Founder And CTO
When we started, we thought we had such a great product that the OEMs would just adopt it, and sell it for us to the mobile operator behemoths. But while the established OEM suppliers were keen to talk, they never really had an intent to adopt our stuff. They spent a lot of time and energy briefing the operators against us, while smiling encouragingly at us – what the Americans charmingly and accurately call the “grin-fuck”. We needed to reach out to the end customer directly and make sure our product was tuned to meet their needs, even though we didn’t have the resources to deliver it directly on our own. This took a long time and a lot of conversations, and we were lucky to have something interesting enough to talk about. We got very good at answering the question, “If this is such a good idea, why aren’t our established OEMs doing it?” without reaching over the table and slapping someone. While this was going on, and we were more and more confident that the customer was really going to buy, we had to find a partner to supplement our resources to deploy and support the solution. We found a good one – someone who wasn’t an established OEM to the customers, but who had scale and reputation and from adjacent fields, and crucially, the ambition to displace the incumbents and the muscle to do it. Also, and this is also crucial, this partner had the financial ability to support us with product sales while the end customer dilly-dallied. But while a big like-minded partner is essential, it brings its own challenges. You start out thinking they can do the heavy-lifting with the customer, but they won’t and actually can’t because we were the product experts, not them. The reality is that they focus the customer’s red-hot fire-storm of demands down to white-hot pain points which we had to learn to deal with. But we did win out. We beat some massive OEMs to the contract, and deployed over 2m product. The solution is still operating in the network ten years later.
So if I’m going to summarise that experience, you need (i) a great product that you’ve honed to the customers’ needs over a significant period, (ii) a great partner who believes in the product and mission, who is motivated as much as you are to succeed, and who can support you financially through the ups and downs of the deployment at scale, and (iii) a few seriously talented, super hard-working and fire-proof individuals who can manage the demands of the customer as concentrated by the partner and turn them into executable actions to move the business forward. Leave your ego at home, don’t get angry, look yourself in the eye every day, deal with things as they are, not as you think they ought to be, work to make them how you think they ought to be. And most of all, enjoy it. It may turn out to be your only shot.
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In my experience, the best small businesses use their natural agility to out-serve and out-manoeuvre larger more stable and more structured competitors. This requires an obsession with understanding what customers truly want and value. This of course is constantly changing as the world around customers changes. Large well-staffed incumbents often assume that what worked in the past and "the way we do things around here" will continue to work in the future. Challenging this is what enables small disruptors to create an exciting new normal. New businesses that maintain this obsession and constantly look for customer problems to solve, will in my experience find opportunities that others miss or are too slow to grab. Having the confidence to then invest in their growth ensures this is sustainable. However, as they grow and need to add new people and build their own processes and disciplines, the challenge is to ensure they don't become the bureaucratic, "stuck in their ways" incumbents themselves and free the path for further new entrants. This requires them to be careful in hiring people with similar values and work ethics to the founding team and thinking hard about getting the right balance between structure and control to support a scaling business less able to co-ordinate informally, and flexibility/freedom to do the right thing to ensure ongoing agility.
Head of Sales
What makes your product or service useful to the person you are selling to? There is a real focus currently on unique selling points, however, if the product is unique, clever, and innovative but not useful to the person you are pitching to, they may be impressed, but they are unlikely to buy it. Unique is great but useful is vital, so make sure you do your research on why it will specifically help them.
1. Curiosity An entrepreneur's ability to remain curious allows them to continuously seek new opportunities, learn/unlearn and keep innovating. 2. Collaboration over competition Two brains are better than one and once you start brainstorming and sharing ideas with like-minded people, the sky is the limit in terms of creative ideas and achieving goals. 3. Humility: Humility strengthens self-image while simultaneously helping tone down the unhealthy ego. C.S Lewis said it right - 'True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.'
1. Great communication skills. 2. Ability to negotiate. 3. Power to motivate people.
1) How my "Big plans" years later would seem small because we often underestimate our ability to achieve. Dream Big! When I started FABRIC I was aiming to create a job for myself that I could do for the rest of my working career that wasn't in statutory social work. I didn't know what an entrepreneur was I was simply trying to find a way to have a job where I was making the difference I wanted to young people in need. 6 years after we opened and I am applying for funding to create a franchise model so that young people across the UK and potentially globally can benefit from our model. 2) The power of numbers- yep the self-confessed word lover now places huge value on the power of numbers. When I started FABRIC I had a business partner who was an accountant and I left all things numbers to them. I leaned away from what I didn't like and essentially gave all my power away. Knowing the figures in your business can be as powerful as the difference between succeeding or going insolvent. I am now the sole shareholder and director of my business, knowing the numbers enables me to answer questions confidently when applying for funding, feel strong in my day-to-day management of the business and helps me make even bigger plans! P.s get a great accountant, one you connect with and one who empowers you to understand the finances of your business. If they don't have time to help you understand- go elsewhere! 3) That business is a rollercoaster and not just over a year, sometimes it's daily and even hourly. Understanding and expecting this has enabled me to flow with the challenges. The business rollercoaster is challenging at times but don't fall into the trap of feeling you need to hustle, 16hr work days don't do anything positive for you or your business. When the rollercoaster is tough, make more time for self-care not less. Over time the peaks and troughs get less high and low and you learn to ride the wave. "The sweet ain't so sweet without the sour"- take time to look in the rearview mirror and at what you've surpassed!
I actually have six tips! 1) Some people want to be developed; others don’t. Don’t use your influence/position to push people into roles or activities that you know they can do - but they might not actually want to for a variety of reasons. You will lose them. 2) Trust people, treat them like adults and don’t micro-manage. Never make new rules as a knee-jerk reaction based on one or more people abusing a system or process. Just deal with that person/transgression and don’t penalise everyone. Your trust will be returned in spades. 3) Muck in. Help out. Carry out tasks that may well be ‘below your pay grade’ if it gets the job done, reduces stress on your staff and keeps the client happy. But don’t make a habit of it and fix things to make sure it doesn’t keep happening! 4) Be open. Share information; seek opinion and be prepared to change/admit to your own mistakes so that others will be open about theirs. 5) Make sure people know it is okay to have areas of weakness; and that they should have enough confidence in their strengths to admit to and ask for help with weaknesses. That is the point of working in a team. Nobody is good at everything. 6) Recognise and appreciate the extra mile and reward it in some way; from a simple heartfelt thank you to a pay rise. (Oh – and just multiple thank yous won’t cut it!)
I'm from the B2B SaaS world where we need to work closely with our clients to make sure they are getting maximum value from our platform - otherwise, they won't renew. Value means different things and doesn't necessarily equate to $$$$. At Ada, we're a HealthTech platform and we work with our partners to save them money but, more importantly, to help them deliver better health outcomes to their end-users. Find out what value means to your client and work together on a plan to deliver it.
Head of Marketing
In B2B, it's easy to think of your customers as entities rather than sets of human beings doing their best to get things done. Especially as a marketer, it's dangerously easy to get seduced by what you can measure and overlook the fact that to have great, sustainable relationships you need to have good listening skills and a good memory. I'm lucky that I work with a team of outstanding Account Directors who provide me with a consistent stream of actionable information around their customer accounts. Nothing beats regular conversations with customers, but I'd say that the single most important thing for us to understand about our customers is: what are they trying to achieve? We use the Jobs To Be Done concept as the starting point for all our content and sales enablement planning, as it forces us to think of our customers as emotional beings who are looking to get things done - our job is to help make that happen.
As a lawyer involved in the business and property world the first rule of marketing is to focus on existing client service. It is obvious but so often overlooked in professional services firms who are often chasing the next big marketing idea. Be of service and value to your clients and they will stick with you and recommend others.
Chief Sales Officer
Salespeople must have drive and empathy. They need drive to push past obstacles and risks that customers, competitors, and their own company, put in their way. They need empathy so they can think like the customer, understand what is motivating the customer and so the salesperson can see the customer's problems from the customer's perspective. For superstar salespeople, you need two additional attributes, inquisitiveness to have them search and seek for more information and to fully understand problems; finally, you need intellect because the more you can solve the customer's problem the more successful they will be. What salespeople can do to be successful is to think like the customer so they can understand their customer's problems. They need to take the time to think, not simply react and respond to a customer's demands. Finally, they need to be proactive. It is not the customer's job to buy our products - it is their job to do their job, successful salespeople do a lot of the work the customer needs to do in evaluating our products for the customer.