CEOs come in many different flavors… sales-oriented, product-focused, operations, finance, and other disciplines. Often, where you are most comfortable, and where you dive in deep is in the area of your own prior experience.
With every company I have engaged with, I see this challenge: the CEO is so involved in the business and working in their comfort zone that they can’t see the wider perspective. They’re so in the business that they’re not working on it. Growth suffers as a result.
Most CEOs are not aware of the problem. They’re just completing activities, like arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic while the ship is sinking.
It’s also hard to self-diagnose. And, you’re not going to hear about it from people on the inside. So, to be clear and as helpful as possible:
If your business is not at least tracking with the industry growth rate, there’s a problem, and it’s with your company. It may be time to step back and work on your business.The Tech-Focused CEO
One CEO and founder I worked with in a $10 million technology firm came from a technical background. He addressed the marketplace in a way that was comfortable for him, directing his efforts to other developers.
Everything he did from speaking engagements to podcasts and blogs addressed developers and developer issues. Unfortunately, the developers were not making the buying decision. The CIO's and other executive-level decision makers purchased the solution.
He was sitting at a low level of revenue but didn’t know how to grow. Looking at it from the outside, the remedy was easy to see. With marketing, you don’t devote all your energies to influencers. You devote them primarily to buyers.
When you’re working on your business, you look at it strategically and say, ‘Who do we sell to?” You tailor the message, everything, to the buyers primarily and to influencers secondarily. But he had it switched.
Address the Real Market
In situations like this, an outside perspective is often needed to refine and re-position your go-to-market approach, to re-position how you express your value proposition and to address the real addressable market, which is the buyers.
Everything has to align to the value proposition and the needs of the buyer.
The question becomes what are the forums, and where are the “watering holes” of the decision-makers? You will soon recognize that CIOs and other executives require very different value proposition points than developers.
That perspective is helpful to the CEO to correctly address the buyer on the website. At forums and speaking opportunities, it’s making sure the right audience is there. When doing a podcast or blog, it’s making sure you have the right subject lines and content to attract the right audience.
The Sales-Oriented CEO
Another client/CEO with a sales operations background grew his company to $60 million in less than 10 years. Operating in his comfort zone, he ran the whole company like a sales force.
The executive level team scorecard contained only at-a-glance weekly sales numbers and no year-to-date numbers. There were no cross-functional discussions.
However, an executive-level team works best when all the functions of the business are represented. That way you can get good synergies and understand the bottlenecks if you see some numbers that aren’t working.
What caused the decline in conversions? Maybe it was a snafu in a marketing program or a product issue. If so, you have the right people at the table to talk through what can be done. That wasn’t happening.
Equal Attention to All Parts
We recommended a COO, and that they elevate marketing from being subordinated to sales. Emphasizing the strategic parts of marketing, including competitive positioning, we introduced product marketing. When everything was relegated to sales, growth was quick in the beginning until all these things began to suffer.
A sales-led organization can grow fast to a point, but they have a hard time scaling because of a lack of focus on operations.
If you’re busting at the seams and you can’t scale because you have so many operational issues, then it’s headed in a bad direction. You’re not going to be able to reach that next level because there’s no focus on anything but sales.
CEO, if you really want to be that $1 billion company, things must be viewed and run differently. You must give equal attention to all parts of the business. So, take a step back and look at how to improve across the board.
The same goes for CEOs focused on other disciplines. Process and operationally-focused CEOs may run an efficient company, but it doesn’t grow vs. one that’s also market-focused. A finance-oriented CEO may not be willing to invest in areas of growth if they’re holding the purse strings too tightly.
Depending on the stage of the company, some of these disciplines are what is needed to set the ship right, but long-term balance is key.
Gaining an Outside Perspective
Companies that want to grow cannot forego the strategic processes of developing a go-to-market strategy and executing against it. To do so effectively, an outside perspective, someone who can see the big picture, is needed to digest market dynamics and other outside information.
When seeking an outside perspective, make sure to:
- Bring in the level of expertise required for a strategic view and the ability to help you execute it, so you’re not left holding the ball wondering, how do we make this happen.
- Bring in a firm with a track record in similar stage and size companies.
Success requires an open mind and a willingness to listen. Then, an outside marketing professional can guide you through the transition of adopting an “outside-in” perspective.
Get Working on the Business
On balance, it’s natural for every CEO to say, “I know my business better than anyone else.” However, that’s a problem if you’re not reaching your goals for growth.
If you know the opportunity is there but you’re not able to capitalize on it, you’re most likely not looking at all the pieces. You have some blind spots.
An outside-in approach led by a senior marketing executive who’s seen it before may be exactly what’s needed. It’s time to get working on the business.
In my previous post, I discussed the number one challenge to business growth, a lack of focus. Stay tuned for my next installment - Random Acts of Marketing, the result of execution without insights and strategy.