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.”

How Far Will You Go to Get Funded?

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Entrepreneurs are going to extremes to make themselves memorable to investors.

Earlier this spring, at the beginning of the pandemic in the US, I published articles on creating and delivering a digital investor pitch (“Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”) and on featuring the sustainability of your business in any market (“Pandemic-Proof Your Funding Pitch Deck”). Some of my contacts have shared how great the advice in those articles was, but were struggling to get the opportunity to pitch or even engage with investors.

I read a Wall Street Journal article a few weeks ago called “Startups Turn to Remote Fundraising” (9/21/2020 print edition). It mentioned the lengths that many entrepreneurs are going to stand out with investors or even simply to get in front of investors. Here are a few examples:

  • Elocution Lessons – A start-up CEO took voice lessons to improve his speech, tone, emotion, and inflection to be more compelling and effective on voice and video calls.
  • Guitar Playing – A founder played his acoustic guitar to the Eagles song “Hotel California” during a fundraising meeting.
  • Custom and Animated Backgrounds – One executive even built his own solution to create animated and custom backgrounds for video calls that turned into its own startup that got funded.
  • Highway Billboards – An entrepreneur advertised his start-up idea on several miles of California highways frequently traveled by Silicon Valley investors using the Adopt-A-Highway program.

Initially, I got a really good chuckle. Then I thought about it more and realized that these were examples of people who inherently understood that they needed to stand out to the investor audience. To do so, they needed to do something different than all the other entrepreneurs. As Dr. Seuss famously said, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Investors are still investing. But, more than ever, entrepreneurs need to do something to capture and hold their attention and stick in their minds.

What are you going to do to stand out?

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.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

This is a Guest blog post by Chris Tully.

How to Create Highly Effective Virtual Client Interactions

In this seventh month of social distancing, client communications seem ever more remote – less accessible and a bit aloof as well as physically distant. How in the world can your sales force stay on top of their game and meet their goals? Now is the time to reassess your sales team’s online skills, and teach them how to create highly effective virtual client interactions.

Recent research about how sales have changed during COVID-19 tells us that sales teams need to adopt new skills in addition to adapting the old ones. It’s similar to losing one of our five senses – when we can’t see clients’ body language during a virtual meeting, for example, our other sales-senses have to learn to pick up on different cues.

When you are making a virtual presentation to clients in a group setting, remember:
• People have shorter attention spans
• Key decision makers often go missing
• Attendees are more reluctant to say what they’re really thinking, so you could get blindsided in follow up.

You definitely don’t want to wing it! Here are some guidelines to follow, based on Gartner’s Framework to Enable Effective Virtual Selling. These will make your client interactions more engaging and highly effective.

Pre-Meeting Planning

Iron out your rough spots. Most people’s presentations have one section that generates a lot of questions or sparks debate, maybe because it isn’t crystal clear. Role-play with sales team members acting out the client’s part until you’re satisfied you can address all concerns.

Make sure the stakeholders will be there.
 When you’re giving a pitch your all, you want the decision makers to be there! Check ahead of time to ensure all the stakeholders will be present during the webcast. If not, find out the designated proxy so you know whom to focus on.

Share your agenda of expectations.
 Give a meeting agenda to your contact ahead of time of three or four items indicating what you want to accomplish and what questions you anticipate from them. This laser-focuses your audience.

If you’re in a situation where the client also is meeting with your competitors, these focus points will make you stand out as a company that won’t waste their time.

You’ll be prepared for a very productive virtual meeting!

Client Presentations

Before the Meeting

Limit your meeting to 45 minutes, including the time for open discussion. Clients often schedule meetings back to back, on the hour, and often schedule you on the same day as your competitors. One thing I’ve learned over my career is how appreciative they are when you give them some down time!

Commit to starting the meeting 15 minutes after the hour, or ending 15 minutes early. Sharpen your presentation to 20-30 minutes and end the discussion a little early. Remember, less is more.

Insist on key players in attendance.
 You’ve already checked on the key decision-maker’s presence or proxy in your pre-planning. What if you log onto the meeting and they’re not there? You can ask if they want to reschedule – if the absence is last minute, they just might want to.

If it’s professional and polite to continue, then make sure to follow up directly with the person who missed your presentation to share your materials and your ideas.

Have your material up and ready to share.
 Make your presentation interactive by engaging your audience with questions. Encourage collaboration by using electronic white boards if you think that will help people better understand the concepts (particularly if it isn’t the audience’s main area of expertise).

Don’t be afraid to bring in “experts” via live link or a recorded testimonial – the more tools of engagement you use the better, as long as the content is relevant and not for theatrics.

During the Meeting

Test for understanding as you go. Using live polling if you can to get quick feedback or see what your audience is thinking – it works really well if you’re presenting to a large group logging in from multiple devices.

Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other platforms have a polling feature. This is a great engagement tool that lets you find out if people are tracking what you’re saying.

Call on audience members. 
When you get objections (expected from your pre-call rehearsal), pull out potential support by calling on specific individuals to share their perspective.

For example, “Tom, you had some thoughts when we talked last week – can you share your perspective?” This can backfire, but you should be smart enough to know who to call on and how to address any negativity.

Get consensus on next steps.
 Have specific next steps in your presentation and get agreement on these before you end the meeting or revise them to suit the situation. Email those next steps along with a proposed timeline to all in attendance following the meeting.

Immediately After the Meeting

Debrief with the decision maker. Ask the most senior client rep to stay for a debrief at the end of your presentation (“Could you hang out with me for a couple of minutes to clarify a few of things?”). Since you’ve kept your meeting short, you have a good chance that person will have time for you.

Email your “leave-behind” of the presentation after the meeting. Many clients will ask for a handout ahead of time, but don’t do it. You want them to listen to your emphasis and elaboration, not follow along on the handout and perhaps miss the point. Emailing the material after the meeting also gives you a chance for an extra touch point with clients.

Follow Up

Within 24 hours after your presentation, do these three things:

Thank the client for the meeting in an email.
 Include a recap of your key points and the agreed upon next steps.

Confirm the next meeting date.
 Also confirm who will be attending and the objectives for the meeting.

Include a specific call to action to continue their engagement with you.
 An example might be to, “Please complete a 1-3 question survey about our discussion.”

100 percent of your sales team’s time is trying to influence others or engaging with someone trying to influence them.
Your job as a leader is helping them get good at handling both of these roles with a focused, genuine manner. Then they will be able to create and participate in virtual client interactions that are highly effective, as well as productive for your company.

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.”

5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money

This is a guest blog post by Ines Lebow.

Even if you’re too young (or too old?) to know where the line “show me the money!” comes from, everyone knows the phrase “follow the money”. When it comes to attracting investors and getting them on board with your vision, it’s all about the money potential.

Many entrepreneurs, especially in the tech field, are under the mistaken impression that it’s all about the product. If the product is sexy, fresh, or disruptive, investors will be falling over themselves to put their money behind it. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Consider the case of Bombas. What was their big idea? Socks. Hardly disruptive, right? Yet the co-founders of Bombas went onto the show Shark Tank and secured $200,000 in funding to launch their idea. Yes, they presented some nice ideas about making a better athletic sock, but they were still trying to pitch a sock. So what made Bombas so attractive to invest in?

Laser Focus

The co-founders of Bombas had a laser-focus on their product and market. From personal experience and lots of interaction with potential consumers, they understood that people were generally unhappy with the comfort of socks, especially for athletic activities. After lots of product testing and user feedback, they identified several areas of improvement for their future products.

Sales Record

By the time Bombas reached Shark Tank, they had already been through two funding rounds. Before their official launch, they secured more than $140,000 through crowdfunding. In the year after their launch, they raised $1 million from friends and family. They also had a track record of sales to show to eventual investor Daymond John, offering a better understanding of the potential return on investment.

Unique Business Model

At the core of Bombas is a business model committed to giving back. It’s not a marketing gimmick but part of the guiding principles of the company and its founders. For every pair of Bombas socks sold, one pair is given to the homeless. Not only does this uplift the spirits of consumers who are willing to pay $12 for a comfortable pair of socks, but it addresses a real need in the community, as socks tend to be the single most requested item at homeless shelters.

Take a Punch

Bombas proved that they were ready to take a punch, from consumers and in the market. Their extensive work in market research before even creating a product provided them with a network of targeted consumers who were willing to give detailed opinions and feedback on a product and how it was delivered. When the Bombas team created their initial prototypes, they were applauded for creating a better sock, but willing to listen and make changes to the product. Their team of consumers didn’t disappoint, but came back punching hard. As a result of the critical market feedback, Bombas made two additional improvements to their products before a general market launch.

Leadership Team

The co-founders of Bombas were able to convince investors of their ability and dedication to execute on the business vision. So while the product was “just socks”, the co-founders had a vision they were able to articulate to investors that made them consider “but look at what socks can do.”

Through these five areas, Bombas was able to convey who was driving the bus, who the competition was in the market, the investor’s potential for a financial return, and how consumers would relate to the product, their company, and their marketing model. As a result, Bombas grew from zero in 2013 to $4.6 million in 2015 to $46.6 million in 2017. In 2019, Bombas exceeded $100 million in revenue. By April 2020, they have donated 35 million pairs of socks.

What will your story be?

To learn more about creating an epic fundraising story for investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.

Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro.