you missed the previous articles in the series:

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership – Part Three

This is the third in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

Knowledge Is Power

What’s holding you aloft in 2020?

Whether or not you have cracked the code of 2020, most CEOs have spent the year snapping back to a changed reality. In our last blog, we looked at the importance of being engaged, insightful, and plugged in as the “table stakes” of leadership change in turbulent times.

But all the engagement in the world is pointless if you don’t know the direction from which your headwinds and tailwinds are coming.

More to the point: If your company were an airplane, then insights—the detailed information you need to understand competitors, targets, trends, and market news—can be considered the wind beneath your wings.

And if you don’t have a keen focus on how these megatrends are keeping your ship in blue skies, you may just find yourself hopelessly lost in a cloud bank. And falling asleep at the controls – well, that could just be deadly.

A recent example: I was working with a large hospital group in the mid-Atlantic region that was trying to understand why a satellite emergency care facility wasn’t generating the profits they expected. My first fact-finding mission—a demographic market survey—uncovered a critical misstep by the group: There was simply no need for the satellite facility to begin with, based upon the existence of other healthcare facilities in the region and the size of the market.

It became abundantly clear: A simple dive into the basic blocking-and-tackling of insights would have saved the company millions – and the awful mistake of building something for which there was no demand.

It’s a faux pas that I see repeated time and again: Leaders, without any research whatsoever, and based simply on a “good idea,” are convinced to plunge resources into products or services that fall flat in the market, and then wonder why they’re not making any sales.

In my view, this is but one example of why the ability to look at data and insights is a critical skill for CEOs who are looking to make more effective decisions – a basic tenet of being in charge these days.

So, what types of insights should a CEO be focused on in order to ensure the relevance of their offerings? Here are just a few fundamentals that I believe are useful:

Customer Focus: It’s important not to become too far removed from your buyers these days. In days of yore, it used to be that successful CEOs could get away with pushing off customer insights on other department heads. Now, with digital marketing, and the availability of instant knowledge about target audiences, the CEO has to be keenly aware of market factors which can move for – or against – them quickly.

The most successful CEOs I work with are the ones that have innate knowledge about their customers and their relationships with their companies. They even phone customers directly to hear what is driving their decision making. In this manner, they can see a necessary pivot coming if customer needs are changing, or if the market is exerting different forces on their business.

Insights Machine: Some companies have elevated insights to an art form and have even installed Chief Information Officers to help lasso, wrangle, and otherwise manage myriad data points into submission. This new CIO role ensures that a member of senior leadership has accountability for delivering proprietary knowledge and a library of information that helps keep the company’s competitive edge sharp.

Research, Analyze, Repeat (Often): Both CEO and CIO will benefit from a robust and dynamic industry analysis program that delivers insights on a very regular basis. No longer is it appropriate to conduct this type of research once a year – once a quarter may be the appropriate interval to gather data that spells out all the threats and opportunities that are hitting their specific industry. And in my experience, the most insightful companies don’t just insist, but mandate, that their entire senior leadership team, as well as their board members, consume this knowledge.

As an example, I worked with a company recently that was experiencing massive shipping delays as a result of the pandemic and couldn’t quite figure out why. After gathering insights, they learned that lighter packages were being delivered significantly faster than heavier ones. By unbundling some of the shipments into smaller chunks, they could significantly accelerate their supply chain.

Another company in the beverage industry was having trouble sourcing the bottles that their drinks were packaged in – and upon analysis, learned that this would remain a challenge during the pandemic. They pivoted their entire production line to can-based packaging to ensure their ability to keep up with the surging demand for their product.

In our next blog, we’ll roll up what we’ve learned about the importance of being an engaged and well-informed CEO and put these traits to work in honing your competitive advantages in the marketplace.

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership: Part Two

This is the second in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

The Four Inhibitors of Engaged Leadership

Little known fact about ducks: Though they exude grace as they glide atop the water, ducks hide a little secret just below the surface.

For all the poetry they project in our view, ducks are actually shuffling their feet quite quickly to achieve that silky-smooth movement.

As a CEO, you know this bifurcated existence all too well. Though you are expected — nee, required — to display a semblance of outward calm, beneath this facade are the fears, insecurities, and realities that come with the job.

So why must you glide and not shuffle — especially given all that the recent past has thrown at business leaders?

It’s a proven fact: If a business leader is passionate, energetic, and hardworking, it filters down to company employees. This is leadership by example at its best.

In addition, an effective leader can quickly gather the information needed to make decisions and act without hesitation. With such a leader, employees are loyal, self-actualized, and tend to go beyond traditional work requirements. Competitors have difficulty replicating this leadership style.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the costs of being a disengaged CEO can be immense. One study undertaken by The Engagement Institute found that employees left rudderless by ineffective leadership can cost companies between $450 and $550 billion — with a B — per year.

So, what are some of the pitfalls that can derail engagement and cause you to paddle in circles, rather than to glide ahead?

Lacking Authenticity: Having your actions match your words — coming off as being authentic and true — is as simple as doing what you say you’re going to do. To the contrary, if a CEO is saying something about how valuable employees are — and then turns around and cuts retirement benefits or buys himself a corporate jet in a time of austerity — he can inflict significant damage. Being authentic is the first key to displaying the guts and leadership skills to take quick action.

Indecisiveness: A lack of decisiveness can put a stranglehold on your resources, and by extension, your company. Any time not spent on executing the strategy and vision to move the company forward tends to be wasted. One coping mechanism I have observed over the years has been when a leader ends up spending too much time in tactical minutiae, as a distraction to making the big decisions that will move the company forward. A fearful leader — one unable to make decisions — can have a ripple effect throughout the company and create a culture of fear.

Lack of Emotional Intelligence: It’s critical to remain focused on the task at hand, and to see it through to completion. Too many times, I have observed CEOs lose the respect of their employees because it was clear that they were trying to be good at EVERYTHING, and instead weren’t any good at ANYTHING. This often is embodied in a patchwork of short-term fixes that made little sense for the long-term growth of the company (though they did look good on the CEO’s resume). This type of behavior became transparent to the members of the leadership team, and ultimately made it hard to keep people motivated to undertake, and execute, on the big-picture items.

No Support Structure: There are others in your shoes who are grasping for the same brass ring, but struggle with the same insecurities. Groups like Vistage and other executive networking programs provide the missing outlet for the need to have a truly honest and inwardly focused discussion.

I recently met with the CEO of an up-and-coming West Coast beverage company, led by a similarly rising star in enterprise. In his early 30s, this CEO already has expanded nationally and completed two rounds of capital raise. But all this time, he felt the crushing stress of having to undertake this major expansive cycle in isolation. Through the supportive atmosphere of Vistage, the CEO was able to find solace among others who had walked in his shoes.

In our next blog, we will explore the ways an engaged leader uses insights and intelligence to make more effective decisions. Meanwhile, check out my recent interview with OnFire B2B Podcast.

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership

This is the first in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

In 2020 and beyond, the notion of leadership has been indelibly changed. No longer is it adequate to rule from 30,000 feet, to remain at arms lengths from strategies, and unable to touch tactics with a 10-foot pole. 

Leadership from a distance, in a time when distance is not just a suggestion, but a mandate, can strike a critical blow to a company that is already likely still trying to divine its direction in a pandemically-impacted landscape.

Buying habits, like it or not, have been forever transformed. Going forward, people will consume differently, express their preferences in new and unforeseen ways, and likely exhibit a great deal of caution in how they part with their almighty dollars.

Thus, today’s CEO and C-suite must be more dialed in than ever – hands-on, consumer focused, and action-oriented – if their company is to find the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rather discolored rainbow.

Indeed, an engaged CEO is one that is able to command his or her enterprise toward a horizon of explosive growth while not forgetting those who supported the journey. Leaders must be able to engage at the customer level, encourage team members, and rally investors and stakeholders in promoting the grand vision.

If done correctly, this new and enhanced level of engagement can also have a remarkable impact on both tangible and intangible measures. Gallup found that top-performing leaders reduce turnover by 59 percent, experience 41 percent less absenteeism, find 40 percent fewer quality issues, notch 20 percent greater sales productivity, and, yes, 21 percent more profitability.

So, how can you refocus your energies and intentions on the task of reaping the maximum rewards for your product or service?

In my experience working with CEOs and private equity firms, I’ve found that the barriers to C-suite success have been surprisingly simple. Rather than undertaking a lengthy journey toward reinvention, I’ve found that most CEOs can retool for growth by making some simple, yet purposeful, changes to their leadership style.

In future blogs in this series, I will shed more details on the seven steps to success that the most effective CEOs have embraced.

These steps include:

  • Passionate, Energetic, and Decisive Leadership: Exuding a level of confidence that can be infectious across the organization, creating loyalty and the ability to row in the same direction.
  • Knowledge is Power: Diving into the detailed information most companies are collecting about competitors, targets, trends, and market news, and using this information to make more effective decisions.
  • Embracing the Competitive Advantage: Identifying what it is that makes the company special and serving as a figurehead and voice of reason in playing up these advantages.
  • Hiring Talent and Setting Them Free: Serving as a key cultivator of human resources, the top performing CEOs obtain the best talent for the job – and then get out of their way.
  • Creating Like No Other: Cultivating messages, go-to-market strategies, and other product communications that break the mold, and break through.
  • Measure, Measure, Measure: Taking a keen interest in the analytics that are resulting from legacy activities and being unafraid to pivot on the fly to fine-tune and improve.
  • Celebrating Success: Making sure that the team understands how appreciated they are for the efforts they’ve invested to supporting positive outcomes.

Ready to forge a new, enthusiastic sojourn toward profitability and growth? Read the next post in this series.

I’d love to hear from you. How have you been changing your management focus in these uncertain times?

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

How Much Do You Know About Onboarding? Setting Your New Hire Up for Success

Setting Up Your New Hire For Success

This is a Gust Blog post from Sales expert Chris Tully.

You have just hired an A-Player for your sales team – someone you’re looking to perform at a high level and crush your company goals. Are you assuming your newest employee will continue to be a sales powerhouse in your company environment? Don’t count on it! Owners and Sales Leaders can’t take a backseat just yet in the hiring process. They must create and provide a robust Sales Onboarding Plan to usher the new player into their new setting and set them up for success.  

Welcome to Part II of our two-part blog series about Sales Hiring. If you missed Part I about how to define, seek-out, screen and secure top sales performers, take a moment and read it first: How Much Do You Know About Sales Hiring?: Three Steps to Hiring A-Players for Your Business

Have you ever experienced a terrible first day on the job? In years prior, a terrible first day might begin at arrival to find no one knew you were coming and your new desk was a mess, filled with junk left behind from your predecessor. But today’s new hires are often fully remote, and probably have never met anyone at their new employer in person, creating far different issues in culture setting, training and relationship building. Starting your first day from home without a computer, no access to company IT systems, and little direction will lead to stumbling around to track down login information, figuring out who is who, and self-guiding yourself through HR orientation. This is NOT how anyone wants to start a new job, especially when so much is expected. 

This is not a fairytale!

Bad first impressions on the job happen all the time and can leave a new hire, especially an A-Player, second guessing their career decision. It raises a red flag indicating that a sloppy approach is an acceptable way to operate within the company. A disorganized and chaotic first day or week muddles job goals, processes, and company culture for the negative and slows down the ability for a salesperson at any level to produce results due to lack of organization and clarity.

An effective Sales Onboarding Plan is critical to a new hire’s retention and can help them gain momentum stepping into their new position.

If done properly from inception, the plan will have these positive effects on your sales team’s newest addition:

  • Reinforces the salesperson’s decision to join your company.
  • Provides the candidate with necessary tools and training to be successful in their role.
  • Sets clear expectations for accountability from the very beginning.

The onboarding process is not a static event that ends after a few weeks

It’s a common misconception that an onboarding process fully trains and integrates your new hire after a week or two. On the contrary, effective onboarding is a continuous process that takes place over several months and involves key members of other departments, including the leadership team. Laying out the process as milestones on a calendar will help keep everyone on track to achieve a well-rounded onboarding outcome.

Here are the essential components to account for when building a best practices Sales Onboarding Plan:

1. Lay out the key milestones as the framework of your Onboarding Plan. The milestones are best applied to a high-level list of goals and dates. This list should include things like:

  • Preparation of tasks before the start date
  • First Day
  • First Week
  • Monthly Activities
  • Month 3 Check-in
  • Month 6 Check-in

2. Next, create activity categories to organize the process of generating a thorough list of action items that fully represent each category. Here’s a sample category structure:

  • Meeting objectives, job duties, and expectations
  • Socialization
  • Work environment
  • Technology set-up and access
  • Training and development

3. Now it’s time to assign internal resources to the action items you created. It’s ideal to spread out the onboarding process to a variety of teammates and departments. This will provide the new hire exposure to different areas of the company to gain insights into how all departments function together. It also helps reduce time strain on any one person throughout the training process.

4. Lastly, replicate your activity category structure under each milestone and allocate all the underlying action items appropriately to the timeline. Task your new salesperson to reach out to the assigned internal resources to schedule each training session with the objective to keep predetermined completion target dates on track.

Just as important as starting your salesperson off on the right foot within your organization is having an established sales infrastructure to place them into. Pairing well laid out onboarding with the necessary structure, processes, and resources will help your new salesperson be effective and successful in their new role.

Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

How Much Do You Know About Sales Hiring? Three Steps to Hiring A-Players for Your Business

Three Steps to Hiring A Players

This is a Guest blog post from sales expert Chris Tully.

If you’re looking to add a top sales performer to your team that has the skills, knowledge, leadership, drive, values, and forward-thinking to help take your business to the next level, there are measures you can take to make sure you avoid common hiring pitfalls. Believe it or not, interviewing and hiring, especially at this level, is one of the biggest risks your company can take.
I have broken down preparations to hire into three foundational steps to ensure you effectively define, seek-out, screen and secure top sales performers.

These measures will be essential at any time, but especially going into 2021 when there are many unknowns possibly instore for market conditions. Be careful not to shortcut these best practices or you risk paying for it 10-fold in the form of costly sales turn-over and just as importantly, loss of precious time. This is a time for honest reflection on your previous sales hiring track record.

Step 1: Refine the Position Description & Develop an Ideal Candidate ProfileStep-back and review how well your current position description reflects the new selling environment that has revealed itself since the pandemic hit. What are you anticipating will happen in 2021, in 2022, and beyond? For example, there may have been positions that previously required 80% travel but converted into roles that were just as effective with limited outside activity and increased inside phone or video conferencing, or perhaps a more equal balance of outside and inside sales activity. Which model seems to be the most sustainable it the long run? Will your next hire be open to additional travel if needed down the line? 

Another area to carefully evaluate are duties that involve team interaction. Be sure there are clear lines of accountability on expected outcomes. This crucial step in the process is to bring complete clarity to what you’re truly looking for in your candidate and what role they will play in your business. Next, build out an Ideal Candidate Profile, which differs from the position description you just refined. The position description identifies the role’s purpose, essential duties and responsibilities, and a laundry list of qualification requirements including education and experience.

The ideal candidate profile is laser focused on key accountabilities and non-negotiable requirements necessary to ensure the candidate is qualified. Done properly, this is a thought-provoking exercise concentrated on defining ideal mind-set, prior experience, and skill set.

Step 2: Develop a Recruiting Plan

The next step is to create a plan to bring candidates through a diligent Sales Recruiting Process. To effectively navigate each stage, factors to consider are expertise, budget and time. Recruiting top sales talent requires the expertise to identify the best players. Using a professional recruiter or inside resources will drive the budget. A time commitment from all those involved is a requirement that cannot be avoided.

Attracting Top Talent

A-Players are typically already successful in their current roles, with 90% currently employed. They are likely only willing to make a career move for the right opportunity. Hiring those who are already delivering results means a high probability of success throughout your sales team. A big pitfall is posting ads with an expectation that top-tier talent will respond. A variety of tactics need to be deployed to draw out leading talent including direct sourcing (recruiters), social networking, creative advertising, and professional networking. 

Screening Interview

Think of this stage as an opportunity for candidates to “audition” for a face-to-face meeting or furthering along in the recruiting funnel. The objective of this first interaction is to weed out those that do not fit your ideal candidate profile and non-negotiable requirements before moving on. 

Behavioral Interviews

This series of interviews should take place with the hiring manager and then separately with other team members – either individually or as a group. Here, the objective is to move past the resume and focus on demonstrated skills and abilities. The hiring manager can focus on specific sales skills while each of the team members can be assigned specific behavioral traits to probe. The result should be a 360-degree view of the candidate. 

Objective Assessment

There are a wide range of assessment tools available that can provide an objective analysis of the candidate. Depending on need, this analysis can measure skill, culture and personality against both position requirements and external benchmarks. Adding this element to the process provides insurance that what was heard in the other interviews is real.

Final Interview

Once the finalist has been identified, the last interview ties up any remaining issues and allows an opportunity for a discussion of the terms of employment. This last phase is often helpful in confirming the candidate’s motivations and desire to move forward. 

Step 3: Be Prepared to “Sell” the Opportunity

It is important to understand that A-level Players will be screening you as much as you are screening them. That is just how their mindset works. To keep them engaged, be sure to keep a balance of assessing them while also selling them on your company, your product’s value proposition, career path potential, etc. Once you get a few steps into the recruiting process, you should know what makes the candidate tick, what they are looking for next in their career, and what it will take for them to make a move.

A-Players want to be amongst winners so it is entirely possible that you may need to showcase the company’s vision and leadership team to help them visualize where the company going, its readiness to do so, and the critical role they’d fill to help make it happen. Recruiting and hiring an A-Player is the right move for any business, but in order to get the right person into the right seat, there are several steps you need to take to ensure proper alignment. Our next blog will focus on defining your company’s onboarding process to make sure your A-Players thrive and flourish within your organization. 


Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

2021: The Year to Get Funded

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

RIP Tony Hsieh. This article is dedicated to you and the inspiration you provided to me and so many entrepreneurs, helping us to put our passion and focus into the vision and values that led us to our start-up dreams. The investors and the funding are out there!

$69.1 billion! That’s how much has been raised by entrepreneurs in venture capital funding in the US so far in 2020 according to VC, PE and M&A news outlet PitchBook. This figure represents a new high, breaking the record set back in 2018.

And it’s not just in the US that businesses are getting funded. PitchBook also reports early-stage and late-stage venture investments in Europe are booming, riding a wave of optimism from both established VC firms and non-traditional investors who look to put their money into sectors that have thrived during the pandemic and into pandemic-proof technology innovations.

Here are some other key stats for 2020 that indicate a solid and growing foundation for investment in 2021:

Seed Pre-Money Valuation

Although there have been declines in deal valuations and a rise in equity ownership stakes with angel investors, the velocity of value creation for seed-stage companies has been very strong. Overall, pre-money valuations for seed-stage companies is strong compared with 2019, which was a strong year too. In addition, valuations for the smallest and largest seed deals have both increased over 2019, with the middle two quartiles holding steady.

  • Median seed-state pre-money valuation is consistent with 2019.
  • Top and bottom quartile seed pre-money valuations at historic highs.
  • 44% annualized growth in seed-stage company valuations.

Early-Stage VC Activity

Pre-money valuations for the median early-stage venture capital investment set an all-time high in 2020, despite many believing that Covid would hinder the market. The one major impact that the pandemic has had in VC funding is an increase in the time between funding rounds for early-stage companies. There are some indicators that VC investment in early-stage companies is slowing a little, including the step-up multiple and the velocity of value creation, but the drops in those metrics are from the all-time highs set in 2019 and are consistent with performance in 2018.

  • Early-stage venture capital valuation is at a record high.
  • Median time between funding rounds for early-stage VC investments has increased to 1.2 years, meaning entrepreneurs are running leaner to extend their runway.

Late-Stage VC Activity

Late-stage venture capital investments continue to dominate the US market, with almost 69% of total deal value in 2020. The average deal size is up from 2019, driven largely by an increase in mega-deals.

Non-Traditional Investor Activity

Non-traditional investors have been highly active in the venture market throughout 2020, including their participation in mega-deals at a rate of 96%. When it comes to early-stage funding for non-traditional investors, the pre-money valuations have remained steady with 2019, which was a banner year in that regard.

Deal Terms

One other area to keep an eye on when it comes to the funding environment is deal terms. Terms on deal sheets that are “founder-friendly” continue to proliferate, as cumulative dividend terms are at a 10-year low.

The bottom line is that now is the time to get your business funded. Exit values have recovered and are gaining strength, meaning investors will have more capital to invest throughout 2021.

This year, I’ve published a group of articles to help you get out there in front of potential investors, including content on creating and delivering a digital investor pitch (“Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”), on unique ways to attract potential investors (“How Far Will You Go to Get Your Business Funded?”), and on featuring the sustainability of your business in any market (“Pandemic-Proof Your Funding Pitch Deck”).

What are you waiting for?

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact Ines for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find Ines on LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at http://www.transformationsolutions.pro.