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

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.

No Excuses: How to Successfully Forecast in 2021

How To Successfully Forecast in 2021

This is a Guest blog post by sales leadership expert Chris Tully. This is the second of a two-part series on “Preparing for 2021.” Thanks for reading and please “Like” and Subscribe! Thank you!

Don’t Let 2020 Become an Excuse: How to Successfully Forecast in 2021

Before we dive in, welcome to Part II of our two-part blog series about 2021 Sales Budgeting. If you missed Part I about how to appropriately establish your sales budget for next year, take a moment and read it first: Don’t Let 2020 Become an Excuse: Three Steps to Prepare for 2021

Now that you are all caught up on the three steps needed to create achievable 2021 revenue targets, the next step will be to develop a reforecasting model for next year. I am sure many people will approach forecasting with hesitation, but one thing that owners and sales leaders need to keep in mind is whatever their 2021 business plan, budget, and sales forecast looks like now, they are likely to look completely different by the end of 2021. In other words, the key to a successful navigation in 2021 will be adaptability.

It is likely there will be volatility in the market as the economy gets settled into the “new normal.” Your team will need to understand changes in demand as they occur so you are able to react and keep an accurate forecast. Part of that is understanding what your customers’ plans are by having your sales team engage with them more frequently. The other part is having a strong forecasting and adjusting process to capture the changing trends.

A sales forecast is the foundation for updating your profit projection which then allows you to recognize if investment plans can be carried out or if they need to be pulled back to balance the budget. The forecast is a critical leading indicator of your business’ overall revenue health and the guiding line for where it is heading. If you think just “winging it” will work since there are so many unknowns in how the market will play out next year, you are wrong. If a business is committed to success and striving to come out on top, they cannot function without a well-planned, and frequently reviewed and adjusted forecast.

Here are three guiding principles to help you develop an effective reforecasting and adjusting process:

Reforecasting Frequency

A business forecast in any year, not just in the midst of a pandemic, should be viewed as a living, breathing mechanism. There are things that affect it throughout the year that need to be evaluated. Given the market disruption over the past 8-months, at a minimum, owners and sales leaders need to revisit and rebuild their full year 2021 budget on a quarterly basis. This quarterly cadence means that after 2021 Q1 closes, a new full-year forecast should be created. This should be done again after month six and again after month nine.

This would result in having your original forecast that was used to build your initial budget, plus three reforecasting cycles. While this may seem like a lot to do, one thing that 2020 should have instilled in owners is to expect the unexpected and be prepared to appropriately react to market conditions and remain flexible in their plan.

NOTE: It is critical to be constantly monitoring your Sales Pipeline throughout the year, not just quarterly. While we’re recommending that a reforecast of your entire business waits until the end of each quarter, the Sales Pipeline requires ongoing focus to provide day-to-day sales visibility. This will also be helpful given that an accurate Sales Pipeline needs to be readily available to feed into the quarterly reforecasting process.

The 20,000-Foot View

While a quarterly review and reforecast is absolutely necessary, you will want to keep your original budget created in Q4 2020 as a point of reference and comparison as you reforecast throughout the new year. The original plan provides a “big picture” or “20,000-Foot View” for the year, giving you visibility into potential gaps in meeting your profit number during the quarterly reforecasting cycles.

In the event your sales are slower to ramp-up than projected, you may need to examine how you are positioning your resources, what you are doing for marketing, your head count, pending investments, etc. to reach your end of year profit goal. On the flipside, if your revenue recovery is being achieved more quickly than anticipated, you may positioned to make investments within your budget sooner to fuel momentum versus waiting to act.

Isolating Gaps through Team Accountability

Once you get through Q1 of the new year and produced the first reforecast, take a step back to inspect its reliability. This becomes difficult if your Sales Team is not tightly aligned to your sales process, or they are not trained properly on how to navigate it. The key to ensuring accurate reforecasting starts with accountability at the salesperson level. With a solid process that is fully understood and good controls that provide key areas of measurement, the sales team is equipped to record their results in your CRM. This will ensure an accurate and achievable reforecast is created while also helping you identify and isolate gaps to guide your sales team and business toward end of the year goal achievement.

Ask yourself…

  • Do I have a systematic way of generating certainty in the reforecast by taking YTD results and coupling them with future pipeline that I have confidence in?
  • Do I have a robust process and methodology to forecast?
  • How accurate have I been previously in achieving my forecast based on what my sales team has given me?
  • Do I have the ability to look into the pipeline and review deal probabilities to verify they look reasonable and not padded?

If you have gaps in your ability to accurately reforecast

your business, STOP and request a consultation call!

Leveraging an experienced Outsourced VP of Sales may be the

answer to help build this heightened level of sales infrastructure.

While 2020 has dealt businesses a host of obstacles to overcome, owners should not let the uncertainty affect 2021 planning. Yes, there are many factors that will need to play into how next year is planned and forecasted but this level of diligence should be the same approach taken in prior years to ensure accurate projections. Given all of the outside factors playing into sales, creating a systematic approach to reforecasting and adjusting will ensure profit goals are met while also isolating sales performance issues early on so original revenue targets can also be realized. Flexibility, the ability to have a bird’s eye view of your sales performance, and team accountability are the keys to making next year a success.

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.”

No Excuses: Three Steps to Prepare for 2021

Don't Let 2020 Become an Excuse: 3 Steps to Prepare for 2021

This is a Guest blog post from sales leadership guru Chris Tully. This is Part 1 of a two part series on Preparing for 2021. Please “Like” and Subscribe! Thanks!

Don’t Let 2020 Become an Excuse: Three Steps to Prepare for 2021

With a sense of uncertainty hanging in the air, Owners and Sales Leaders are reluctant or have even become paralyzed when it comes to developing their 2021 sales budgets. It is a completely logical reaction given all that has happened in 2020, but it is already Q4 and it’s now or never to plan for next year. The important thing is to not let the uncertainty of 2020 become an excuse or crutch for not creating your 2021 sales budget with anything but a strong, attainable plan.


The key to successful planning lies in tapping into all the bumps in the road that you encountered in 2020 and working backwards. There is no doubt that we have learned a lot this year – about our businesses, about market behaviors, how to crisis plan, and about how to refocus sales efforts. All of that information needs to be strategically used to develop your sales budgeting and road map for 2021.   Most of us will likely want to be in a different place at the end of 2021 versus where we are currently as 2020 winds down. But the question is: How do you get there?

We are sharing three steps to help you isolate the pieces to this equation and how they need to play into forming your 2021 sales forecast.  

STEP 1: Take inventory of your strengths. Before you begin generating your 2021 sales budget, ask yourself what you know, and what you don’t know (even that is important to account for!) Ask yourself:

  • Do you have a high degree of predictability and comfort-level with how you are going to finish top-line revenue in 2020?
  • Are your current forecasts performing within 20% of projected numbers?
  • Do you have a forecast methodology that you trust?

If you answered “yes” to the above, make sure the remainder of your2020 sales plan is mapped out and proceed to Step 2. Congratulations on having clarity into your current situation because that is your starting point for 2021 planning! If you answered “no”, STOP and request a consultation call! If you do not have confidence with where your current plan will finish or a clear path to achieve its goals, you cannot have confidence in building a reliable plan for 2021. Don’t worry if you answered no – you’re not alone. 2020 has been filled with anomalies that even the best planning could not have accounted for. In fact, about 89% of owners and sales leaders struggle with setting effective sales goals and quotas under normal circumstances, let alone under the market conditions that this year has tossed our way. Sales Assessment Statistics-1

STEP 2: Identify the considerations that need to be layered onto revenue trending that revealed itself in Q4 2020. It is important to really understand and pinpoint all of the changing market aspects that will continue playing into your sales results in 2021, as well as the anomalies that happened throughout the year, to come up with an attainable 2021 sales budget.

You’ll want to designate your accounts or markets into three categories for 2021 based on the shifts you saw in the market as a result of COVID-19, and map them out accordingly.

RETAIN  Accounts or markets that have organic demand and buying habits are already trending back toward normalcy in the last quarter of 2020.

TRANSFORM – These are accounts or markets that experienced demand vanish in 2020. Under this category, you will need to completely shift to serving all new markets in 2021.

HYBRID – This is a combination of Retain and Transform – accounts or market in this group have contracted but are still active. However, to make up what is dissolved during 2020, you will need to subsidize with new markets in 2021.

For your “Retain” or “Hybrid” accounts or markets, Owners and Sales Leaders must ask themselves if they can expect buyers behavior to mirror what they saw in 2019 or will it be more like what they are seeing as business is trending back toward a “new normal” in late 2020? Whichever the case, you’ll want to apply the proper revenue pattern to your sales budget for 2021.  Other things to consider in your projections are new product and service offerings. What new expenses or resources will be needed to make this new offering a success? Owners must also pay attention to macroeconomic trends that have the potential to heavily impact select industries or even dissolve them over time. If you are unsure how to develop a layered model that accountsfor these variables, STOP and let’s have a conversation.

STEP 3: Set the sales team loose to go after a quota they believe can be achieved. You’re in the home stretch! Now that you established your 2021 sales budget, it’s time to formulate quotas to achieve the number. Ultimately, the business world knows 2021 will be another year of unknowns, so the objective is to gear up your sales team to climb the next rock going into 2022. Ask yourself…

  • Are you certain you have the right balance in your comp plan to incentivize your sales team while also allowing for appropriate company profitability?
  • Have you traditionally been good at setting Quotas that have been consistently attained? If not, you will frustrate your salespeople with overly aggressive growth goals without having clarity on how attainable they are. Sales turn-over is not a risk you want to take as you rebuild your revenue path.

The real prize will be successfully positioning yourself differently by this time next year. 2022 will be the time when record breaking sales will be realistic, and a time when prepared companies can leap-frog their competition!

Make sure to watch for my next blog on Reforecasting and Adjusting in 2021. This will be critical in 2021 as we navigate changing market dynamics.

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.”

The Innovation Imperative – 5 Questions to Ask


Going into the Covid-19 pandemic, almost all organizations were facing myriad challenges in terms of fiercer competition, more discriminating customers, longer sales cycles, and difficulty in differentiating their offerings, mostly due to tremendous advances in technology and a demand for greater transparency.

The pandemic has accelerated what forces were already in play, in addition to changing the way we all live and work, and devastating certain industries and business models. Now more than ever, every organization should be aggressively looking to innovate…or go extinct.

Every organization is different, with its own set of unique markets, customers and business drivers. As we work with our portfolio companies in helping them innovate, we start with the following 5 questions:

  • How congruent is the way you innovate with your vision and appetite for innovation?
  • How effectively do you articulate your vision and appetite for innovation to your stakeholders?
  • Is innovation a crucial part of your team members’ job descriptions?
  • Do you have the right processes to create and bring innovation to market?
  • How do you measure ROI and your ability to meet customer expectations?

Tying vision to appetite for innovation – This is core to a company’s ability to succeed as it iterates and pivots. Is the innovation imperative part of your company’s DNA? Those who embrace creativity and boundaryless thinking are essentially building innovation into the way they operate.

Articulating your vision for innovation – It’s not enough to just think in a vacuum. It’s necessary to evangelize the need for different thinking and changing for the better. The most innovative organizations talk about their innovation goals and progress, and they actively share this with their teams, shareholders, customers, suppliers, etc. “Walking the talk” brings it all together for stakeholders and they can all participate to help companies innovate.

Team members as “innovators” – We have heard the mantra that “everyone is in sales.” Embracing this mentality has benefitted many companies and their employees. The companies who are most effective at innovating think that “everyone is an innovator,” and they actively engage all team members in formal and informal exercises and conversations for ideas on organizational self-improvement.

Processes for Innovation – This takes leadership from the top, and an assignment of resources to execute on the innovation imperative. The most innovative organizations create and implement innovation processes,  measure results, and iterate off that feedback. This set of processes is a playbook for how companies can continue coming up with the best and most creative ideas.

Measuring ROI – The best kind of innovations have a direct and measurable ROI. Some will not be measurable, but will have benefits (examples could be improved employee morale, increased retention, customer lifetime, value, etc.) and should therefore be undertaken. The discipline of calculating ROI by itself is extremely useful, as it forces a closer examination of the various drivers of a business.

In summary, what we are looking for are the vision/desire for innovation, how it’s communicated, engagement of team in this effort, execution structure, and tangible ROI. The answers to these five questions will form a good foundation from which any organization can start looking at things differently and innovating its way to greater success.

The TikTok Moment – lessons learned from the modern day Sputnik Moment of #DigitalTransformation

Free Stock Photo of Leadership Concept with Paper Airplane Created by Jack Moreh

This is a Guest blog post from Jet Lu, digital innovator and digital transformation leader who is Director of Digital DevOps for the City of Baltimore.

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It was perceived as a technological gap between the United States and Soviet Union, and caused public fear and anxiety. Days later, president Dwight Eisenhower addressed the nation with a subdued message: “So far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehension-not one iota,”. However, it wasn’t long before Eisenhower declared the true crisis and threats the United States must confront. The true crisis and propaganda coup as the result of Sputnik was not truly suppressed until 10 years after, when we put the first and only humans on the surface of the moon. That is still standing true until this very day.

We got over the crisis and took lead in the competition by accepting the competing factors, and excelling ourselves to be the best at it. We have to give the same sense of urgency and priority to digital transformation.

In August 2020, executive orders were issued aimed to ban social media platforms TikTok and WeChat. These may not be familiar names to many prior to the political hype, but it does not change the fact that they have 500 million and 1 billion active users respectively. There’s a global competition over artificial intelligence, cyber security, digital connectivity, and digital influence. Unfortunately, we do not have a solid lead in the race anymore, and some analyst may say we are losing the lead position. If you haven’t come to the realization this is at the same scale, if not greater, than the historic Sputnik crisis, then you have positioned yourself behind the eight ball. 

We have hit a ‘TikTok moment’, and I want to coin this phrase. I want our children to remember this moment and what it means in history. Why? Because once again, we are in reactive and defensive mode. It is the crossroads of a modern day revolution, a digital revolution. We should use this as fuel for digital transformation to truly come out ahead of the race from this ‘TikTok’ crisis.

We have long been in the state of a developed country. However, have we achieved being the first digitally developed country? The digital equity issues across the States screams “digital crisis.” The digital world is borderless, and it invites your competitors to your front steps. It can be a healthy competition though, or even a healthy collaboration if handled right. It is not all necessarily negative. We must take the right steps as we confront the challenges and threats it presents, and take aggressive and transformative steps forward. I’m not a politician. I’m a transformation leader, and in today’s world, the focus is digital transformation. Banning TikTok or WeChat is an attempt to avoid the risk, but there are more effective steps we should take in order to mitigate the risks & threats in a more transformative way.

Lesson #1: Honor the duct tape solutions, and take them seriously

Digital innovation has been disruptive for quite some time, from the dotcom era (from 1995 to the dotcom bubble burst in 2000), to physical to cyber, and now cyber to physical. Much of how we are adapting to the digital solutions are seen as duct tape approaches, such as injecting social media usage to existing sales & marketing outreach, as well as employee engagement.

Two reasons to take these duct tape approaches seriously: First, businesses use the new digital capabilities creatively. The business value we could extract from a particular technology is only limited by the appetite of an organization to try new things, and take on calculated risks. Just as there’s not only one right use for duct tape. Second, it is a misconception that these digital duct tape solutions are temporary. As technology disrupts the status quo, we can expect to strategize using these digital equivalents of duct tape as a long term approach. We should come to the realization that how we used to run our businesses is becoming the band-aid we should rip off quickly to minimize the pain.

The China-based messaging app, WeChat, served as the most popular duct tape solution testbed for personal and business use in China. Just as Mark Zuckerberg once said that “private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication”, and messaging is at the core of Facebook’s future. WeChat is taking a similar approach. Today, WeChat is the go-to app for personal messaging, group messaging, information sharing, ride hailing, making payments, receive payments, and digital wallet. These are just a few of the digital duct tape equivalents that have proved their effectiveness.

Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to challenge established ecosystems

This is exactly how technology such as TikTok, WeChat, and many others are disrupting the digital maturity we proudly exhibit. For example, our banking industry is an established ecosystem with very mature endpoint capabilities. Businesses are able to equip themselves to accept different means of payment, and Point of Sale (POS) support is very common. In many parts of the world, affordability to join this ecosystem continued to be a major challenge. Square disrupted this space by lowering the cost of entry and improving the end user experience. Furthermore, platforms like WeChat and Alipay disrupted the space again by providing a contactless and zero-cost endpoint support alternative, the pay by QR code option. This is by far the most impactful digital duct tape equivalent in 3rd world and developing countries. Today, WeChat and Alipay QR code payment is the default method of payment for over 1 billion users globally. This digital duct tape has earned a permanent seat at the high table.

Lesson #3: Digital Transformation has a leading role in responding to today’s business challenges

One thing we have to be very clear about is that digital transformation equals business transformation in the current landscape. What digital transformation is NOT, is to simply make changes on how your IT supports your business. Technology is an enabler, but how you apply and mobilize it to transform your business is the key. Because it takes enterprise level leadership to take the charge in shifting the culture, transform operating processes, bridge knowledge gaps, and repurpose resources. There are deliberate implications to all areas of an organization, such as procurement, legal, product development, sales & marketing, business administration, manufacturing, and etc. 

The low hanging fruits of digitization in a mature business environment are digital workers, digital influence, and turning data into action. 

Digital Workers

The concept of digital workers, via Robotic Process Automation, is a widely adopted and practical way to apply to operational challenges that are time consuming and repetitive. Robotic Process Automation solutions are not meant to replace human workers, but to enable workers to do more while eliminating human errors. The human worker still owns the business intelligence to support the delivery of the business value. Robotic Process Automation is perfect for business processes that contain tedious tasks such as data processing, user notification, task hand-off, document routing, calculations, calling APIs and etc.

Digital Influence

In today’s world, influencers do not have to spread their ideas in person. With the help of digital technology, mass outreach is immediate, targeted, and traced. Most importantly, audience feedback works the same way. This is being used heavily today, not only in businesses’ sales & marketing campaigns, but also political campaigns. 

The effectiveness is beyond the traditional media. Today’s technology enables influencer campaigners to predict personality traits, consumption habits, as well as political orientation of their target audiences. Then through a series of effort to put information in front of their audience, while the messages may be directly or indirectly related to the objective, to shape or shift the audiences’ decisions. The decisions are often perceived as your own without even realizing the influencing factors. A study of the infamous case of how Cambridge Analytica turned data from Facebook that was publicly available into political campaign tools, makes me ponder just how powerful and destructive it can be for data to be in the wrong hands. Especially for those who have possession of your private data.

While that may be a bit extreme, but a simple digital outreach to get information to your audience, and automate the feedback loop from your audience, is definitely a low hanging fruit.

Turning data into action

Many organizations today are looking for innovative ideas with different motives. Some are trying to align solutions to their digital transformation strategy, some are for making the headlines, and some are trying to improve existing Key Performance Indicators (KPI). However, a common misconception is that it has to be a new product or solution. There are so many existing products and solutions that were put in place and never executed to its full potential. In most cases, leveraging data from existing solutions is a low hanging fruit to upgrade these solutions to realize additional business value.

In a panel discussion earlier this year, I talked about exactly how this applies to the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, and how we can turn existing Operational Technology (OT) into IoT solutions by the convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). If we look at all IoT solutions in stages of maturity, I would have to agree with John Rossman. The four levels of IoT are

  • Level 1: tracking capabilities – this is where a single device collects data, but the value it provides is limited, and it is only available to the owner of the data.
  • Level 2: insights and adjustments – this level of IoT devices comes with sensor based analytics, and data is captured in the cloud. There may also be simple analytics and machine learning algorithms applied to the data. However, there’s no real-time adjustment, and there’s no network value where it connects & interacts with other devices.
  • Level 3: optimizations – this is where a network of devices are in play, and based on the data generated, they are making real-time and automated adjustments.
  • Level 4: network coordination – this is the ultimate goal and the most powerful state of IoT solutions. At this level, insights and actions are improved with not just one type of devices in the network, but variety of devices. In addition, the network is capable of handling entry and exit of devices to the network.

Many IoT solutions that were put in place by businesses and local government are of Level 1. As a matter of fact, many legacy operational technology solutions that are in use today can be considered as Level 1 IoT solutions. What they all have in common is the opportunity to level up to Level 2 or Level 3 by simply putting the data to work.

Lesson #4: Regulatory effort needs a sense of urgency

Digital transformation is not just about tech solutions, it should be include the full package of solutioning and operationalizing the solution with the support of necessary laws, regulations, and policies.

Today, mobile devices are tethered to users worldwide running a variety of applications, and they are generating an immense amount of data. The number of devices and data streaming agents per capita is growing by the day. The challenge is no longer who can obtain the data, but how we regulate a level playing field to embrace it, exploit the opportunities, control the risks, and stay ahead of it. When mobile phones were first widely adopted, getting information from an individual isn’t a secret weapon anymore. This also means minimal cost of entry to leverage real-time point-to-point communication. Such technology was once only accessible and affordable by businesses and military use. Technological advancement caused a shift in the society and put the power in the hands of individuals. To that extent, smart mobile devices ignited disruption in many areas. Some were not so obvious at the time, such as ride hailing services. There are risks and threats from every piece of technology, but there are also opportunities. Risk and threat mitigation is not as simple as disallowing the use of new tech. We are still dealing with phone scammers today, but we have legal and regulatory support. Most importantly, we have innovated beyond that and gained new grounds and new competitive advantages.

Conclusion

The overarching lesson to be learned is that we must get serious about digital transformation. We have to do it now, and we have to do it right. The impact on our economy and our quality of life will be substantial, and the impact is in all industries.

A stroll through Chinatown anywhere in the world will give you a taste of the Chinese culture. A few good ones will even make you feel like you are visiting China. Authentic food, sounds of the native tongue, and structures and signs resembles the culture to a tee. But it does not stop there. Paying for food and services just as they do in China is widely adopted as well. That’s right, it’s part of the culture to have a QR code in front of every cash register of every business. Customers open their WeChat app and scan the QR code to transfer funds from their WeChat wallet to the vendor’s WeChat wallet. The Chinese Yuan moved from one account to another in China, and never set foot in a foreign market, with zero recorded impact on the GDP of where the products and services were provided – and zero taxes collected!

That’s just one example of a problem created by not being in the front of digital innovation. With enough of these kinds of problems, we will find ourselves in a crisis. However, looking at it from a different angle, these are good problems to have. It means that someone is trying to do something right, a ripple effect is created. There are opportunities in every crisis. We should not panic, but instead exploit the heck out of those opportunities so that we can come out ahead of the TikTok crisis.

Jet Lu is a digital innovator, speaker and digital transformation leader. He is Director of Digital DevOps for the City of Baltimore and can be reached at jet.lu@outlook.com.