Get Your Business Funded in 2021: A Look at Super Angels

This is a Guest blog post frim Ines LeBow, a CONNECTpreneur strategic partner and Coach. She has prepped dozens of successful presenting companies who have successfully raised capital.

The year (2020) that will be forever defined as the year of the Covid pandemic brought about significant upheaval and change in many areas of private and professional life across the globe. It also sparked tremendous shifts in the start-up investment world. One class of investors emerging is what we call “Super Angels”.

What Are Super Angels?

Super Angels in the business investment world are best described as a hybrid between traditional angel investors and venture capitalists. They tend to invest early in the seed round of funding at startups at levels that are above what gets raised in the friends-and-family round but less than a typical venture round of funding. However, when it comes to how they raise funds, they approach the process much like a typical VC would.

Super Angels are not just serial start-up investors; they invest in businesses as their full-time gig and tend to have a large and growing portfolio in which they take an active interest. They don’t tend to be interested in long-term investments or board roles, thus they like to look for business investments in which the principals are experienced entrepreneurs.

Why Should I Consider Super Angels?

As a result of financial, economic, and market trends, institutional venture capital activity is still on the rebound. Some rode the wave of growth and allowed for a bloated infrastructure and high fees that are now preventing them from being nimble in the market. Others have their portfolio tied up in businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic, and they’re not yet willing to exit those investments.

These changes with traditional VCs open up opportunities with angel investors and super angels, especially as the investment model is changing to one of funding more startups but with less cash invested in each business. One added advantage of this investment approach is that super angels have a broad reach to the kind of talent, investment contacts, and potential M&A opportunities that can go beyond the access a traditional investor can provide.

How to Get Super Angels to Invest

Many of the top super angels don’t just take an appointment from anyone off the street. They require a referral from someone they trust, so cultivating a good network in the start-up world is going to be important. But don’t give up hope if you aren’t well networked. This isn’t just about who you know, although it helps. These are smart, experienced investors looking for good people and great ideas behind which to put their money. If you employ a sound strategy and disciplined approach, you can be successful in getting funded by a super angel. Here are a few articles you can review to ensure you’re prepared to engage with a super angel investor:

If you are an entrepreneur looking for funding, are interested in presenting at CONNECTpreneur.org, or would like to learn more about 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 can find me on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or my ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

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.

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.”

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.

6 Ways Innovation and Entrepreneurship Promote Prosperity

entrepreneurship innovation

This is a Guest blog post from Andre Averbug.

It is not a coincidence that the most developed nations are also the ones with the highest levels of entrepreneurial activity and innovation. While starting from a minimal level of development helps support the latter two, for example through basic access to capital and institutional stability, the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship on the economy and society more broadly cannot be overstated. In fact, it goes beyond usual suspects such as increased productivity, competitiveness, and job creation, spilling over to areas as diverse as regulation, infrastructure, the environment, and social inclusion. Below I provide a (certainly non-exhaustive) list of six such effects. While every issue deserves an article (or even a book!) of its own, I provide but a brief overview on each point, leaving the interested reader to dig deeper on his or her own.

  1. Innovation can drive regulatory improvements

Although ideally the right conditions, including regulations, would be in place to enable the occurrence of innovations, the reality is that the order is often inverted. Regulatory changes can be drawn by the innovations themselves, from the bottom up. For example, in Kenya, Safaricom launched a series of increasingly innovative financial services through its M-Pesa platform, such as e-money transfer, virtual savings accounts, and virtual credit. The government watched while the company experimented and innovated and, once the demand for its services were demonstrated, the government enacted and amended laws to adequate the functioning of the financial system to M-Pesa’s offerings. This set a new regulatory stage in Kenya that benefited other fintech startups and helped democratize access to finance. When regulation follows innovation, it tends to work better than ex-ante efforts, which are often based on non-transferable international practices and struggle to support innovations that are not yet fully understood.

  1. Innovation can support infrastructure progress

Innovation can also promote infrastructure development. In the early 2000s, in Africa, the growth of telecom pioneer Celtel was hindered by insufficient cellphone coverage in countries like Congo, Gabon and Zambia. But the company did not just wait for government investments. It took matters into its own hands and invested in cell towers itself, as well as other complementary infrastructure such as roads, to be able to service the towers effectively, and water supply, so workers and their communities could have basic water access in remote areas. This investment has paid off for Celtel, enabling the exponential growth of the business, and the countries where it operates, which benefitted from improved infrastructure. Similarly, in Nigeria, Tolaram launched its popular brand of instant noodles Indomie, the first of its kind in the country, which quickly became a hit and a must-have dish across the country. The growth of the business, however, was being hindered by the precarious infrastructure and logistic capabilities in Nigeria. Tolaram invested more than $350 million in developing its own logistics company, with over 2,000 trucks, and building infrastructure including electricity and sewage and water treatment facilities. Furthermore, the company took a leading role in developing a $1.5 billion public-private partnership to build and operate a deep-water port in Lagos, all to support the long-term growth of its business. Both cases are discussed in details in the book The Prosperity Paradox.

  1. Innovation and entrepreneurship can promote environmental sustainability

There is plenty of evidence that this generation of entrepreneurs and innovators, especially younger ones, tend to be more environmentally conscious than businesspeople from previous generations and government bureaucrats. In fact, many startups are set up specifically to mitigate environmental challenges. Colombia’s Conceptos Plasticos, for example, contributes to the circular economy by using recycled plastic materials to form Lego-style bricks which are then used to build affordable housing. Global startup Airborn Water, in turn, designed a technology that efficiently produces fresh (potable) water from the air’s humidity, contributing to sustainable water supply in even the remotest areas. Moreover, even when the business itself is not focused on solving an environmental issue, (younger) entrepreneurs are generally more mindful of mitigating potential negative externalities, following sustainable practices, and adopting a triple-bottom-line approach to business.

  1. Innovation and entrepreneurship can mitigate social problems

Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers who understand that a problem can become the opportunity for a profitable business. They often build companies around solving pain-points they have identified in their own lives and communities. Many startups have business models that rely on resolving social problems or targeting the base of the pyramid as consumers, workers, and suppliers. In fact, three of the examples provided above – Celtel, M-Pesa and Indomie – illustrate businesses that have great social impact. Also, there is a subset of social entrepreneurs that run non-for-profit enterprises which are committed, first and foremost, to addressing community challenges. Hospital Beyond Boundaries provides health services to poor, underserved communities in Malaysia and Cambodia. Zomato Feeding India combats food waste in India and provides meals to the poor. It has a network of about 25,000 volunteers across more than 100 cities and has served over 33 million meals to people in need.  She Says is an organization that fights for gender rights in India, especially those of women and girls that have been victims of sexual assault and harassment.

  1. Entrepreneurship can promote inclusion and change cultural norms

Many countries face challenges when it comes to the inclusion of minorities and women in the economy. In certain regions of the Middle East and Africa, for example, business is still not seen as an appropriate activity for women. They are expected to take on domestic roles or perhaps become teachers, nurses, or work in traditional agriculture and manufacturing. In Africa, only 9 percent of startups have women leaders, according to Venture Capital for Africa. In such context, the development of programs that promote women’s entrepreneurship, for example through business education, incubation and acceleration, helps debunk taboos and shake the status quo. Initiatives such as New Work Lab, in Morocco, and the Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) in Ghana, Senegal, and Mauritania, are making targeted efforts to support women entrepreneurs. Similar initiatives abound throughout Africa and the Middle East and are paying off. The landscape for women in the workplace is changing for the better, as female entrepreneurs become role models and serve as inspiration to others, regardless of sector and occupation. And the economy benefits too. According to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Report, women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa are 60 percent more likely than male entrepreneurs to offer innovative solutions and 30 percent have businesses with international reach, which also exceeds their male counterparts.

  1. Entrepreneurship can strengthen ties with diaspora and help address brain-drain

Many developing economies suffer from brain-drain, with an important share of the well-educated and resourced leaving the country to search for better opportunities in developed countries. The growth of a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem creates the opportunity for people to choose to develop their talent and invest their resources locally, instead of voting with their feet. It also motivates the diaspora to re-engage with the local economy by becoming (angel) investors, mentors, connectors – and eventually even returning to their countries. For example, ChileGlobal, part of Fundación Chile, promotes and facilitates the development of business projects and the introduction of innovative technologies through its network of influential Chileans living in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Pangea, in turn, connects African entrepreneurs and successful diaspora members by providing both training and business intelligence for diaspora investors and engaging the diaspora in the startups Pangea has invested in.

Do you have additional points to raise? Examples to share? Agree or disagree with a particular issue? Leave your comments below and let’s keep this discussion alive!

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

Leading a Sales Team out of a Slump

This is a guest blog post from Chris Tully.

Leading Your Sales Team Out of a Slump

Leading Your Sales Team Out of a Slump

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a sales slump can, and will likely happen to every business at some point. One minute, your company sales are cruising along, only to be hit by stagnating or plummeting revenue. These speedbumps in growth can be caused by a variety of reasons, but business owners and sales leaders need to be able to recognize early warning signs and commit to the right steps to get back on the path to success. Too often, there is pressure to do more, when instead the approach should be on doing the right things better.

Current business conditions have brought many new obstacles and distractions which have salespeople’s heads spinning as they try to determine effective next steps. The new sales landscape has also made holding salespeople accountable challenging for owners and sales leaders.

If this sounds familiar, it is time to usher your salespeople into a new normal that will make them stronger and more resilient performers. The first step is for company leaders to get a pulse on the conditions the salespeople are navigating within. Just as important is to take note of your team’s mindset by gauging their confidence level and readiness to engage in a new landscape. Leveraging a senior sales consultant is a worthwhile consideration for such an important evaluation to ensure an effective recovery plan can be developed. It’s natural that your sales reps will need to regain their self-confidence by seeing new approaches modeled. Providing them with a resource that has a proven track record navigating changing market conditions, will expedite their ability to transform their sales approach.

Leadership

In the meantime, here are three practical things you can implement immediately to help your sales team reclaim their balance.

1. Incorporate Activity Reporting

If your sales team is struggling, daily check-ins for a period of time can create a way for your salespeople to share a high-level review of their day including successes as well as difficulties. Avoid turning this into micromanagement by encouraging use of technology to simplify the process. Activity reports can be done with a voice recording, video or chat tool. Drop them a call, voicemail or email every few days after reviewing their daily reports to share feedback, encouragement, and ideas. The goal of daily activity reporting is to bring focus to the fundamental sales activities needed to grow results and to spot early signs of trouble, lack of alignment or to collaborate to get them “un-stuck”.

Based on individual progress, work up to a weekly report cadence once you can tell the salesperson is on the right track with activity consistency, positive mindset, and renewed clarity on how to navigate. This report can dive in deeper on client activity, sales numbers, difficulties, and goals for the upcoming week. And again, make sure you are responding to the weekly reports to engage with your team. Owners and sales leaders should consider taking the information from the reports to summarize in a weekly message to the sales team. Recognize individual successes, help set goals, give encouragement, and address issues from a leadership role to maintain an open line of communication with the sales team while also fostering the spirit of teamwork.

2. Shift from Time Management to Productivity Management

We cannot manage time, but we CAN manage our actions.   It may seem elementary, but it’s time to revisit the basics of prioritization with your sales team. Without basic best-practice guidelines in place during turbulent times, even a top performer can get derailed!

Walk through the basics of calendar blocking for prospecting time, ending every day with creating a plan for the following day, and protecting time by grouping together meetings and non-selling activities. Let your team know where you want them spending their time and focus throughout the day.

While it sounds simple, productivity is generally a difficult skill for salespeople to master due to how their brains are commonly wired. This is exacerbated given the multitude of tasks to be accomplished each day. With a little guidance, you can lead your team to not think about “multi-tasking” for portions of their day. Instead, by them giving undivided attention and focus to the sales tasks at hand, they will have the clarity to achieve success and complete all necessary customer objectives more effectively.

 3. Virtually Moving Ahead

Like it or not, virtual meetings will continue long after the pandemic is behind us, so it is essential to ensure your team is acclimated to engaging with customers in this format. Start by determining if your team is prepared, knowledgeable, and comfortable with adapting their sales approach, including embracing the technology needed to efficiently lead and run meetings. Don’t take their stated confidence for granted. Consider virtual meeting training as the “new normal” format to support the likelihood that virtual selling will continue for some time, maybe forever in certain industries. Learn virtual best-practices and use these tools to differentiate your company from your competitors. 

Even though the goals of virtual and in-person meetings are the same, you will likely need to partner with the sales team to create new approaches and tactics for virtual meetings. Sales teams need to adapt their approach to prospecting, building rapport, uncovering needs and gaining buy-in, as all of these facets of the buy/sell relationship are different in a virtual environment. As the leader, it is your role to ensure the team has access to proper technology, and easy to use digital versions of all documents. Schedule and lead training sessions using role-plays through your video platform to evaluate and improve sales performance. Your company’s digital selling experience demonstrates your company’s professionalism and will influence the customer opinion and buying decision.

While no business owner or sales team leader wants to experience a sales slump, it’s bound to happen. The key to getting out of the slump quickly will be dependent on the company leaders recognizing the warning signs and partnering with the sales team to create a path forward. Even starting with the three simple changes we mentioned above, consider it the first step up toward recovery. With salespeople anxious about job security and other personal challenges, given the current conditions businesses are experiencing, supervisors who push and seek to control may only amplify the stress. These times call for owners and leaders to shift their focus from pressing for performance to supporting their people and leading the way to provide a sense of direction.

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.”