4 Questions Every Small Business Must Ask About Artificial Intelligence

From Siri to Alexa, customers are becoming accustomed to AI-powered solutions and soon they will expect the same for their local businesses. Sure, an AI rollout can be daunting, but by adopting a strategic approach and adding smart software, small businesses will not only be able to differentiate themselves from competitors, but compete with the industry giants as well.   While many overcomplicate the technology, AI’s behaviors are predictable – it’s merely an advanced system that is trained, not told. AI mimics the human brain in the way that it learns. It starts with no information, and after being given thousands of pieces of information, is able to understand and make predictions about data it has never seen before.   AI will become a threat to small businesses if owners believe it won’t impact them, or isn’t already impacting them. The fact is, AI has the potential to drastically help companies of all sizes work smarter and more efficiently than ever before.   Before acting on an AI rollout, here are the top four questions small businesses should ask themselves:   What is it you are looking to achieve with AI?   AI can provide great value for sales, marketing, finance, HR, customer service, and more. Hone in on what exactly you are hoping to achieve with the use of AI – where do you need to increase productivity?   By setting highly focused goals, you will be able to develop a plan that prioritizes specific applications for AI technology. This way, small businesses can slowly adapt and familiarize themselves with the software, that will, overtime, drastically enhance the bottom line.   The most immediate benefit of AI is that it will provide immense efficiency. There will be less time entering data and more time getting valuable insight to augment decision making. There’s a mass amount of data waiting to be analyzed and AI will guide businesses on how to act.   What data has already been put into a system of record?   You’ll never hear the words “too much data” and “AI” used in the same sentence. AI systems become more accurate and effective as the volume of data increases. The big industry players have been accumulating business intel, reporting, and have already moved on to predictive analytics.   The first step in your AI project is to systematize your business. With the widespread adoption of cloud based solutions (SAAS) and the rapid reduction in the cost of storage and processing, the first step is to start instrumenting all elements of your business. Your website, your marketing activities, your sales – including the business that you “win” and “lose.”   Unlike huge, multi-national companies that are able to capture and process peta-bytes of data, small businesses have had access to significantly less data. This is changing with the adoption of cloud-based products and services and the availability of open data sets from governments and other providers. The goal for small business owners is to have the appropriate systems and infrastructure needed to go and analyze data and extract even more business value.   What is your ability to explore your business data and understand what’s going on objectively?   If you’re looking at the raw data it’s easy to “torture the data” to get the answer you want to be there – don’t fall victim to this habit.   Your goal is to generate several hypotheses from the data. Examine outliers and the associations between data elements. Be careful not to draw conclusions too early though, as outliers could be caused by “bad data” that needs to be cleaned up, and the relationships may not be strong enough to make any definitive conclusions. We often allow our personal biases and expectations get in the way of looking at data. The numbers don’t lie, but if we look at them expecting certain results, we may end up manipulating the information to meet our expectations. In order to take full advantage of AI, we need to be able to trust the numbers.   You don’t need to use expensive tools; use the reports and dashboards that are built into the tools you already have and approach the problem with an inquisitive mind. Look for the unexpected and when you detect something that’s interesting, create one or more hypothesis to explain what you’re seeing, and then set about to prove or disprove it.   Is your technology provider on the path to add these capabilities into their product to further automate and provide more meaningful insights?   AI will not provide any benefit if small businesses lack the IT infrastructure to support it. Start by upgrading your approach to IT – move toward a cloud-based resource that can support AI once implemented. Data is a prerequisite to introducing AI into a system, and a paper system is useless when it comes to incorporating AI.   Make sure your goals are aligned with the direction your software is going. If it doesn’t seem as though your software provider is working toward the same future as you, it might be time to consider another option. It’s important to ensure your provider is taking steps to remain relevant in the future of technology.   If you’re just getting started on the business analytics journey, begin by using the reports and dashboards that your systems have today. Become familiar with the digital assistants that are already on your smartphone; explore what they are already able to do and stay current with how these systems are evolving.   By making an effort to understand and embrace AI, small businesses are optimizing operations, improving customer-service, and growing their bottom line. Imagine where your company would be if you didn’t embrace the uncertainty of the internet or didn’t go mobile in the age of the smartphone. Artificial intelligence is the newest technology adding efficiency and intellect to small business – don’t be late to adapt; be better, faster, smarter operators with the use of AI. First published in Forbes

Customer Experience Is A Culture Problem

Customer experience has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past four years.  Beginning as a new software category promising to help companies delight, convert and retain customers to where it is today, a business discipline, focused on aligning culture, strategy and processes to audiences’ lifecycle expectations. The road has been a bumpy one. The software category matured, fragmented and is consolidating as vendors and users, alike, tried to achieve the promised ROI – revenue growth from customer loyalty.  Companies ran into multiple roadblocks mostly from employee fear, resistance to change, lack of internal competences and mistaken belief that software could bypass change management. Vendors, on the other hand, introduced a steady stream of features at a cadence that outpaced the capabilities and understanding of the most sophisticated users. An impasse has been reached.  Frustrated users are taking a step back to evaluate why delivering the experience customers valued was so hard.  Robert Tas, chief marketing officer of Pegasystems, a strategic applications vendor for marketing, sales, service, and operations, summed up five key barriers as:

  • Companies structured around products instead of customers,
  • Treating digital experience as a ‘check the box’ and not understanding what it means,
  • Line of business-centric funding model that doesn’t benefit anyone else,
  • Disconnect between employee expectations with them being treated as consumers and how they ultimately treat customers , and
  • Not closing customer feedback loops and being transparent.
“Customer experience is not a technology problem – it’s a culture problem,” states Tas. Breaking the culture paradigm requires different perspectives. “Customer experience is a disruptive business phenomenon,” shares Tas.  “As companies become more data, customer and digital centric, the speed of change will reduce barriers to entry and obsolete organizations.” Customer experience is in the process of being redefined. It’s not software that automates engagement or predicts which customer an employee should or should not pay attention to.  Customer experience is about all-inclusive strategic alignment between the customer’s engagement expectations, brand promise and the company culture behind the brand.  To win, CEOs must be maniacal about that alignment. One company that has taken this to heart is Qumulo, an enterprise data storage vendor.  Karim Fanous, vice president of customer success, implemented a three-prong strategy to align the company to key customers and their lifecycle expectations:
  1. People – empower front-line employees to do what is right to meet customer expectations. Fanous takes a different approach to hiring customer success managers. He hires seasoned practitioners, storage and system administrators, that have scored high on empathy skills. These employees have the maturity and experience to make the right decisions and serve as advisors to customers that add value to every interaction.
  2. Engineering – is required to ‘man’ the customer support center and answer support calls. Having the employees who design the product address customer complaints, questions and concerns results in better designed products that can be produced with fewer defects.  In short, they take more care in doing their job because they are directly accountable to customers.
  3. Automation – to remove complexity from the user interface of products. Fanous found that the ease of product use directly correlates to repeat purchases and higher NPS scores. Ease of use, however, cannot come at the expense of missing product features, value add or differentiation.
Other best practices that Qumulo has adopted include a dedicated Slack channel for every customer that is accessed by all employees; monthly check-in customer calls by sales, customer success, engineering and product managers; and full transparency on company business decisions and performance. The CEO of Qumulo, Peter Godman, is equally maniacal about customer alignment. He mandated a customer-first policy across and up and down the organization. Godman openly engages with all employees to reinforce the importance of Qumulo’s customers and celebrate the successes.  Achieving cross-organizational customer alignment didn’t happen overnight. It took two years and Fanous will tell you that the job is never done. Customer alignment is still a nascent discipline with evolving best practices.  Practitioners are just starting to understand the role behavior, emotion and cognitive marketing have on the intersection between customers and brands, B2C as well as B2B. That’s not to say that CEM/CX software is going by the wayside. Software plays a part in analyzing data to discern intent and context which enables companies to make more effective strategic decisions and interactions to sustain alignment.  CEM, CX, MA, CRM and analytics vendors are not there yet in terms of understanding their role in this evolve discipline.  One thing is for sure, customer experience is not a marketing or customer service ‘thing’.  It is deeply rooted in your business strategy and touches every corner of the organization. If the ROI you sought from embracing customer experience hasn’t been something to write home about, it’s time take to take step back and assess your approach.  Don’t be afraid to hit the reset button on your customer alignment initiative and come at from a fresh approach.  Start with first deeply understanding the customer from the outside-in, aligning company values and culture to, and define your business strategy around the customer. The advice I give clients is simple: Focus on employees first, then customers, followed by simplifying processes and institutionalizing it with technology. First published in Forbes on May 9, 2016

Customer Co-Creation Is The Secret Sauce To Success

The operative phrase is to “be involved in”. Increasingly, that is taking the form of customer co-creation. Prahalad and Ramaswamy defined co-creation as “the joint creation of value by the company and the customer; allowing the customer to co-construct the service experience to suit their context.”  In my work, I define co-creation as the “purposeful action of partnering with strategic customers, partners or employees to ideate, problem solve, improve performance, or create a new product, service or business.” The concept has been around since 2000 yet has taken over a decade to catch on. Co-creation is not a customer advisory board on steroids or a clever sales and marketing tactic. It’s about jointly creating value , for the vendor as well as customers.  To most managers, the thought of openly and transparently engaging customers, sharing detailed data is downright scary. The rewards, however, should cause CEOs to pause and reconsider. Let’s look at how two very different companies are using co-creation to drive value. The first is DHL the global market leader in logistics, part of the world’s largest mail and logistics services company, Deutsche Post ("DP") DHL. You may know them by their yellow and red delivery trucks. Privatized 15 years ago, today the DP DHL Group employs some 490,000 employees around the world producing $57 Billion in annual revenue. You might think a company this size would struggle being agile, let alone set standards in innovation and customer service. What DHL discovered was its customers wanted help in rethinking their supply chains to improve business performance. “That is quite a challenge, as we are typically dealing with very complex global supply chains” shared Bill Meahl, Chief Commercial Officer at DHL, “one which fueled us to embark on a journey of customer co-creation.” Embarking on this path meant more than just process and service changes, it meant picking the right customers to work with and deepening employee capabilities to understand how they impact customer business, customer perception and sustainability. A critical success factor was teaching employees how to “walk a mile in customer shoes so they intimately understand the dynamics of working with customers ,” according to Meahl.  That competence is critical to developing a range of viable recommendations and new solutions that not only meet customer goals but demonstrate the value of DHL as a business partner. DHL understands that innovation must be customer focused. One way they ensure this happens is by bringing customers and their DHL service partners together in specially built Germany- and Singapore-based innovation centers for workshops to share best practices and create value. The purpose is to “conduct intensive hands-on workshops that explore and understand technology, economic, socio-political and culture trends to develop new ways to manage supply chains and logistics.” Sessions sometimes start with a look at what business could look like in 2050.  Employing a proven methodology of scenario planning, DHL’s approach takes customers on a time journey which showcases a four-quadrant view of what the world could look like in 2050. The quadrants are radically different from each other; one quadrant is always a doomsday scenario and its opposite is a perfect world.  The power of scenario planning is that it breaks mindset.  The joint team then ‘walks’ backwards from 2050 to 2020 which provides a platform for specific trend lines, core competencies, and problems that need to be solved.  From there, the joint team brainstorms solutions and approaches. Some of the innovations that have been launched as a result of the over 6,000 engagements conducted in DHL’s innovation centers and other customer co-creation formats include:

  • Parcelcopter, a drone delivery research project, which may in future enable companies to be more responsive, agile and cost-efficient.
  • “Smart glasses” and augmented reality, co-created with DHL customer Ricoh, to improve inventory and warehouse picking efficiency by 25 percent.
  • Maintenance on demand” (MoDe), co-created with DHL’s customer Volvo Trucks and other partners, uses sensors that automatically send back vehicle and component performance to identify when and where truck maintenance will be required.
  • IoT Report, an industry report, authored by DHL and Cisco, that identified and evaluated the implications and use cases of the Internet of Things in logistics.
  • Robotics applications that are currently being jointly tested with customers. These range from self-driving trolleys that support pickers to do their work in a less strainful way to collaborative robots that support workers for value-added services such as co-packing.
Meahl admits the co-creation concept was initially received with skepticism, internally and externally. Customers thought it was a clever sales tactic. Internally DHL has multiple business units who have differing business models serving the same customers. Identifying the right DHL leaders who “owned that customer” and aligning and coordinating multiple teams to productize the innovation workshop outcomes forced the company to take a hard look at its own structure and processes. The result has been well worth it.  CSAT scores are over 80 percent and on-time delivery performance is 97 percent or higher worldwide. Customer churn rates are down and revenue from new services/products is up. At the other end of the spectrum is Phononic, an early stage technology company that develops solid state heating and cooling. Phononic sells into traditional industries that manufacturer refrigeration and HVAC systems. The founder and CEO, Dr. Tony Atti, believes that “companies should understand their customers’ desired experience and use that knowledge to work backwards to define company processes and culture .”  In Atti’s opinion a core part of B2B customer engagement should be based on emotion versus engineering or technical terms. “Co-creation is about helping the customer imagine a different future .” Most of Phononic’s products are the result of customer co-creation - these are highly complex, precision engineered equipment that can cost millions of dollars.  Fully integrated team of engineers, supply chain experts, sales and marketers partner with customers to define new products, design requirements, prototypes, and finalize manufacturing specifications. The result is a small company that is disrupting an old, established industry. Atti swears by the co-creation model for the entire customer lifecycle journey, not just product innovation.  It is at the core of Phononic’s differentiation as well as its culture .

How IoT Redefines What Sales Success Looks Like

Back in the 1960s the successful salesperson was typically seen as a confident and trusted ally that helped you solve a variety of business issues.  It’s a given that the product or service had to work; the core of the relationship, however, was personal.  It was between two people who trusted each other and were committed to each other’s success. Without the benefit of smartphones, cloud applications, big data or analytics, salespeople possessed deep understanding of their industry, market trends, products and usage best practices, and customers’ preferences as well current and anticipated needs. It’s arguable that sales people back in those days knew their customers better than we do today. The measure of a successful sales person was consistently exceeding quota, respected by their peers and high customer loyalty. Those same measures are just as valid today. Technology advances redefined how we think of the salesperson.  We began to believe that successful sales people could be made.  In the 1980s a movement began to standardize sales processes, how they thought and the activities that filled up their days.  From SPIN selling, Miller Heiman Blue Sheets and “Dress for Success” to today’s predictive analytics and Account Based Selling, a tremendous amount of effort is spent on teaching sales people to  replicate specific actions, steps, processes and communication styles.  Technology is available to helping them know which leads to pursue, provide real-time coaching, recommend what up-sell product to offer, and real-time forecasting all in the unwritten belief that successful sales people can be built. “Today it’s about copying the practices and methodologies of ‘A’ players to help ‘B’ players become more than just gifted amateurs,” shared Leslie Stretch, CEO of Callidus Cloud, a cloud-based sales, marketing, learning, and customer experience solutions vendor. Today what stands between the customer and the purchase order is the sales person. That is about to change rapidly and dramatically by the Internet of Things or “IoT” for short. With IoT, devices and machines are starting to automatically send purchase orders for inventory, replacement parts and repair services directly to vendor computers.  The sales person is out of the picture.  IoT disintermediates B2B account management.  No one needs the sales person because there is no one for the sales person to talk to – or is there? Stretch sums up the question that is on everyone’s mind as “What is sales’ role when machines take care of themselves and order for themselves?” Counter to obsoleting sales, IoT shifts the definition of the sales person back sixty years to a time when relationships matter.  Success will be once again defined by the long term value generated by the sales person, as defined by the buyer. Value that is often beyond the product or service he or she is selling.  Relationship trumps everything. What IoT triggers is the reversion of the definition of a successful sales person back to the consummate professional relationship builder, behaviorist and strategic advisor that takes their business personally. There is evidence that the shift is already underway – not from how CEOs think of their sales stars but in the actual characteristics of sales “A” players. “The Persona of Top Sales Professionals”, is a recent study of over 1,000 sales professionals by Steve W. Martin that was sponsored by Velocify, a sales acceleration platform. The study defines the personal attributes, attitudes and actions of successful sales people who achieved more than 125 percent of their quota last year. The study focused on six areas: Focus and motivation, career orientation, personal attributes, customer interaction strategy, attitude, and self-perception. We all know that highly successful sales people are driven by much more than money or greed as Martin calls it.  What may be surprising is the study’s finding that being recognized by their peers and held in high esteem “based upon their knowledge and the recognition that comes along with being thought of as an expert” is as important as money.  Quota-busters “believe that their knowledge is their most powerful attribute” and “are masters of language…[and] accomplished communicators who know what to say and, equally important, how to say it.” The study found that sales super stars rely on their intuition a bit more than pure rational logic when making critical decisions.  Their understanding of human nature, and of themselves, and drawing on those insights at key times is a hallmark of consistently over-quota achievers defined as people who exceed quota over 90 percent of their careers.   While pure-logic decision makers also exceed quota, they just don’t do it as often as the sales person that listens to their intuition a bit more closely. When it comes to how the most successful sales people approach customer relationships, the overachievers focus on “getting customers to emotionally connect with them” followed by customizing their sales approach and asking the tough questions in ways that showcase their knowledge and expertise. Sounds a lot like some of the best sales people from the last century – David Ogilvy, Mary Kay Ash, Joe Girard, and Zig Ziglar, to name a few. The bottom-line is that successful salespeople in the era of IoT are focused, as they were in the 1960s, on the emotional, political and personal drivers of the buyer.  The study found that successful sales people are able to “build a trusted relationship and personal friendship in a short period of time.”  To the sales person it’s about more than just the sale, it’s about owning a personal responsibility for and a dedication to their client’s success. What does that mean for sales organizations going forward?  Stretch believes the focus should not be on a salesperson but on the entire team involved in the account. He adds a “key is to compensate everyone supporting the customer because that directly impacts renewal and account expansion.” Based on my client work, I’m a strong proponent of ending the practice of hosting annual sales training to drill standard processes, systems and procedures in a one-size-fits-all approach into the heads of inside sales and account managers. Instead use these events to deepen industry expertise, understand emerging trends, and teach people how to apply this knowledge to customer situations and drive value-add beyond the boundaries of the product. I also recommend these four new best practices:

  • Test sales candidates based on their behaviors and motivations using new tools such as GRI
  • Individualize sales coaching to build self-confidence, personal certainty, and self-pride
  • Hire behaviorists to sharpen communication, sales intuition and human behavior skills
  • Teach sales how to use data to alter their behaviors to align with customer characteristics
You might say all of this has always been the hallmark of sales superstars. That’s true.  However, in the era of IoT, it means that all of sales need to have these characteristics not just the “A” players.

Chatbots Will Be Your New Best Friend

Chatbots came on the scene in 2011 as business intelligence, artificial intelligence and messaging platforms combined into new forms of responsive technology.  New ways were needed to support companies interacting with buyers and provide customer support that aligned and could evolve with changing communication habits. What is a chatbot?  A messaging application, sometimes referred to as a conversational interface, designed to simplify complex predefined task(s). The ‘chatbot’ label covers a number of categories including stand-alone applications, AI tools, bot developer frameworks and messaging, bot discovery, connectors/shared services, and analytics.  VentureBeat recently released a bot landscape which undoubtedly will rapidly expand in the near future. Today, chatbots are seen as easy and fun ways to help customers achieve an outcome. You’ll encounter them on web sites, social media and even on your smartphone. Say hello to Siri, Allo and Alexa, to name a few. To further adoption developers are making chatbots more human-like with personalities, capable of recognizing speech patterns and interpreting non-verbal cues to make interactions even smoother. The excitement is not in what they are capable of doing today but in their future trajectory.  As cited in The Chatbot Magazine, “Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services” shares Peter Rojas, Entrepreneur in Residence at Betaworks.  Verizon Ventures is an active investor in the chatbot market.  According to Christie Pitts, Manager – Ventures Development, Verizon Ventures, “Chatbots represent a new trend in how people access information, make decisions, and communicate. We think that chatbots are the beginning of a new form of digital access, which centers on messaging. Messaging has become a huge component of how we interact with our devices, and how we stay connected with the people, businesses and the day-to-day activities of life. Chatbots bring commerce into this part of our lives, and will open up new opportunities.” When asked why chatbots are strategic to Verizon, Pitts replied, “At heart, Verizon is a technology company and as such is constantly at the forefront of understanding and delivering on new market opportunities, and one of our top priorities is simplifying communication with our customers.” They have invested in companies like Spark Cognition, Adtheorent, Q Sensei, and MapD. Verizon sees AI as an enabling technology layer that can lead to huge gains. Companies working with AI technologies will create valuable solutions that augment the way people communicate, with each other and machines. Chatbot technology is part of Relay Network’s customer experience communication solution. Their approach is to first determine the specific use cases that could benefit from this technology.  Matt Gillin, CEO of Relay Network, believes “that a customer relationship and communication pattern needs to exist first before you can employ technologies, like bots, to facilitate the relationship further.” When asked about guidelines when employing chatbots, Gillin’s recommendation is bots are best “for scripted transactions or tasks that don’t require a lot back and forth.” Chatbots are most effective in situations where a customer is trying to resolve routine issues, complete specific tasks like placing an order, or guiding a user through a multi-step process. The benefit is the ability to “close the loop with the customer along a process, efficiently and in a delightful way,” shares Gillin. The ROI is in cost reduction, efficiency and improved customer satisfaction. Chatbots also play a role in marketing. By tagging specific content to certain chatbot words or phrases, content could be delivered in any number of pre-defined conversations. With deep understanding of the customer journey and emotions, through the eyes of the buyer, content and bot conversations can be successfully mapped and programmed. Verizon is excited about chatbots and the advances that are happening in the field of artificial intelligence. Over time, great leaps in technology have provided huge benefits to our lives. It’s easy, however, to get carried away with the allure of artificial intelligence and human-machine relationships. “Sometimes advancement comes with trepidation,” says Pitts. “Outcomes can be predictable and beneficial, or at times unpredictable and present new challenges. In the long view it is clear that technology improvements are a net benefit to society.” Yet, lurking in the background is the concern about unintended consequences. We become enamored with technology and its potential to do good.  We don’t think about the possibility of a dark side; how the technology’s original intent can be perverted to do harm.  A few examples are social media cyberbullying and sexting.  It’s a lesson we seem unable to learn. Dr. Liraz Margalit, Director of Behavioral Analytics for Clicktale, an enterprise-class experience management platform, blames our tendency to see the world through rose-colored glasses as a “lack of psychology research in the early stages of technology development. As a result we don’t plan for all the issues that will arise.” For some the unintended consequences are already here. Our willful blindness about the dark side of technology has some expressing concern.  Futurists like James Canton to technology giants Alphabet, Amazon, IBM, Facebook and Microsoft are calling for an AI framework that takes into account social and economic policies. Dr. Margalit states that “interacting with chatbots creates in our brains a new model which results in a new state of mind.”  We may intellectually know we’re interacting with a computer but our brain perceives it as companionship. The more human-like chatbots become, the more our brains gravitate to a companionship model.  And that is where the slippery slope begins.  As users increasingly interact with chatbots, they subconsciously perceive that bot as a friend – one that makes them feel good because the user unconsciously has control over the relationship.  No need for you to be nice and pleasant, the chatbot is selfless, always ready and available to serve you and in a good mood.  Dr. Margalit calls it “designing technology for companionship without demand for friendship.”  She believes incorporating humanoid social robots into our lives “invariably alters the dynamics of human relationships and gives rise to a society that isn’t completely real.” So what’s the wrong with that? Unfortunately, some users cannot tell the difference between a chatbot and human chat. Take a look at what happening in China with Tay and Xiaolce. This is known as the ‘Eliza Effect’ where people think they are communicating with a real person when in actuality it is a piece of software. When these same users then interact with fellow human-beings, things go awry.  They bring into the real-world human-to-human interaction a mental model partially based on how they felt and behaved while interacting with a bot. Dr. Margalit cites several studies done with children that are heavy smartphone users. These studies found a correlation to rudeness, impatience, imitation of video hero behavior, and disconnected attitude toward the real world.  Asymmetrical digital interactions are easier and don’t require effort on our part to really understand the perspective of other people, especially if their views are different. Gillin isn’t too worried about the slippery slope, “the focus of an organization on improving a brand’s business will keep it from running into the AI moral dilemma”.  Pitts and her Verizon team believe that “elements of AI like machine learning, natural language processing, and neural networks are poised to power the next wave of a digital revolution. Smartphones and ubiquitous access to high quality wireless networks have improved our lives in countless ways. AI-powered solutions will very likely further this transformation.” Interestingly, both Gillin and Margalit believe that chatbots should be visually tagged with a universally accepted icon so the unaware among us are always reminded we’re interacting with software, not our best friend. “Bots are changing rapidly as technology improves,” shares Pitts. “A bot that provides information today could provide contextual recommendations tomorrow. We are looking forward to watching these new technologies and integrating them when it will benefit our customers.” Chatbots are not likely to take over and drive all forms of customer communication. The technology isn’t that advanced and remains dependent on human design and oversight. The importance of this technology is its role as a stepping stone to the new world of IoT (Internet of Things) wherein traditional roles of sales, marketing and customer service will be completed transformed. We can either focus on redefining, in advance, what tomorrow’s organization, culture, and customer relationships should look like and guide technology development to further that transformation. Or we can be smitten with creating humanoid social bots that mimic us because in today’s increasingly isolating society we all need a new best friend. Originally posted in Forbes

Latest Customer-Centricity Battleground Is The Website

Websites are big investments for any organization.  Often perceived as the ‘face’ of an organization, the goals of corporate websites range from educating, selling to engaging customers or simply chest thumping on how totally awesome the company thinks it is. Just about everyone feels they have a voice when it comes to their organization’s website – Marketing, sales, customer service, product marketing, the CEO, the Board, etc.  The focus frequently shifts from consciously defining how the website supports and enables the buyers’ journey to appeasing a committee of interests.  That’s too bad because according to KoMarketing / Huff Industrial Marketing, 37% of survey respondents indicated that they will visit a vendor website 3 – 5 times before making a purchasing decision. The ineffectiveness of most websites is driven by digital marketing being slow to evolve their content marketing strategy to align with customer preferences.  Websites should be speaking the customers’ language and solving their problems instead of what most do which is broadcasting corporate brand messages and selling products and services by using company internal language. Five years ago 95 percent of websites were comprised of collateral and product/service pages. Today, according to Lionbridge, that should be less than 50 percent. The other 50 to 75 percent should be storytelling, challenge/pain solving content marketing, and enabling tools and information for key moments of truth. To dig further into the role that websites should play in customer-aligned marketing, I sat down Clint Poole, VP of Global Marketing, of Lionbridge. Christine Crandell:  Do websites still matter? Clint Poole: Today’s best websites serve as the backbone of a well-structured digital ecosystem whose components are meant to manage all of the desired customer/audience digital actions, from engagement to conversion.  The website itself should serve as the definitive source for educational and meaningful content that is re-distributed across multiple digital channels in the sub-formats that make it relevant to the buyers’ preferences for those channels. The website should serve as the hub. The educate vs sell angle is a massive one. Content that educates and entertains is much more likely to be linked to compared to brand-centric or persuasive content.  Customer-valued content gets you in front of new audiences with an element of credibility and social proof that can have massive viral effect.  The above factors increase your website traffic which increases the size of your engaged audience which leads to conversions thereby increasing your opportunities and ultimately translating into increased sales and revenue. Christine Crandell:  Where have marketers gone astray? Clint Poole:  There is reluctance to change or at least the lag time to change.  Over the past decade marketing professionals have become entrenched internally as they became overwhelmed with the complexities of the new marketing technologies and engagement channels.  Culturally, the function has lost its focus on customer intimacy that used to be its core competency.  We continually hear from Marketing leaders that they are driving “back to the fundamentals” of marketing, which includes developing an understanding of their buyer’s needs, preferences, and perceptions of a brand. For consumer marketers this is a challenge because their customers don’t necessarily want to have a relationship with the brand. That requires marketers to focus on analytics to drive conclusions and big data analytics have not been perfected to a point of prevision. For B2B, marketing measurement is just getting to a point of maturity where marketers can truly measure the influence of multiple touch points across a buyers journey.  They are still looking at the overall map versus truly understanding the buyer “moments that matter” and focusing efforts on those critical interactions. Christine Crandell:  You believe that websites should follow customer journey maps and engage in ‘educational storytelling’.  How can marketers operationalize that advice? Clint Poole: The key is in the application of a new website strategy where the purpose is to educate and engage through content that is meaningful, relevant, and interesting to the buyer.  This requires a finite understanding of the preferences of your target audience at each stage of their customer journey and creation of content that matters at each and every moment.  It’s a matter of prioritizing which moments on the customer journey are most critical because there are too many moments to treat them all equally and buyers are too overwhelmed with messages to absorb everything. Personalization tools are driving the tactical application of right content at the right time, but getting it right is tricky.  Personalization can be a powerful lever when real insights about your buyer’s pains are addressed through content and delivered at the right place and the right time with the help of tools that leverage digital body language and other knowledge about your visitor. Christine Crandell:  Popular belief is that ‘content is king’ and should live in the website.  You disagree, why? Clint Poole: We believe the complexities of buyers’ preferences require a brand to consistently distribute the same message and content via multiple channels simultaneously.  As such it can’t simply live on the website in isolation, but needs to be part of a well-designed content publication strategy that maps buyer preferences and effective formats for specific channels.  Each of the digital channels plays a specific role and those roles are maturing. Blogs were once the posting ground for short-form content that marketing couldn’t justify publishing on a website.  Blog posts were perishable content that fueled social and was often focused on “engagement”; not on ‘more serious’ product content.  Today, most marketers realize that the main goal of all digital channels is to build relationships and trust. In response, blog content is slowly shifting in tone and length and we are seeing blogs trade quantity for quality. Christine Crandell:   What are best practices to ‘assemble’ the right digital properties to build engaging, endearing, and enduring customer relationships? Clint Poole: We’re in the age of the consumer which means customers expect effortless, exceptional experiences every time they interact with your brand. If they don’t get it, you risk losing more than a sale. You risk losing trust, brand loyalty, and a profitable long-term relationship. Providing exceptional customer experiences is the new competitive differentiator. And since most buyers initially interact with companies through websites, mobile apps, and social platforms, the race is on to ensure quality experiences across those and all other customer touchpoints. My advice is to start by getting to know your customers through persona development, buyer process/journey maps, and intelligence based on behavior. Because only when you truly understand your customers’ needs can you coordinate touchpoints to provide consistent, seamless experiences that foster enduring relationships. Personalization is key. Today’s consumer expects the right content at the right time on the right channel—and in the right language.  Which means brands must now scale and adapt experiences to meet the needs of their various global consumers. It is clear that website localization (including multilingual SEO, social media, marketing campaigns, and more) is a business imperative, however there is still work to be done. We saw this in our recently released State of Web Localization Survey and were surprised to see nearly 40 percent of respondents are still without a strategic approach to website localization. The cost of not localizing can be counted in lost opportunities and percentage of lost global market share. Where do you start? With a strategy that delivers locally relevant content, consistent messaging—and exceptional customer experience on a global scale.  

Adobe Study Finds Email Is An Addiction

We all complain about it, threaten to shut it down and not look at it for it consumes countless hours with questionable productivity benefits.  I’m talking about our electronic tether to and the most convenient form of social escapism from the real, physical world – email. I have this game I play once a week, build a storyline by stringing together the headings of spam emails.  Is it the story about beautiful Russian women fighting to save the world from coming to an end because a special scientist has been jailed for revealing NASA’s secret for curing hearing loss and is being tortured by certain physical non-performance?  Or is the story about how to spice up live with an extra-marital affair? Wait, that story is actually taken byJosh Duggars and the Ashley Madison website. Not good use of my time you’re saying.  For a white collar worker it’s entertaining while standing in the TSA line.  We are addicted to email. Adobe Systems released the results from their latest email survey that included 400 interviews with USA white collar workers and Adobe’s Digital Index (ADI) which analyzed 17 billion visits coming from email. The study highlights are:

  • Americans are addicted to email and check it around the clock
  • People are guilty of checking email in awkward locations or times
  • Email is and will remain a cornerstone of workplace culture
  • Millennials check email more frequently than other age groups
  • Email marketers need to do a better job to improve conversion rates
Study respondents estimate they spend 6.3 hours each weekday checking their email.  3.2 hours spent checking work email and 3.1 hours checking personal email.  Nine in 10 respondents check work email outside of work as well as check their personal email while at work.  30 percent check their email in the morning while still in bed.  Clearly, FOMO (fear of missing out) is an affliction regardless of age and not just reserved for teenagers. Americans most commonly check their emails while:
  • Watching TV/movies (70%)
  • In bed (52%)
  • On vacation (50%)
  • On the phone (43%)
  • In the bathroom (42%)
  • Driving (18%)
If you’re a millennial, those stats go way up.  And email shows no signs of going away with 47 percent of respondents expect their use of email will increase over the next five years. It is one of the preferred communication and collaboration methods at work because it’s perceived as efficient and an easy way to share content. This is fabulous news if you’re an email marketer.  You have a captive audience but consumers find it annoying to have to scroll to read the entire email (28%) or wait for images to load (21%).  Interestingly, consumers want to see fewer emails (39%), less repetitive emails as well as less annoying or intrusive (32%) ones.  I would be thrilled with less email from brands that I don’t buy from and who got my name from a ‘partner’. Email that is more personalized (and not just using my first name or truncating it to ‘Christ’) and contextually relevant to me and my habits are key to increasing conversion.  Just because I’m a boomer female that lives in California and drives a Prius doesn’t mean I want weekly emails that share the local produce purchased by various ‘hot’ eateries in Palo Alto, CA.  That doesn’t help me.  The study found that 34 percent of respondents have had to “create a new email address or switch email providers due to an overwhelming amount of spam”.  If you’re in tech, that percentage is 53 percent. The Adobe study found that retail websites drive the most web traffic from email when they are sent to customers who actually want them and receive them in the morning, while still in bed, or during working hours.   Adobe ADI cites that “local visitors, who spend more and convert at higher rates, are twice as likely to come from email as from the average channel” assuming the email was sent to their mobile device. The obsession with email is driving an increasing number of people to go through email detox.  Four in 10 have “tried a self-imposed email detox, at an average success rate of 87 percent lasing on average five days”.   My best email detox was a two week trip to Bora-Bora where the data plan was massively expensive.  Know what I learned? The world didn’t end and if it was really important, the person will email you again or text you. First published in Forbes.

My Data Is Sexier Than Your App

I hear a rumble and it’s not the earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay Area last week.  It’s a market shifting; one of those “who moved the cheese” kind of rumbles. Marketers are challenged in achieving full customer lifecycle visibility and understanding how data science can drive more effective customer engagement and conversion.  So they invested in technology, much of it on a “leap of faith”, believing that the next application or new ‘cool’ technology will deliver higher quality revenue and better line-of-sight. Marketers being bullish about technology resulted in the infamous 1,876+ vendors graphic.  The MarTech space has begun to consolidate. The day of reckoning is upon MarTech vendors as companies take a hard look at the real ROI.  It’s not about nurture ads, retargeting, or predictive analytics in and of themselves.  Instead, marketers must prove to their CEOs and Boards ROI – how much revenue came or how faster the sales cycle is from the technology.  If the investment can’t be tied back to quantifiable revenue the odds are high that the particular Cloud application will not be renewed. Demonstrable ROI isn’t the only thing driving consolidation. Managing four to ten or more marketing applications with varying degrees of integration is a nightmare and expensive.  I have one client that uses Silverpop and NetSuite, one ‘talks’ to the other but not the other way. Marketing technologists, in- or outsourced, can be expensive. There has to be a better way and marketers are increasingly demanding that their table stake applications be on one platform. How the MarTech market consolidates and who the winners and losers will be remains to be seen. “Nurture, retargeting, predictive analytics, CRM, contact data, dialers, etc. really need to be all under one roof,” shares Henry Schuck, CEO of DiscoverOrg. “Predictive analytics is great but just knowing who the next likely buyer is doesn’t help if marketers can’t call them, email them, or put ads in front of them. Dialers are great, but not having phone numbers to call makes them fairly useless.” Schuck cites examples of the type of consolidation that marketers are looking as Salesforce’s acquisitions of ExactTarget and Pardot which bring Marketing Automation under the CRM Umbrella or Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua and Blue Kai which aim to do the same. In the midst of the debate about marketing technology is a growing voice about data.  Schuck shares that “without data you’re dead in the water.” Everything hinges on the QUALITY of data; it is food for MarTech applications. The cornerstone of best-in-class marketing organizations is accurate contact data and the prime source of value in the marketing technology stack. How did data become unsexy? Decades ago, long before the Internet, data used to be very sexy. It was the lifeblood of marketing. Every marketer knew that if the data they were using for direct mail, events and outbound calling was bad, there was no place to hide.  It was obvious.  Back in those days, due diligence on database companies or list providers was intense – how frequently were the contacts called and information verified, what were the data quality processes, how was the data maintained, etc. The king of database companies was a La Jolla, California-based organization called Computer Intelligence (not the current company with the same name).  The depth and accuracy of their account and contact profiles was unrivaled. How did data lose its sex appeal? “We got drunk on social media and high on content creation,” believes Schuck. “Marketers bought into the belief Hubspot was preaching that inbound will drive all the leads you need.  Interesting that Hubspot has an outbound sales team to generate leads.” The days of cold call being dead and replaced by social media are over. Ironically, the value of data as core to the ability to engage prospects and customers never went away; it just slipped from the limelight.  It’s back with marketers re-recognizing that high quality data is key to their success. The door has opened for companies like Avention, RingLead and DiscoverOrg to disrupt legacy companies like Dun & Bradstreet and Hoovers who have not changed their methods. “It’s almost as though many marketers gave up on the concept that data could actually be accurate or good, shared Schuck. “But newer technologies and companies are proving that good data is not unobtainable” Avention and InsideView gather intelligence on accounts and use technology to gather, aggregate and cleanse data. These companies are layering multiple data sources together to provide near real time insights into buyer intent. Bombora is a rising backend data source because they focus on algorithm data consumption.  Just giving you the fact that an account is doing research on a specific topic – is a good trigger for action. Knowledge of action taken is gold.  For marketers and sales reps accuracy is paramount to action that converts. DiscoverOrg believes that you still need a human to interact with database contacts to have truly accurate data and be able to leverage Bombora to the next level. Selecting the right data source still comes down to doing due diligence.  Schuck’s advice to marketers is to:

  • Track everything,
  • Know exactly the revenue realized from every tool and data purchase investment,
  • Invest only in those that result in measurable revenue,
  • Set benchmarks for each tool before making the purchase and measure it annually.
  • Keep all of your data fresh and in sync.
  • Be deliberate about how you keep your data current, clean and truly sales ready in your CRM and Marketing Automation systems.
Not all lists are equal and the best marketers track their data source performance in terms of ROI and pipeline. DiscoverOrg works with customers to track the ROI of their lead source as part of the customer onboarding process.  It’s all part of being in a valued relationship and making data sexy again.  

2015 State Of The Customer Success Profession

The “age of the customer” has had a dramatic effect on organizations.  New positions abound that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago.  One of those positions is the customer success manager. The concept is to have a team of employees focused on exactly what the position’s title describes – the success of the customer.  However, and ironically, companies have implemented the position to focus on getting additional revenue from the customer instead of ensuring the customer achieves their outcome first and foremost for the lifecycle of the relationship.   The function, as well as the industry of customer enablement and empowerment, remains early despite market rhetoric. The good news is that things are changing and rapidly.  That is reflected in the challenges the 2015 Customer Success Salary Survey & State of the Profession Report found facing customer success teams. It speaks to the need for companies to rethink and realign the definition of customer success roles :

  • Reactive approach to customers
  • Time management and focus
  • Visibility into customers
  • Scaling the team
  • Clarity of the role and goals
Totango, a customer success management software platform, released the results from their 2015 Customer Success Salary Survey & State of the Profession Report. The study was based on a sample of 748 participants comprised of Chief Customer Officers (16%), Directors of Customer Success (35%), Customer Success Managers (36%), and other related roles. The respondents were almost evenly split across team sizes of zero to five, six to 25, and greater than 25 team members. “The ranks of Customer Success professionals are growing by leaps and bounds.  It’s not surprising that we’re also seeing the growing pains of figuring out how to practically translate the ambitious mandate of “customer success” into the nuts-and-bolts of a day-to-day job,” shared Kaiser Mulla-Feroze, Chief Marketing Officer, Totango. 2015 compensation levels, compared to 2014, are on the rise with the median annual compensation for:
  • Chief Customer Officer / VP of Customer Success between $150,000 and $175,000,
  • Director of Customer Success between $125,000 and $150,000,
  • Customer Success Manager between $75,000 and $100,000.
The most popular compensation structure is base salary plus bonus (54%) with a small portion of the sample (20%) paid some form of a commission.  The criteria most commonly used to determine bonuses, in my opinion, contributes to the disconnect between the role’s title and customer expectations of the role. Thirty-seven percent of bonuses are based on renewals and upsells and over 55% of bonuses are based on team and/or company performance.  For those customer success managers paid commissions, 57% are based on renewals and upsells, 23% on upsells only, and 20% on renewals only. Based on the hundreds of B2B qualitative customer interviews I’ve conducted, when a customer hears that someone’s title is customer success, the impression is just that. The employee’s number one priority is that the customer achieves their target outcome and advocates for them within the organization. Since it’s been long acknowledged that people do what they are paid for, having bonuses based on company revenue performance or compensation based on renewals, upsell or commission generates a very different behavior and mindset than what the customer is expecting.  An opportunity for expectation mis-setting and customer dissatisfaction to occur. Over 77% of companies have had customer success teams for three years or lesswith teams coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. The study’s findings validate just how nascent this function is. While 34% of customer success teams are standalone functions reporting to the CEO, a significant increase over last year’s 15%, a disturbing 14% of teams still report into sales or marketing. While not a large amount, it speaks to the challenge of labeling something that it is not. Measuring customer success based on revenue generated is not a proxy for customer satisfaction or loyalty.  I know of one mobile application vendor in San Francisco that calls their sales reps customer success managers; they are still sales reps.   Another SaaS vendor assigns and pays their customer success managers on renewal and upsell quotas.  The result is sporadic customer engagement, underutilized products and an annual ‘re-educating’ of users on the vendor’s value. The most effective compensation models include customer satisfaction metrics over the lifecycle of the contract, product adoption/usage, and customer rating of their customer success managers.  According to John Ragsdale of TSIA, customer success / account managers should be responsible for renewal, increased adoption and identifying expansion sales opportunities.  Sales should be responsible for closing expansion sales opportunities Having the right person in the role is critical, not everyone is suited to ‘own the customer’.  It requires individuals that are empathetic, patient, problem solvers, technical and committed to both the customers’ and the company’s success.

Totango’s study found that 43% of customer success employees come from sales and/or account management compared to 24% that come from support/services organizations.  That background accounts, in part, for the role’s revenue focus instead of customer outcome attainment.  Other fields from which customer success managers come from include marketing, product/engineering, finance and consulting.

The good news is that companies are starting to realize that an overemphasis on revenue runs counter to what they and their customers want which are to build enabling and enduring relationships based on lifecycle outcome attainment:
  • Product adoption – 57%
  • Churn reduction – 55%
  • Onboarding – 47%
  • Customer advocacy – 42%
  • Customer support – 39%
  • Upsell – 20%
The bottom-line is that the customer success profession is critical to success in this “age of the customer.”  Companies have made great strides in the past twelve months in understanding how to staff, compensate and manage these customer-facing employees.  Mulla-Feroze sums it up well, “The profile of the Customer Success profession is clearly on the rise.  More teams are reporting directly into the CEO, and companies are investing heavily in growing the ranks of their Customer Success teams — from CSMs all the way to VPs and Chief Customer Officers.”

The one area the study did not measure is how happy, enabled and empowered the respondents feel they are.  Happy, empowered employees are the quickest road to loyal customers.

Lessons Serial CEOs Wish They Knew When They Started

Dr. James Canton, a futurist, stresses that companies must continually change to survive. “Uber-connectivity, high velocity, real time transactions, IoT and data overwhelm the average company struggling with fragmented technology, data and asynchronous transactions,” Canton recently shared with me. Most leaders, of any generation, are ill-equipped to deal with the multitude of challenges in front of them. There is a handful of successful CEOs that have figured it out and know how to blend intuition with technology and when to abandon traditional practices. I asked Sandra Kurtzig, CEO of Kenandy, a SaaS ERP solution; Keith Krach, CEO of DocuSign, a digital transaction management vendor; Andres Reiner, CEO of PROS, big data software; and Sid Banerjee, CEO of Clarabridge, customer experience software, to share the lessons they’ve learned that shape their leadership and companies. What is striking about all four of these serial success stories is how grounded and personable they are.  Each is driven by a passion to solve customer problems first and foremost followed by building a healthy company. They lead from passion and vision, not from ego. And eagerly shared their top five lessons learned. Be Customer Obsessed All four CEOs are obsessive about being “sticky with customers.” Kurtzig shared that “being close to the customer is paramount. Speed and agility are core requirements to responding to customers, on their terms.” Customers, today, have shorter attention spans and products need to support customer behavior just as much as key capabilities. Focusing on what the customer really needs instead of “trying to build everything into the product” was a lesson for Kurtzig. Her fourth company, named for her two sons Ken and Andy, started by accident like all her companies, to address a glaring need she just couldn’t ignore – the lack of a comprehensive cloud-based ERP software solution. Building the first release is a balancing trap many companies fall into, they either hold off market release believing robustness will be the defining differentiator or they release less than a minimum viable product. Her advice is to actively involve target customers as partners early in the product planning process. An engineer, one of Reiner’s hardest lessons was that the product didn’t matter. Enabling customers is crucial, “while products and technology are important, training and change management are the keys to success,” he shares.  “As a company scales, be watchful to not leave your customers behind.” The language and mindset of these CEOs is well beyond today’s popular customer experience rhetoric.  They expect their teams to not only understand customer behaviors along the entire lifecycle, but to build products that effectively engage those behaviors along the way. As the global standard for digital transaction management, DocuSign’s Krach shares, “We measure our success by our customers’ success.” In fact, all employees are aligned around a single, non-financial performance metric indicative of customer success: Successful Transactions.  And by aligning the company around this critical metric with everyone laser focused on ensuring the customer’s ability to successfully transact business on The DocuSign Global Trust Network, the company saw more successful transactions in 2014 than the previous, and its first, 10 years in business. While PROS is in the big data space, Reiner’s focus is no longer on features/functions but on how big data enables customers with recommendations and actions at key moments.  He believes that enablement drives consistent customer experience while increasing agility, for his company as well his customers. It's All About People A common characteristic of these four CEOs is a passion for employees and culture.  Having the right skill mix for each stage of the company’s growth was a key lesson each learned. Kurtzig believes in mixing the generations.  “Millenniums have high expectations of how software should perform. They bring a consumer mindset to enterprise applications. While seasoned employees bring deep experience and adult supervision,” she shares. “You need both.” Banerjee’s lesson is that people can make or break you, “invest heavily in finding and retaining the smartest people to work for you.” Along with building a culture rooted in accountability, “it’s important that team members understand why people succeed or fail. There are weak links and you have to move them into a different role or out of the organization,” shares Banerjee. “A culture of complete transparency, where everyone knows who’s accountable for what and how they are progressing is essential for high-growth companies.” Krach furthers, “The company with the best people wins.” Krach makes a habit of – and encourages his team to – “surround yourself with people who are better than you.” Kill Silos From The Start As companies hit the growth curve, knowing how to manage sales, training and employee onboarding in addition to products and customers is crucial. One of Reiner’s lessons was the dampening effect silos have on growth.  “Silo-prevention has to be part of the culture,” shares Reiner. “And that starts with leadership.”  For him, preventing silos comes down to hiring smart people that leave their egos at the door. “Diversity creates strong organizations where people naturally help each other,” stresses Reiner. “That, along with growing people from within by moving them across departments and roles, builds deep connections and empathy.” His advice is to look for people who measure their success by how well peer teams achieve their goals.  The bottom line is that all employees must model the desired behavior. Keep Life In Balance Krach emphasizes that humor is core to his leadership model. It keeps teams together and motivated through the inevitable bad times as well as the good times.  “Keep the vision in front of everyone,” shares Krach along with “don’t take yourself too seriously and keep a healthy work/life balance.” He’s quick to show you pictures of his children as well as the mementos from team building and company meetings. Kurtzig shares the same principle of keeping one foot solidly in family and life.  Family is priority and she actively seeks the input and advice of her sons. She does readily admit that being an engaged CEO and maintaining balance is hard.  Any C-Suite executive who claims to have ‘nailed balance’ is either not doing their job or delusional. Watch Trends More Than Competitors Keeping a close eye on the market while forging new paths is a lesson all shared.  Before Kurtzig started development of Kenandy’s first ERP application, she looked at Oracle, SAP, Google and Microsoft technology foundations.  Convinced the platforms were not future-ready, she (with some prodding by Mark Benioff of Salesforce) decided on Force.com. Her advice is to “keep a close watch on market trends” and don’t get too attached to your technology. “Take risks. In today’s market, proven methods are not always the best methods,” Kurtzig stresses. “If an emerging trend looks strong and is better than what you’re working with, embrace it.” Competition, viewed the right way, makes your company better because it forces the team to step up.  “At the same time, it’s important to focus a company on its own strengths and its own strategic vision, rather than being overly consumed with what the competition is doing,” stresses Banerjee. “It’s important to closely monitor the competition but not to the extent that it derails your strategy or causes the team to become destructive.” The Net, Net These five lessons are not what most readers might have expected.  Raising capital, hiring the first VP of Sales or Marketing, finding those initial customers, managing a board – none of these topics came up. These lessons were, in retrospect, the things these CEOs wish they knew when they started out. “You’re going to make mistakes,” Kurtzig emphasizes. “Learn from them.”  Banerjee offers six additional pieces of advice:

  1. Conserve cash
  2. Get comfortable with conflict and confrontation
  3. Be highly adaptive and flexible, especially with people
  4. Surround yourself with a support system of seasoned CEOs
  5. Don’t solve problems for your team, let them do it themselves
  6. When you’ve stopped growing personally, it’s time to move on.