Innovate Like a Lean Startup

iStock_000009200146XSmallEnterprise organizations are taking a rigorous look at the principles used in the Lean Startup movement. They are carefully considering how they can incorporate the approach for building and launching new products faster to increase revenues and reduce costs.

Why? Speed of innovation and time-to-market can translate to millions in revenue gained or millions in lost opportunity costs for organizations of every size. One known fact for product-based businesses is that the typical time for market development can no longer take years for planning to launch. Competitive forces require organizations to be in cycles of continuous improvement and a constant state of innovation.

Some businesses acquire other businesses to gain momentum, others set up lean approaches within their product development and design centers. If enterprises want to compete with the “young and restless” entrepreneur community, they need to consider moving faster in definition, development and bringing new products to market.

The father of the lean movement is Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. The Lean Startup methodology promotes shorter product development cycles driven by experimentation and validated learning. Instead of waiting until the final product is “complete” before launch, the lean practice recommends to use iterative releases to confirm adoption and use cases for a minimum viable product.

The constant develop-release cycle provides for ongoing feedback to modify and pivot to meet buyer and user needs faster. The goal for this technique is to speed products to market, maximizing early product adoption cycles and capturing the most market opportunity. This all translates to revenue.

The risks associated to this approach are primarily related to creating products that seem to never be finished. Consumers must have a strong loyalty to stay committed to products that are always upgrading. Businesses have to evaluate the risk-rewards of being first to market with products that are viable and utilize the information gained in the customer feedback process during each release to keep customers happy.

The growing consideration of going lean for many business owners today is whether they do so through an M&A strategy or reorganization of the product development operation.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” – Eric Ries

By Jamie Glass, President and CMO of Artful Thinkers@jglass8

This article appeared in the CKS Advisors CKS Updates May 2013 Newsletter. Visit www.cksadvisors.com for additional information.

Prepare to Hire a Sales Person

It is the time of year that businesses start to look at their anticipated revenues and question if they can increase the top line with additional sales resources.  A sales person is an investment in your business. Preparing for the role within your organization is as equally important as hiring the right person.

Before you hire anyone, have you created a sales plan?  The sales plan is where you define your revenue goals for the year, the budget for required headcount and support resources, and the tactics you will employ to achieve your goals.  At a minimum, you must define what you are willing to invest into the selling of your products and services for every expected new dollar of revenue.  Once you make this calculation, set your budget based on your investment requirements and expected returns with new sales.

Now that you have your sales plan outlined, here are some steps to help you get ready for hiring a new sales person:

  1. Sales Role: Will your new hire be a direct, field sales person or an inside sales person?  A direct sales person will have a larger budget for travel and expenses, in addition to higher compensation.  The expense of a direct sales person can be offset by a putting in place a higher quota.  A direct sales person is expected to negotiate larger contracts and develop profitable long-term relationships over the phone and in person.  An inside sales person will conduct all of their selling over the phone. They will be qualifying opportunities, making online presentations, negotiating and asking for the business over the phone.  Inside sales people will have a smaller quota and also typically sell smaller priced products and services that do not require face-to-face presentation and negotiation.
  2. Job Description:  Create a job description that clearly defines the requirements for the role, responsibilities and expectations of what the sales person must deliver.  Be specific. State the sales goals, types of customers they need to sell and how they will engage with prospects.  Will they be a “hunter” or a closer or both?  Will they need to have existing relationships?  How much experience in your industry?  Note how your sales person will be measured and how you view success.
  3. Quota and Territory:  Generally inside sales quotas will start at $100,000 to $250,000 in new business revenue per year.  The defined quota will always depend on the sales price.  A direct sales person can be expected to have a quota of $500,000 to $1,000,000 a year in sales.  Again price of product will help set the quota, along with experience of the sales hire.  If you hire someone with no experience in achieving a million dollars in sales, they probably won’t hit a million dollar quota no matter how much they sell you on the prospects.
  4. Comp Plan and Incentives:  Detail how the sales person will be compensated.  Typically there are three factors in sales compensation:  sales commissions on new business, incentives to exceed quotas and bonuses for quality or quantity.  Define your compensation and commission rules.  When will the sales person be paid?  You can set different commissions for different products, based on profitability.  The average sales commission is 4-8% of top line sales revenue.  One word of advice, the easier the plan is to follow, the more focused your sales person will be on achieving plan instead of trying to figure out when and how they get paid.
  5. Sales Process:  The sales process defines the steps a sales person will engage to find, qualify, present, negotiate and close a deal.  If you know the process, you can better hold a sales person accountable to how they manage their sales funnel.  It will also provide you data on how many leads you need to support the number of deals you expect to close each year.  Data is your friend in sales.
  6. Marketing and Sales Support:  Sales people will typically work independently; however, you can shorten the sales cycle by providing sales tools and marketing support to help educate the customer, drive the process forward and substantiate the value propositions of your products.  Prepare a training plan to educate the new hire on what they will sell.  A minimum requirement for any sales person is a CRM tool.  Your prospects and clients are a company asset.  Track and manage the data and make sure it is stored in a company repository.
  7. Measurable Success:  Before you make the hire, know exactly how you will measure their success.  A sales person, no matter the level of experience, will have a ramp up before they start closing deals.  Your sales cycle can range from weeks to years.  The more complex the sale, the higher price of your products and the more consultative the sales process, the more likely it will take six months or more before you see traction with even the most experienced sales person.  Your only exception will be to hire a person that already has relationships with your targeted customers.  The ramp-up will decrease with selling experience; however, you will pay a lot more for this type of sales person in base and expected overall compensation.  Do the math.  Can you invest more early on to increase odds of higher returns with a shorter sales cycle?

An investment in sales is one of the most important decision an owner makes in the life cycle of a business.  Making a bad sales hire can crush your business.  Prepare and plan for success.  Set reasonable expectations and measure performance.  Sales is a numbers game.  Know the numbers, inside and out.  Know what you spend.  Know what you want in return. Know how the sales person will achieve the sales goals.  Prepare your plan so you know what success looks like and then execute your plan.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Entrepreneurial Lessons from Your First Job

We have all had one. A first job. Someone looked you in the eye and said, “You are hired!” The decision confirms they trusted you to represent their business. They were willing to invest in you, train you, teach you how to earn a paycheck.

Your confidence swells with the first yes. Your stride is more brisk, your smile broadens. You did it! You are accepted, wanted and needed. Someone recognizes you for being a contributor. Then, the apprehension begins. What if they don’t like me? What happens if I make a mistake? Can I do this job? The overwhelming reality of being responsible of earning a wage is measured by the sudden onset of nervous excitement.

Many of the emotions and fears of starting your first job are similar to starting your first business. Entrepreneurs have to balance the adrenaline associated with being in complete control with the reality that businesses fail. Lingering in the bravado are facts from the Small Business Administration (SBA) that nearly a third of businesses fail within the first two years. Reverting to your confidence that says “just do it” because you are different and better, you focus on the statistical favor that you do have a 66% chance you will make it.

The first time you do anything is valuable experience. Recalling what you learned at your first job is an excellent way to apply past experience to a new first – starting your own business. Here are some tips to take from your first job that are nuggets of wisdom to apply to your startup venture:

1.  Embrace the Fear of Failing – You have an option to be paralyzed in fear or embrace the opportunity that if you try, you may succeed.  We all know examples of the person who tried over and over again, failing countless times before they finally made it!  They never quit. Using the knowledge of each failure, big or small, prepare yourself for the possibility of next time.

2.  Take Pride in Your Work – Others are counting on you to help them.  Any business is defined by satisfying a need.  If they need you, take satisfaction in your ability to help.  In the early stage of a new business, people will flock to those that are confident in what they deliver.  Uncertainty creates worrisome customers, or even worse, potential customers who never buy.

3.  Always Be Learning – You are glowing green at your first job.  You are a blank slate.  Your training is the groundwork for how you will perform. Soaking up expertise from those that proceeded you is smart business.  What you don’t know today, can propel your business to the next level. Find expertise.  Be a knowledge consumer.

4.  Businesses Reward Hard Work – As you master the skills necessary to do your first job and do it well, you soon learn that businesses reward performance.  Promotions and raises are given to those that work hard and do more than their peers.  Your customers will reward you for your hard work.  Their loyalty is associated to your ability to outperform your competition.

5.  Listening Skills are Important – Listening to your customers in your first job and in your first business is elementary.  Your customer is paramount to delivering products and services that meet the customer’s needs.  Failing to listen increases your odds of an unhappy customer.  Unhappy customers tell others of their experience.  Listening improves potential for high customer satisfaction.

6.  Time Management is Critical – There are no rewards for showing up late or missing work.  One of the most important skills acquired in the first job is how to manage your time.  You soon learn there are no acceptable excuses.  Juggling priorities becomes primary to your success.  Owning a business depends on the genius of multitasking.  You will work harder and that means you have to work smarter to get the job done.

7.  Handling Money Builds Trust – When you take money for any product or service, you are now accepting the currency of trust.  You are expected to provide equal or greater value in the exchange of cash for goods.  Exceeding expectations builds credibility.  Manage others money with the same respect you demand from those that manage yours.

The knowledge acquired from a first job is fundamental to a startup. How you apply that knowledge and skill will often result in similar or better experience as an entrepreneur. The mistakes are lessons of how to do something different. The successes are foundations to build upon.

Challenge yourself to reflect on your first job. What was the best lesson learned on your first job? Can you instill this in your values, culture and standards as a business owner today?

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. ~Auguste Rodin

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Return on Marketing Requires an Investment

One of the most important decisions a business owner or CEO will make is establishing a budget for marketing. Like talent, product and infrastructure, marketing must be viewed as a necessity in business.  Marketing expenditures are essential investments for growth.

An average SMB (small-to-medium size business) will typically set a marketing budget at 4% to 6% of sales revenues.  There are several factors that can impact this budget.  As an example, a well-funded startup may invest 20% of revenues for aggressive consumer acquisition programs and advertising.  Notice, the “well-funded” qualifier.  Likewise, there is always difficulty in setting a budget for a pre-revenue company. Entrepreneurs will often spend most of their investments in product and then struggle to bring in sales. Startup costs must include marketing.  For every dollar invested in product, people and infrastructure, an equal dollar should be set aside for investment in sales and marketing.

Here are three simplified phases for marketing investment planning:

1.  Brand Awareness:  Your marketing investment should start with focus in reach and awareness including brand identity, a website, company advertising and direct and social marketing.

2.  Engagement: The second phase invests in additional marketing programs that support your sales efforts including lead generation, publicity, web marketing (SEO and SEM), market validation, events, advertising, presentations and customer case studies.

3.  Nurture:  Finally, maximize your marketing investments with customer communications, CRM services, loyalty initiatives and nurturing programs to maintain the valuable potential and existing customer relationships.  Once you have them engaged, use your marketing spend wisely to develop and grow your relationship.

After your marketing budget is defined, you will want to establish how you will measure the success of your investment.  ROMI is the acronym for Return on Marketing Investment.  The calculation is total revenue divided by marketing spend.  ROMI = Revenue ($) / Marketing Spend ($).

Some marketing activities such as branding, advertising, PR and social media are harder to track impact and influence. As a rule of thumb, the simple ROMI equation gives you a thumbnail sketch of your return on your marketing investment.  ROMI is a good KPI (key performance indicator) for leaders to use in the business dashboard.

If you are a startup or pre-revenue, the marketing spend will be set as your budget for purposes of forecasting. Some may argue that there should be other factors added or subtracted, such as attributable revenues; however, most businesses have a difficult time tracking every dollar spent on activities such as advertising. Start with the broadest “buckets” and as you increase your marketing reporting and tracking sophistication, you can scrutinize spending with finer analysis.

Marketing is an investment.  Success in ROMI requires budgeting, reporting and analysis in order to fully actualize the benefits.

In lean times, business owners have a tendency to cut marketing spend. Lost time and lack of investment, even during challenging periods, impacts long-term growth. The result may not be felt right away. It is an illusion. Prolonged periods of reduced marketing spend can dramatically reduce sales opportunities. The fewer dollars you put into a marketing budget the greater the exponential impact on future revenues.

Similar to an investment savings account, the more you put into your “growth” marketing account, the higher potential return on your investment. The more dollars spent on high risk marketing activities, the greater risk to returns. Any sound investment advisor, marketing or financial, will counsel a business owner and CEO to invest based on the organization’s risk tolerance.  Marketing investments should be treated like any financial investment.  Know your risk tolerance, invest accordingly.  If the business has low tolerance for risk, eliminate marketing spend in expensive tactics that are difficult to measure. Always diversify your investment to mitigate risk.

In order to qualify for a return, it requires an investment.  Failing to set aside funds to market is failing to invest in business sustainability.  Expectations of sales without an adequate marketing budget is a business built on luck. Though we would all like to be lucky, if you plan to sell something, invest in marketing to create the sale.

I have a problem with too much money. I can’t reinvest it fast enough, and because I reinvest it, more money comes in. Yes, the rich do get richer.” -Robert Kiyosaki

By Jamie Glass, CMO & President of Artful Thinkers and Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.

Manage Your Influencers for Optimal Results

Business TargetKey influencers play a critical role in every business. Decision makers are guarded and guided by inside and outside advisors and gatekeepers. How you manage your trusted advisors can help or harm your business.

Influencers know they have the power to change or compel action. It is the business leaders responsibility to validate and control the effect of influencers. Those who sit closest to authority and are granted permission to persuade, have a direct impact on your success. Do you know who is currently sitting at your table of influence?

In order to responsibly manage your influencers, take time to identify those that are in your inner circle and those effecting your judgement. Inside your business look at department heads, executives and even top revenue generators whose opinions impact your future.  Who are your squeaky wheels? Are they helping you make better decisions for your business or slowing down how you operate?  Influencers can be carriers of good and bad advice, they may be motivated by selfishness. It is up to you to vet, challenge and manage your influencers for optimal results.

One way of evaluating an influencer is to ask them what they believe are your highest priorities. Are they up-to-date on your current business plans and growth strategies?  Do they know the profile of your most profitable customers?  If not, it is the perfect opportunity to align your thinking. Define and clarify what is most important to you and your business.  Let them know how they can help you.

To get the best results from your influencers, provide regular updates on business goals, initiatives, challenges and opportunities.  Acting as gatekeepers, key influencers can open doors to new ideas, solution providers and even make introductions to customers. They also have the ability to close doors.  As the final decision maker, you are ultimately responsible for those that make it through the “gate”.  Challenge those that have the authority inside your business to say no.  Know who they turned away and why.

Update your outside advisors quarterly about key initiatives and strategic objectives. These influencers, such as accountants, legal counsel, wealth managers, business consultants and top vendors are connected and often sources for essential referrals. They act as a conduit for information and potential services that can help you achieve your goals.  If your influencers know your interests, they can better serve you.

Know that influencers get things done. They effect change. They make things happen. You need to know who they are and leverage them for maximum impact to your business. Lead influencers to your expected outcomes. Manage them for the best results.

Jamie Glass, Outsourced CMO and President of Artful Thinkers, a strategic sales and marketing consulting company and Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors

A Bad Sales Hire Can Crush a Small Business

ImageThe decision to bring a sales person into your business is the most important decision you make as a business owner. Financially, it can be very rewarding or it can be devastating to your bottom-line.  The reality is that your hiring decision can propel you to mega-success, crush your business or land you somewhere in the middle.

There is no absolute science in making good hiring decisions.  Know your associated real and opportunity costs of making a bad hire.  Calculate the risks of the person not working out before you sign the offer letter.  Will your business survive making a bad hire?  How soon will you need to pivot if performance is substandard?

Based on the financial risk assessment, you can qualify whether you should invest in a professional resource or hiring profile tool to reduce the risk.  In other words, decide if you will pay now or potentially pay later.

What else can you do to protect your long-term financial security as a business owner and make an informed decision about hiring a sales person?

Ask candidates questions related to sales activities.  Don’t focus on their industry knowledge.  Industry knowledge is trainable.  You don’t need a nurturer or relationships person.  You need a sales person that will ask for money!  It is the secret skill that will bring revenue in the door.  There are two types of sales people:  hunters and closers.  In the beginning, you will need someone who is good at both.  They will cold call, with or without leads, and they will ask for the close.  These are “rare birds”.  Ask questions about the candidates history with sales cycles, average size of deal, average daily cold calls, number of customers sold each year, and presentation-to-close ratios.  These are all indicators of past performance and predictors of future success.  When a resume lists awards for exceeding quota, that does not tell you what they sold in the past is going to translate.  You want to know what they did to exceed quota.  What activities made them successful?

Invest in training and sales support materials.  Basic training materials should be product feature and benefit lists, industry keyword definitions, product overviews, competitive analysis, market positioning statements and scripts of common objections and how to overcome them. Utilize your team of in-house experts to train your sales people.  Set up daily Q&A sessions with product engineers, marketers, customer service personnel and anyone else that touches the customer.  Share all the secrets, good and bad.  The more knowledge and access to experts the sales person has the better prepared they will be to overcome objections.  The first two weeks of any new sales hire should include at least two hours a day training and practice calls.

Set sales quotes and activities quotas. An experienced sales person may only close 1-2 deals per year, with an average deal size of $2 million.  You need to clearly outline your expectations and what you will inspect regarding number of calls, meetings, presentations, proposals and closes.  Assigning the closing numbers without understanding how many calls that might take will cost you severely.  You must know, for example, 500 calls or 20 face-to-face meetings may result in five closed deals at an average sale of $10,000.  If this doesn’t meet your expectations, adjust accordingly.  Then measure the number of calls to see if you are on pace each week.  Early indicators will provide you the opportunity to pivot quickly.

Know your exit strategy.  What is the maximum time you can invest in a bad hire?  The answer can not be zero, because every hire has inherent risk.  If it is 90 days, then have a very specific plan with measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can inspect every week.  You only have 13 weeks to determine if you will terminate employment or keep on staff.  Sales people are used to 90-day probationary periods.  You should have inspection points with planned exit strategies at 6 weeks, 90 days and 180 days.  Cut sooner and learn from your mistakes.  A year-long bad hire could close down your business if you are not well capitalized and depend on this new hire’s revenue to sustain your business.

Identify the characteristics that could be a threat or high risk to your business.  Character matters as much as sales skills.  You need to adequately assess the “fit” of this person in your business.  You are handing over the keys to your future.  Can you trust this person? Is this a person you would take with you to all your important meetings?  Does this person dream big?  Are they kind, friendly and positive?  Will your customers like this person?  If you can afford a hiring assessment by a professional, with tools that can define their character and skills, it will be worth the investment and potentially save you from making a big mistake.

Do your homework.  Never, ever skip reference checking.  Dig deep!  Ask community and business people that might know the person, look at their LinkedIn connections and recommendations.  Reference and background checks are as important as due diligence when buying a business.  You will be writing substantial checks to this person on a promise.  They will be creating your business first impression.  Reduce the risk by learning from other’s experience.  Again, it may be in your best interest to hire someone to do your reference checking to get a complete picture.

Finally, use your gut.  Do they represent you?  Your professional and personal instincts will serve you well.  A bad hire can scar you and make you timid in making a future decision.  Know that it can take four or five hires to find a rock star.  An early success in hiring a sales person is rare, so have a backup plan.

Sales people can make or break a business.  Know your upside and downside when hiring a sales person to promote your business.

Jamie Glass, CMO and President of Artful Thinkers.  Creative. Strategic. Results.

Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources

300X300Meet Arizona Capital and Business Growth Resources on June 11, 2013 at the MIT Enterprise Forum and Arizona Commerce Authority Innovation Arizona Summit.  Full details and registration available at www.mitefphoenix.org.

There are many organizations in Arizona that support innovators, startups, entrepreneurs and the established business community from early stage to exit.

This is an easy to use reference of various groups, associations and service providers in Arizona that help businesses with financing, strategy, venture development, M&A, growth and mentoring services and business networking.

Accelerators, Venture and Growth Advisors

Investment Bankers (FINRA Registered)

Angel Investor Groups

Venture Capital Sources and Funds

Collaborative and Shared Work Space – Map

Associations and Support

Pitch Contests & Competitions for Capital

Chambers of Commerce

Additional Resources:
 If you know of an organization that fits into the categories above, you can add the reference in a comment or email jamieglass8@gmail.com.

This list is maintained by Jamie Glass, President of Artful Thinkers.

Best Networkers Go Where Others Won’t Go

Yesterday I met with a successful executive coach who is starting to explore opportunities of expanding her business. She was sent to me by a trusted colleague and notable networking expert.  The typical goal of these meetings are to learn about our respective businesses and then make introductions or provide advice on how to reach new clients.  It’s the life of an independent business owner and consultant.

One of the questions I always ask people looking to develop more business is “who owns your customer?”. Often there is pause. Yes, I want to know who owns the relationship with your customer, not who is your customer. The reason I ask this question is to identify the strongest influencers of those potential new customers.  In my experience, it is the shortest path to multiple buyers.

An influencer provides reach and accelerates your ability to grow market share.  Research suggests that we “buy” when we are influenced by someone we trust.  In fact, ninety percent of consumers surveyed in a 2009 Nielsen Survey said they trust recommendations from people they know.

This is not only applicable in retail situations or online recommendations, but also in business services as well. The business community often gives their business to those that come through their trusted network of peers or with whom they have a past relationship. Why? It eliminates the vetting and testing. In the old fashioned sales vernacular, it saves time and money.

Here are a few recommended steps to reaching your influencer:

1.  Identify your influencer, ask yourself who “owns” your customer.

2.  Research your influencer.  Where do they meet?  Who is in their network?  Who are their customers?  What events do they attend?  What association and industry groups do they belong to?

3.  Start following. Not literally stalking of course, but follow companies and connections in LinkedIn, through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages and Google+.  What are they talking about?

4.  Go to events where they gather and start building your circle of influence.

The biggest mistake I see others make in networking to find business is they go to where their friends and competitors go. For example, I am probably less likely to get business at another marketing event, as opposed to hanging out at a physicians conference or speaking at a non-profit event about advisory boards. My competitors do not go to these events, or at least very few do. I get more time to interact.  I can learn more about their needs in a particular industry or market vertical.  More importantly, I can start to build a network of influencers face-to-face.

How do I get those in the room that have nothing in common with me enter into a trusted relationship? I start by listening.  I then offer to make introductions to my trusted network, when there is a good match. I share my knowledge to see where we have similar business interests, like expanding markets, growing revenues.  Sometimes I offer to participate in events as a speaker on mutually defined topics of interest. Finally, I look for ways I can help them achieve their business goals and give them a “sample” of what I have to offer at no charge.

The saying, nothing ventured nothing gained seems to work well in the world of networking for business.  Sole proprietors and consultants have little time to work on their business, as they are the business.  You need to be your own best PR agent and maximize your limited selling time effectively. If you are competing for air time in a room of people that look and talk just like you, that is an educational or skill expanding event. Learn about your craft and further your expertise.  Don’t expect to get customers at these events.

When you want to network for business, go where you expect to see the least amount of your competition. The fewer people that are “talking just like you” that are in the room, the better chance you have to find business. You also create more awareness about your services because you are not a peer. You have more “meme” time. That will drive curiosity, and that opens a door to “sell yourself”.

Venture Out and Be DifferentNetworking is a skill.  Before you say no or turn away from the idea of going to a meeting or speaking at an event of complete strangers, realize that this is where business starts.  Venture out.  Be different. Go where others won’t go.