Just as toddlers must learn their ABCs as they grow up, so must entrepreneurs learn their ABCs if they want their companies to grow and prosper.
So here are five of the ABCs that entrepreneurs must master in order to succeed.
1. Always Be Customer-focused- know your customers and make sure you are solving real problems for them and doing it for a price they will gladly pay, again and again and again. Really know and understand them, do your research, ask them questions and then listen to their answers. Ask yourself constantly are you truly fulfilling an unmet need or are you delivering the newest USB wine opener? Remember, Always be customer-focused.
2. Always Be Creating- if you aren’t creating new and interesting products/services then you are a one-trick pony and your company probably will not survive. Now if all you want to be is a one-trick pony, fine but that makes for a very one-dimensional company. You should always be creating new products and services while also refining your current products or adding additional features as needed. But beyond your products you should be: creating new and better ways to reach your customers; creating new and better ways to reduce your costs; creating new and better ways to deliver your products or services; creating and expanding into new markets; and so on. Always Be Creating.
3. Always Be Communicating- Not just to each other within your company but to your customers – it’s never been easier to have direct, frank and unfiltered conversations with your customers. If you aren’t using most of the full array of social media tools available you are missing out on ways to better understand your customers as well as missing out on what your customers are saying to other people about your company. But beyond using Twitter and Facebook, you have to communicate internally to make sure all parts of the company are working towards the same goals. This communication doesn’t stop with the CEO but continues up to the board of directors and out to the investors. And it goes down all the way to the newest intern or temp worker. Just as a dog sled team has to be pulling in the same direction and be led by a lead dog, so too does your company – and it’s your job to make sure your everyone in your company understands what’s important. BTW, the Always be Communicating title was borrowed from Evan Schumaker’s Quick Tips for CEOs, check out his blog - well worth your time to read. The content above however is all mine and Evan should not be blamed.
4. Always Be Concerned – if you aren’t concerned about what’s around the corner, you’ll soon be blind-sided by something or somebody. Always be concerned about your competition – what will they do next? Always Be concerned about the changing marketplace – are you selling 3 1/2 disk drives, but the market is embracing USB drives? Always be concerned about your customers – are you still meeting their needs? Always be concerned about the changing economy or by a thousand other potential problems. Being concerned means you have to look forward and anticipate what might happen while also solving all of today’s problems and cleaning up from past problems or decisions. And you should never stop being concerned, at least not until you’ve successfully exited the company. Then you can be concerned about a whole bunch of new concerns. Always be Concerned.
5. Always Be Closing- Sales matter. Without sales your company will cease to exist, sooner or later maybe, but cease to exist it will. Sales not only bring in revenue, but they provide valuable information from actual paying customers about how your product actually works in the real world for real people. All the market research in the world can’t stand up to what the people say who actually pay for and use your product. Beyond revenue and information, sales cure all manner of problems – internal conflicts begin to dissipate when people are closing deals and board discontent rapidly diminishes as you increase the number of paying customers.
Don’t however take the Always be Closing mantra too far or too seriously. As much as sales matter, your reputation matters even more. Sometimes the best thing for your customers and your company is not to close a particular sale. The reasons may vary but trying to close a sale when you shouldn’t only makes you and your company look like schmucks. That being said no discussion of the ABCs would be complete without watching Alec Baldwin’s “inspirational speech” from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. I’ve actually had sales managers trot out this speech or variations of it in without any irony. If you haven’t seen it recently take a look at it below. It’s always good for some perspective.
So which Entrepreneur ABCs did I miss? Which ones did I get wrong? All comments and suggestions are welcomed. -t