Both in startups and large companies—heck in any company—culture is critical to success. This is something that I’ve been waxing about for close to 20 years now. And the criticality of storytelling in businesses is another favorite and recurring topic in this blog. So I was tickled this morning, to come across an interview of Paul Teshima, CEO of Nudge (and formerly of Eloqua) being quoted saying
culture eats strategy for breakfast, and business culture can be built through storytelling.
What was particularly gratifying about this was his assertion was made in the context of marketing and sales. Sales folks have always understood that relationships are critical to their success. However their challenge has been to quickly identify and nurture the most promising ones, as they balance their need to deliver on results on finite timelines with the lead times of building meaningful relationships. Good marketers recognize that their job is to help sales shorten their selling cycles, by getting qualified leads to them consistently. Storytelling is a powerful to achieve this and a culture that promotes such consistent storytelling to customers and serving sales’ needs will always will the long game.
Yesterday when I wrote about what can make your pitch deck sizzle, I alluded to the fact that there are excellent pitch decks out there. Rather than have you search for them, I’ve compiled two actual decks from AirBnB and [Co] here as well as templates recommended by two venture capitalists that I admire. Hope you find them useful.
Brad Feld, another of my favorite writers/venture capitalists also provides a counterpoint, namely focusing on the pre-deck face-to-face pitch. In his words:
Feld often prefers more of a free-flowing conversation. So how do you spark an investor’s interest in that conversation? “The pitch should be very clear about what you are doing, why you are doing it and why I should care,” said Feld. “If you can cover those things quickly and precisely, it’s easy for me to decide whether I want to spend more time with you or not.”
I’ve been reading Getting to Plan B, by John Mullins and Randy Komisar. In it they discuss how one entrepreneur, while at Stanford B-school was inspired by meeting Carlos Ghosn, Chairman of Nissan and Renault, one of the world’s largest automotive companies.
Ghosn, who’s been featured in numerous case studies in business schools across the world and extensively quoted in business media, has unfortunately been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. Ghosn was arrested in Japan nearly two months ago for alleged financial misconduct. He’s “accused” of under-reporting his salary for several years. Ghosn says he’s wrongly accused and wrongfully detained. It’s entirely possible that Ghosn is indeed innocent though he might be detained for several more months given how the Japanese justice system works.
“The 64-year-old executive is accused of moving personal investment losses worth 1.85bn yen (£13.3m; $17m) racked up on foreign exchange dealings to Nissan. Mr Ghosn says he did ask the company to take on collateral temporarily for his foreign exchange contracts, but that it did not lose any money through this move. He said if he had not been able to do this, he would have had to resign and use his retirement allowance as collateral instead.”
Media stories abound of misdeeds of corporate leaders such as Vijay Mallya, Chairman of the United Breweries Group, India, who is fighting extradition from the UK for nearly two years. Hardly inspiring for a man who billed himself as “The King of Good Times.” It didn’t help that his name featured in the Panama Papers.
Of course these much like the Enron scandal earlier or Bernie Madoff are only examples of lack of integrity at the highest level of organizations. As was apparent in those cases nothing good can come of such a lack of integrity – unfortunately it is others such as the employees of Enron and customers of Madoff who paid a much larger price in terms of their lost retirement funds and pensions.
“The spirit of an organization is created from the top.”
Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices
As individual job seekers or entrepreneurs, it is important to “evaluate the character of the CEO and top management” be it of the company we seek to join or intend to do business with.
While we may always not be able to determine how a CEO or a Chairman is, each of us can start with the people you interact with. Your immediate managers, your suppliers. Sometimes this shows up in the simplest of ways.
Last week, a young graduate interviewing for a job spoke to me after her interview. She liked the company and the role she was interviewing for. Yet, I sensed she was hesitant. I asked what made her uncomfortable. She said it was the fact that every single person that she spoke with, about their reason for being there, responded that it was “for the money.” Her fear was if money is the primary reason they were there, what would they be prepared to do or not do.
Align yourself with people who have integrity
Ever since I read Drucker’s “The Effective Executive” I’ve been partial to his writings. While there are a few things I find myself occasionally disagreeing, I’ve found few writers with greater clarity on the matter of business and leadership. I’ve begun to re-read The Daily Drucker and once a week plan to blog on a topic from the book. It is a good way to share what I’m learning and reinforce those learnings.
Last week, I shared some of the insights that Bea Wolper, entrepreneur and lawyer focused on family businesses, shared with my class. An area of special interest for Bea is how succession happens well (or not) in family businesses. She shared the four critical steps for succession (which is rarely seamless) to happen well. Upon discussing this with some of my students, it dawned on me, that this is just as applicable to startups and non-family businesses as well. And not just in a founder or CEO transition, but for any major role in a business – such as HR, Marketing or Sales heads.
Ownership In a family business this is usually a controlling interest. In a startup or other enterprises, this is equity with the potential for significant upside. As Bea pointed out this is the easiest to “do” – you sign a piece of paper and it’s done. This is however only a necessary condition and not sufficient. If you do this alone, it is almost always going to result in failure.
Knowledge Change is never easy. Having a new person in charge without equipping them with everything that your organization and you know is dooming them to fail. This ranges from how things are done, who does them, how they are done and why they are done (or not) the way they are. I have walked into marketing positions, with nary an introduction to existing customers, current prospects and can tell you it’s not fun. Successful organizations, debrief and even put together a “Bluebook” of everything the person leaving the position knows for their successor. Ideally, you have a team, including the person presently playing the role do an ongoing knowledge transfer for the successor.
Relationships The old cliché “business is all about relationships” is true. So formally introducing the new person to key employees, key customers and of course key business partners—starting with bankers, component suppliers, channel partners is vital for success.
Authority This is where the rubber meets the road and even well run companies stumble. When you promote someone or hire someone new, but other employees still come to you or their old boss or colleague, you’ve not handed authority. Most times the founder/entrepreneur is the problem (or “Dad” in the family business) when he is not willing to relinquish his authority. So the new person while having the title has little or no actual authority – or what he has is undermined by others.
As you can see any one of these, even when you’ve done the other three well can cause your executives to fail. I’ve been guilty of violating every one of these, at one point or the other. Which ones have you not been giving adequate attention to?
One of the joys of teaching is the opportunity to invite guest speakers who bring their experience and insights alive for the class. The speakers have the added advantage of being a “guest” lecturer and their message not only sounds new but resonates well. I was fortunate to have Bea Wolpert, an amazing entrepreneur, lawyer and woman leader. Over an hour, Bea in her inimitable style—reality laced with humor and self-deprecation—shared her own experience as a lawyer and entrepreneur as well as the stories of some of her entrepreneur clients. I realized her stories and insights serve well as advice for most prospective and practicing entrepreneurs. Here they are
Purpose Be purpose-driven – It’s well worth figuring out what are you passionate about. Pursue that passion rather than money alone – be it dog-walking, raising Labradoodles or being a chef or lawyer (all examples she illustrated)
Relationships Work on building authentic relationships – these take time and will pay off in spades
Give forward Focus on giving something of value first – people will automatically seek more and become customers. This could be a blog, seminar or webinar, free consultation, or samples at farmers markets – make it easy to buy from you.
Sales Recognize your job is selling – not just being a chef, designer, lawyer and learn to become good at it.
Numbers Business is about numbers – so the more you learn to understand numbers – costs, profit & loss the better off you will be
Commitment Be all-in. Don’t expect a bank (or anyone else, except a parent possibly) to fund your company or you, if you are not willing to be all-in and
Plan Whether a business plan for a bank, succession plan for yourself or a marketing plan for the company, planning is both important and will help.
Twenty-five years after publicly announcing it, at a party in Cupertino, I’ve finally begun to work on my first mystery novel. The visit to Hampi, which ironically I did many years after I had visited Pompeii, was the catalyst to set my murder mystery in early 16th century Vijayanagara. If you think making daily sales calls is hard writing every day is harder still. And I’m not even talking about writing well, just putting words on paper.
As entrepreneurs, we have to be storytellers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about making stuff up. Each day, whether we are trying to hire a new person, motivate an employee who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, persuade an investor to make a bridge investment or trying to get a customer to buy or better yet pay us an advance, we are trying to persuade others. Make no mistake, persuasion is selling. In a manner of speaking, we are all sales folks. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can get better at it.
It’s no accident that the best sales folks are good great storytellers. Here’s the good news, like most things storytelling is a learned skill. With a little attention to how others do it and a good deal of practice, we can all get better at it. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – and there’s no reason you can’t make a resolution or start a new habit on the 1st of November. Make improving your storytelling skills a goal. Notice I say improving, for we are all natural storytellers. Any time you’ve tried to lie to your mom, or a friend or fudged the facts with your spouse (none of which you’ve ever done of course!), you were telling a story—not necessarily well. Let’s get started. One of the simplest and most fun ways to do this is to join a ToastMaster’s club near you. Your storytelling will get better (mine certainly did) but at the very least you’ll make some new friends. It never hurts to have a life (and a few friends) outside of our businesses.
To make things easy for you, I’m sharing one video (below) and one article.- Get rolling.
Every year I try to learn something new – be it a skill, a tool or just some facts. 2018 has been a time of great learning, thanks to my daughter, I wanted to share two tools that I’ve learned about from her and since put to good use for myself and customers.
Canva, as my primary online visual design tool – from making Twitter or web post headers, webinar announcements to trifold brochures and even eBook cover design, this has been an amazing tool where every day I’m discovering more. Here are some examples
Tableau as my data visualization tool has similarly been a much used for not just number crunching, but being able to create excellent visualizations as well as insights that aren’t always self-evident from staring at the data in Excel.
Here are two examples
The kicker is, both of them are available online, easy-to-use and you can get started for free. They also have great online communities that can help you get up the learning curve fast. So give them a spin today and share your own favorite tools in the comments.
The article asserts “The reason for this high churn rate is that young professionals come to startups for all the wrong reasons.” While understanding why startups, particularly in India, are having this employee turnover problem is important, it’ll have to wait for another post. What should startups do to retain the employees they already have?
As Lao-Tzu (or was it Confucius?) put it “When the student is ready, the master will come,” my daughter shared this video by Amy Cole, CEO of Amy Cole Connect, on 4 Tips to Retain Your Talent. For those of you who are too busy (really!) to watch the 2.5 minute video, here’s the TL;DR version
Excitement – are you exciting your team members from the day they come on board? Many simple things can make the job and your company exciting – do it!
Engagement – how are you engaging your team – making their job meaningful and laying context rather than assuming they’ll stay motivated and engaged
Encouragement – are you explicitly encouraging them – from paying attention to active inputs, are you helping them grow and not taking them for granted
Empowerment – do you trust and provide them flexibility, as long as the work get done? Are you all about control and not empowering them?
There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words. Thomas Reid
Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers Noel)
The trouble with most of us who speak in the English language is that we assume that people actually understand what we are saying. This last semester, as I set out to teach a course on International Marketing, I happened to ask the class casually, “How many of you understand the difference between marketing & sales?” The faces, more than the raised hands, clearly communicated the confusion over the two. So as I set out to clarify the difference, I learned a thing or two and reckoned I’ll share that with you.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. And in the interest of not reinventing the wheel, I’ll share what I reckoned was a good definition from Diffen.com.As they summarize it
Marketing The goal is to generate awareness and interest in the product/service and create leads or prospects, by influencing the perception and behavior of the target customer group.
Selling is focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.
This means the activities done by marketing and sales can be quite distinct
consumer research to identify the needs of the customers
product development – designing innovative products to meet existing or latent needs
advertisingand digital marketing the products to raise awareness and build the brand.
pricing products and services to maximize long-term revenue.
focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.
So far so good. Now that we are clear about definitions, does this help us figure out when does your business require marketing (or sales) and how much of it does it require? As we set out to answer this for some examples, I realized that there was some nuance to this, especially when it came to a matter of
target customers – are yours’ consumers or other businesses
sales channels – do you sell direct or through channels
Of course, neither of the above is an either/or answer. You could have both consumer and business sales (think airlines, catering or training classes) and could be both direct or channel (advertising, over-the-counter medications).
While the role of marketing remains building awareness and generating demand – its relative contribution and nature of activities depend on which of these combinations your business falls into. With the rise of internet and e-commerce, certain categories of consumer-targeted businesses can operate without any sales force at all. Similarly, business-focused sales channels, which are businesses themselves such as aggregators or distributors, rely primarily on the marketing of their principals to drive demand. Even these folks have to market themselves to stand out from their competition.
Here’s a useful framework (and some examples) to think about this. What is the product or service you are selling and to whom are you selling it and how will you sell it to them? And what marketing will be directed towards whom? And what sorts of sales activities and personnel will you need to meet your goals?
Here are two different examples of companies that sell primarily to consumers (airlines, cars) or businesses (Facebook ads) and what they do for sales & marketing. Of course, all these businesses serve both consumers and businesses to varying degrees.
I’d love to hear how this looks for your business. Happy hunting.
WHAT: I’d like to quit my job – I’m sick and tired of it and want to do a startup.
BUT, how will I let my family/wife/significant other, know? The thought of having to convince stakeholders, especially if they are family – who we fear will not be receptive or supportive – puts the kibosh on even making the decision.
So step back and recognize the WHAT of a decision is the most important – and neither the WHEN will I implement the decision nor HOW will I implement the decision should come into play, while trying to make a decision. Of course, they are relevant such as
WHAT: I want to fire that guy who’s being a jerk to everyone else
HOW: Talk to him, if necessary with HR present. Ask him questions on how he perceives his own behavior. Provide him feedback on what you’ve observed. Put him on a 90-day improvement plan.
WHEN: By June 30th of this year
As you can see the HOW may require a fair amount of work – may involve others and will definitely influence the WHEN. None of this should put off making your decision – WHAT it is you want to do.
Over the last several years, I have written about startups, entrepreneurship and business in general in the Hindu BizLine and Wall St. Journal. I have compiled these for easy access in the column below.