Monday, May 31, 2010

Strengthening the Bench

I am truly inspired by those Chicago Blackhawks. Although I would have loved to see the Leafs followed by the Habs in the Stanley Cup, I am happy that one of the original six has made the cut. It will of course be truly special if this team can erase its Cup drought and put the light once again on our Leafs to have a miracle 2010/2011 season!

One of the inspiring things about the Hawks is their Bench Strength. So far in the first two games, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines have been carrying the day. The Hawks top two scorers Kane and Toews remain off the goal sheet. Given that the team who is up 2 games to none has a historical 94% chance of winning the whole thing, the Bench has clearly done its job!

For early stage companies it is often a challenge of having just enough players on the ice to cover each position -let alone having enough talent on the Bench to substitute in. For established companies, the problem is one of building from the pool of talent that you already have and boosting your strength from within.

The Annual Performance Review process provides an excellent opportunity the Supervisor to sit down with their employees and have a "Development" conversation. This discussion should follow the review of the past performance and capitalize on the things that worked well and things that needed some improvement.

I am of course a big fan of starting with the End Goal in mind - specifically: "What are my career goals and aspirations? Where would I envision myself working and at what level 5 years from now? Are my goals realistic and possible within this time frame?"

Once the end game is established, an assessment of Strengths and Weaknesses needs to be completed. A great exercise is to have both the supervisor and the employee work independently on these lists and compare notes in a joint session. Many employees find that they are tougher on themselves when they do the self assessment. Tools such as 360 degree evaluation provide a very comprehensive approach to capture all of the components from several stakeholders.

Often to get to the next level, additional Leadership Competencies or Technical Skills need to be identified and developed to achieve the desired results. The creation of a personal Development Plan is the next step in the process. The Supervisor and Employee will need to work on this program together addressing the individual and departmental needs, time and budget. Components of the Plan could include formal training programs, on-the-job cross training, participation in special assignments, coaching services, volunteer work and gaining access to webinars on industry topics.

In a week I think that we will look back on the Stanley Cup finals and do a complete analysis of the outcome. In this review I know that we will find that Bench Strength made all of the difference.

Are you doing all you can to Win your Cup?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Targeting the Real Decision Maker

We read a lot about the selling process and how to target the real person who makes the final Purchasing decision. The problem, is that the approach may in fact be all wrong. Instead of concentrating on a Person we should in fact be focusing on a Thing - specifically the Brain.

I recently had the pleasure of attending a quarterly meeting of the CEO Global Network - an organization that provides peer to peer mentoring for CEO's. The guest speaker was a co-author of a book called Neuromarketing (Morin & Renvoise). Christophe Morin indicated that at least 80% of business self-help books purchased or given out at conferences remain unopened and on the shelf. After a couple hours with the Author I was truly convinced that this book would not be destined for the unopened faith. Let me provide some of Highlights to hook your interest and demonstrate how you will need to change your Sales Approach to increase the probability of success.

The Human Brain is composed of three distinct components which evolve as we grow. The First or Reptilian Brain is present at birth and ultimately becomes the trigger in our Decision making process. The Middle part of our Brain develops and processes our Emotions, while the Outer part develops our ability to Think. Research has shown that Reptilian Brain will make the final decision by considering emotional and rational input from the other two components.

Morin and Renvoise's research suggest that the Brain reacts to 6 key stimuli. By Mastering and Re engineering your selling proposal you clearly will increase your probability of success. These stimuli include:
  1. It's All About "Me" - The Brain is motivated by anything that pertains to itself. Presentations that spend too much time talking about your company and its products without focusing on what it will mean for prospect will be wasted effort.

  2. Clear Comparison - The Brain is sensitive to comparisons that provide clear differentiation. By making a product claim that is a sharp contrast to the competitive product you have speed up the decision making process of the Brain.

  3. Concrete - The Brain will be stimulated by having the facts presented in a clear manner. The more thinking that has to go into the process, the slower the decision that ultimately gets made.

  4. Strong Open / Powerful Middle /Strong Close - The Brain is a very efficient machine with an embedded energy management system. It will look for ways of conserving energy by forgetting about details in the middle. In sales mode the MRI studies suggest that you need to have a Strong Opening, a simple but Powerful Middle and a Strong Close. Recognizing the Brain's energy management system you will only have 10 Minutes for the complete process and your Middle section should be constrained to Three key messages.

  5. Stunning Visuals - The Reptilian Brain is directly connected to the optic nerve. This means that of all your senses, sight has the most immediate and lasting impact on a decision making process. We have written in previous blogs about the importance of this item and how it relates to crisp and uncluttered PowerPoint charts.

  6. Hook me Emotionally - The Brain recognizes over 16,ooo emotions which lead to chemical stimulations. It's no surprise that the most memorable commercials are those that somehow play to our emotions including Joy, Laughter, Sadness, Fear and Anger.

When we wrote about Messaging for Success the concepts were esssentially the same. The neat part here is that we can tie the Science of the Brain to understand why it works the way it does. Back to that ugly statistic on Business books on the shelf - I can assure you that this is one of my books that is already Highlighted, Dog Eared and in Active Use.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Do I need a Coach a Mentor or Both?

I had a young CEO approach me the other day with a Question that had been puzzling for Her for some time- "What is the difference between a Coach and a Mentor? Could I benefit from having Both?"

As I promote my ability to be the Entrepreneur's Entrepreneur providing both Coaching and Mentoring services, ( I felt compelled to respond.

On Mentors:
Mentors can historically be linked back to the Trojan War when Odysseus, the King of Ithaca entrusted his kingdom and the care of his son to Mentor. A common definition would include words such as : "trusted, wise, counselor, guide, teacher, role model, resource, support mechanism or sounding board". Mentors are usually self selected by the individual and the relationship is build on a solid foundation of chemistry and trust. The focus of the Mentor's program is all about the individual and will be dynamic and fluid depending on the client's changing needs.
A key trait of a Mentor's work is that the Mentee may choose to be selective of the advice they choose to heed. Mentors will Facilitate, Question, Listen, Challenge, Build and Inspire but for the most part, allow the Mentee to find their "own path to through the forest". Much of my work as a Mentor is personally enriching - there is not a session that I have with a Mentee where I didn't add to my long list of key learnings.

On Coaches:
Coaches on the other hand are established to: "instruct, direct and teach individuals or teams to improve in a sport, skill or subject". Coaches are usually focused on performance improvement and follow a very specific and regimented program agenda. (When was the last time your hockey coach asked what does the team wants to work on today?) Unlike a One on One Mentor program, a Coach could be working at the individual or team basis. Coaches bring both a perceived and real sense of authority or power to the relationship. Ultimately, the Coach is driving "compliance" to the advice and instruction. Results are clearly measured and linked back to the Coaching agenda.

On Both:
In response to the Headline question -its probably both. On the personal level, many would suggest that having a wise Mentor would be one of the most valuable career assets a leader could have. Coaches will also be critical in ensuring that individual and team performance levels are consistently challenged and achieved.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Kicking the Habit

One of my passions for the past couple of years has been the translation of Sustainability principles into bottom line profits.

To this end, I am an active CleanTech Advisor at the MaRS Discovery District and have been a lecture leader at Shulich, Sheridan, McMaster, University of Toronto - Mississauga and The Directors College on such topics as Climate Change, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility.

Recently, Tom Rand the CleanTech Practice Lead at MaRS released his long awaited book: Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit- 10 Clean Technologies to Save Our World - my copy arrived on Monday. As I did a quick scan of its content, I was reminded of one of the famous Seinfeld episodes featuring Cosmo Kramer and his "Coffee Table book about Coffee Table Books" . When on Regis and Kathie Lee, Kramer demonstrates that the book is so practical that its cover "actually converts into a Coffee Table itself". As my friend Sbrolla might highlight I am not comparing Tom Rand to Kramer by any means(!). I am simply underscoring that this book is one of the "more practical" purchases that you could make. It walks us through the 10 technologies that will allow us to kick the fossil fuel habit. These include: Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Biofuels, Hydropower, Ocean, Smart Buildings, Efficiency & Conservation, Transportation and the Energy Internet.

I found it 1) ENGAGING - Tom does a great in keeping it upbeat and ensures that it has element's of his keen wit; 2) INFORMATIVE - the text walks us through the basics, issues and opportunities associated with each technology; 3) TECHNICAL - Simple diagrams and photos take the complicated technology and make it easy to understand, 4) LOCAL CONTENT - lots of references to Canadian technology and even some Ontario based companies; 5)PROVOKING - gets you thinking about having a Trillion dollars to spend and what the impact would be of this money, 6) HOT TOPICS - in addition to the 10 technologies, Tom tackles Climate Change, Nuclear, Carbon, Hydrogen and Peak Oil; 7) VISUAL - the photo's are stunning and reinforce the fact that Windmills and Solar arrays are simply Majestic.

Overall a quick, visual and information book that deserves the read and an ultimate place your coffee table. As a Science, Sustainability and Academic Guy, this is Great work Tom!

Let's hope you don't follow Kramer's lead and spill the coffee all over the book when you get a chance to be on Regis.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Entrepreneural Gold Medals

I had the pleasure of being at the 2010 Olympics for the Gold Medal action of the final week. We witnessed first hand the power of our Hockey, Curling, Freestyle Skiing and Sliding teams in serious competitive action. What a complete and fulfilling experience. This is something that needs to be added to any "Bucket List".

As the Entrepreneur's Entrepreneur, I am always thinking about how we can "Accelerate the Path to Commercialization" for Ontario's technology companies. As I watched the teams progress, I wondered about the profiles and journey of our medalists. Are there any key learning from their profile that could be applied to help support our early stage Companies?

With the support Shantanu our co-op student at the RIC Centre (, we pulled the profiles of our Gold Medal winners and started to do some analysis.

Shantanu researched the early Gold Medalists including:
Maelle Ricker (Snowboard Cross) - a story about attending her first Olympics in Nagano in 1998, missing the Salt Lake games due to injury, having 8 knee surgery, placing 4th in Turin and subsequently finishing up the year on the top of World Cup standings just prior to Vancouver.
Christine Nesbitt (Speed Skating) - placing a disappointing 14th at Turin in her winter Olympics debut Christine vowed to remember what "losing was all about". She turned up her training and unlike many Athletes decided not to "save" herself for the Olympics - "fighting" and pushing her "mental toughness" to a new level.
Jon Montgomery (Skeleton) - a flamboyant competitor who was a crowd favourite in Whistler Village as he auctioned off a half pitcher of "golden beer". Jon was quoted as saying: "I'd give my right eye to be able to represent Canada at something. I don't really care what it is — tiddlywinks, volleyball. As long as it's something."
Alexandre Bilodeau (Moguls) - calls his older brother -Frederic his inspiration. Alexandre burst onto the World Cup scene as a wide-eyed 18-year-old, capturing FIS rookie-of-the-year honours in 2005-06. He felt "stung" by an 11th-place finish at the Torino Olympics in 2006.

Shantanu also analysed the backgrounds of the early Silver medalists including Kristina Groves (Speed Skating), Marianne St-Gelais (Speed Skating), Mike Robertson (Snowboard Cross) and Jennifer Heil (Moguls). By the middle of the week the pattern was pretty clear and the Canadian Medals were starting to show up on the podium with significant regularity. Curling and Hockey were also just around the corner!

The patterns that emerged were very powerful and have a significant parallel for our early stage Entrepreneurs. They include:
  1. Determination to Win from an early age. Many say that Entrepreneurs are born with their desire to Build, Create and Innovate.
  2. Love for their sport. Without Passion in your idea, venture or team you will not succeed.
  3. Inspiration from Coaches and Family. Family and Friends, Boards of Advisers and Board of Directors are important tools in accelerating venture success.
  4. Disappointments at earlier events and a thirst to prove themselves in Canada. A Key trait of any Entrepreneur is their resolve to achieve in spite of the odds.

Congratulations to all of our Athletics at this year's Vancouver Olympics. I know that you will be an inspiration to many of our Ontario based companies who are driving toward the Commercialization Finish Line.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Buying In" to the Numbers

As an Angel Investor looking at an early stage opportunities I often have roll up my sleeves and go into a Due Diligence exercise. Through this process, I warm up to the idea, I successfully poke at the technology and its patents, and I learn more about the leadership team and its ability to walk on water. If I remain excited about the concept and its market potential, I now turn to the financial section of the plan and wonder if I can Buy In to the numbers - "do they hang together in a believable sequence"?

There are essentially three sets of numbers that matter: Income Statement (Profit & Loss), Cash Flow (Operations, Investing, Financing) and the Balance Sheet (Assets, Liabilities, Equity). These three statements are interdependent and will require a financial professional to prepare and provide In Depth analysis. As an Investor, I know that the CEO can't be the expert on everything but I do expect them to be "Financially Literate" and be able to impress me with the highlights. Let's examine a couple of things that any CEO should be able to relate to on one of the key statements.

The Income Statement or Profit and Loss (P&L), summarizes the events that have occurred or are projected to occur in a given period (Month, Quarter, Year). The difference between Revenues and Expenses equates to the Net Profit of the organization.

  • Revenue - To me this deserves the most attention of our CEO as it reflects the effectiveness of the Go to Market Strategy. Are the products being sold as "one time" occurrence with an annual maintenance stream? Are they sold "as a service" with a monthly annuity payment? A new model that is also taking hold is the Freemium service. This is where the company provides its basic package for free and charges for any upgrades or feature enhancements. Freemium models lower the barriers for customers to sign up but have longer term conversion or upgrade issues. Many early stage companies will need to try a "couple of different" revenue models to hone in on what the market will truly support. The rules associated with Recognizing Revenue on the income statements are also important. Generally speaking, the revenue needs to be matched with the associated expenses in the period that it occurs. The Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has indicated that majority of financial restatements are for Revenue Recognition treatment. Another key component of the revenue line is the Sales Pipeline which captures a 12 month view of how the customers are anticipated to purchase and install the companys' products. A good Pipeline names each customer prospect, their anticipated purchases and timing, revenue recognition assumptions and has a very disciplined probability weighing scheme.

  • Expenses - In early stage companies the cash is usually very constrained and founders are working for sweat equity rather than salary so some of the historically numbers and ratios may not be representative of the financial picture moving forward. Staffing plans with associated salary and bonus levels, Administration spending, R&D programs, Cost of Goods Sold and the effect of productivity increases all need to be articulated with a solid set of assumptions. There must be sufficient detail to understand the key levers of the cost structure.

  • The Plan, Year to Date Actuals and a Forecast - The Financial Plan should be built on a yearly basis and "locked in" for reporting purposes. Assumptions associated with all aspects of the plan should be documented with key variances flagged for any significant change. At the end of each monthly reporting period, the actuals should be compared to plan of record and a revised Forecast should be made for the future period. A great habit to get into would be to have a "Rolling 6" quarter view of the situation.

  • Scenario Planning - A series of What If scenarios should be created that outline a probable, worst case and home run set of plans. A simple summary sheet that outlines the assumption changes for each scenario would be a useful tool for any reader of the material. A potential investor will utilize these scenarios to understand the key risks to the plan.

  • Ratio Analysis - A number of Ratios can used to analyze revenues and expenses in both a Horizontal (% change over time) or a Vertical orientation (% of the total). Beyond the simple % calculations there are a number of other ratios that analyse the Profitability, Resource Utilization, Liquidity and Stability of the company. These ratios utilize inputs from all three of the Financial Statements. Anticipate that others will "do the math" on your numbers - be appropriately prepared to discuss both your Ratios and those of your competitors.

  • Net Income - Net Income is what remains after you have deducted all the expenses including Interest and Taxes from your Net Sales. The profitability of the company can be manipulated by moving the revenue or expenses into different periods from one another. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) mandate the matching of these items into the period in which they occur.

It is recognized that many of our early stage CEO's may not be financial professionals. It is however expected that they will be Financially Literate and be able to understand the key assumptions and guiding principles that form the basis of their financial model.

A CEO who is able to demonstrate a clear financial understanding of their business will have better Buy In from potential Investors. It's not acceptable to suggest that you aren't the "Numbers Guy" so you don't know!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Frigid Cold Calling

We can’t but admire Mother Nature and this Great Canadian Weather. As the weather turns cold – many of us are stopped in our tracks. The same” stopped cold” phenomena exists for early stage companies who are faced with making those dreaded first time calls to prospects and potential partners.
The Frigid Cold Call is the most dreaded part of any sales or business development process. Understanding the dynamics and tuning your approach can be one of the more satisfying experiences for a Senior Executive. With a number of start-up and turn-around companies to my credit, I thought it was timely to provide some “snowshoe tracks” to guide you through the snow this winter. I break the process down into three Blocks of Ice.

“It’s Cold Outside”
In this block, you know that making these calls will be paramount to the long term success of your company. You have been sitting on the sofa by the warmth of the fire thinking about going outside and physically exerting yourself on the trail. Like many examples in life you know it will feel good after you have completed the task. Overcome the resistance and get on with it! Your first steps include:
Build your Lists – Whether you are at the Prospect or Suspect stage you will want to create a list for you potential clients and one for your strategic partners.
Research your Targets – It’s a good idea to know as much as you can about your Prospects. Warm introductions, web research and industry publications can contribute key content.
Set your Call Objective – It will not be feasible to close a sale or partnership on the first call. There is some industry data that suggests that it takes up to 5 calls / visits to actually close a new sale. Think about your situation and set your objective bar at a high and realistic level ("The objective of this call will be to fully qualify a Suspect into a Prospect and / or obtain a Face to Face meeting.")
Story Board your Pitch – Prepare a crisp 30 second story that describes who you are, what you have and why you would be compelling to meet with. The Pitch should not be completely scripted or read verbatim on the call. I suggest having a block diagram with a couple bullet phrases in each block. Anticipate some key questions about your company and what makes you different. Think about some open ended questions that you would like to deliver to enable an ongoing engagement throughout the call.

"It's Snowing Really Hard"
In this block you have completed all the necessary preparation and you are ready to start making the calls. You have moved off the sofa and have your hat, scarf and mitts adjusted appropriately. With snowshoes in hand you venture into the cold crisp air. Tips to avoid "frostbite" include:
Block your Calendar – Think about the time of day to make your calls. I am a morning person and I like to do them when I am fresh. Many executives arrive early to get some work done before the staff arrives. Your hit ratio may be enhanced at this time.
Polish your Manners / Adjust your Attitude– Dave Kurlan -author of Baseline Selling suggests that the formula for a successful call is 50% phone manner (Warmth, Sincerity, Pitch, Speed, Pace and Volume), 32% Attitude (I know I can do this) and 16% Script (Message content and call to action). Remember that many executive assistants are there to manage the executive’s time – ensure that you are treating all live interactions with the highest level of respect if your call is intercepted. One UK based blog suggests that if you "smile while you dial" you reduce the tension in your voice. Try it for yourself - it really works.
Check Your GPS Positioning – In real time, assess where you are in the process of achieving your end objective. Make necessary course corrections and utilize your know how about your prospect and your value proposition to converge on the close. "If not you, can you suggestion a more appropriate contact? Can I use your name in my next conversation?"

“Pushing Through the Snow Drifts”
The hard work doesn’t stop after you have completed the call. You need to clean off the ice from your snowshoes and place you mitts in a place where they can dry out.
Follow Through / Follow Through – As the conversation unfolds, highlight the appropriate next steps. Be sure to summarize the actions before you hang up. If you make commitments to deliver something by a certain time frame – ensure you do.
You Can’t Remember It All – Invest in some tracking software that helps you remember the call, its associated action items and any other relevant facts about the Prospect that may be relevant down the road (plays golf, has 2 kids, hates pushy sales executives etc.) Many companies start with Excel and graduate to Salesforce, Microsoft CRM, Goldmine and ACT! to name a few of the available options.
Bounce Back Quickly – All of your calls will not go as planned. The key will be to recognize that it is not personal and that you need to move on. When pushed into a pile of deep stuff, you need pop out quickly or suffer the cold wet consequences.

It's Time to take that Breath of Brisk Air and get into a serious Canadian Snowfall. See you in the lodge.