Good leaders of early stage startups are often maniacally focused as they build their initial offerings, acquire their initial customers, and build their companies. While the charismatic leader who is fully engaged is often an important attribute for early success, it is usually critical that the leader know when to evolve their personal role and their personal focus to sustain the company’s ongoing success. Scott Maxwell, OpenView Venture, wrote a great article in which he made the analogy of leaders who mistakenly squander some of their early success by spending too much time watching the dashboard and not enough time watching the road. His point is that keeping an external verses internal focus is critical for leaders of growth stage companies for success.

When I work with companies that are in early growth stages who are seeing success it is sometimes the case that the leaders begin to believe that it is their personal involvement in every facet of the business that has enabled that success and as such they should sustain that involvement. While it may be true that their personal attention to all facets of the business was critical in the early phases, it is important to know when they should evolve their personal focus and begin to empower and trust their teams for the day to day internal operations.

During my morning walk, I came upon the lovely creature featured in the image above flaunting a 4.5″ wingspan and the curiosity of my inner nine year old was sparked to find out more. Inside I quickly was able to identify the moth as a Luna Moth. I learned that the Luna Moth comes from a caterpillar that feeds on black walnut tree bark. The fascinating thing that I learned, however, was that the moth itself does not feed on anything. In fact, the moth lives for about ten days and has a singular purpose during that brief lifespan – to mate in order to sustain the species. The moth has no time for eating or becoming distracted with other things – the Luna Moth is maniacally focused outside itself! The pressure is on, time is ticking by for the moth.

The pressure is on for leaders who are transitioning their companies from early startups to growth stage companies as well – the clocks are ticking for these leaders to make wise choices as they prioritize their own personal time and focus. Navigating the company at this phase often means the leader must recognize that it is time to give their teams the opportunity to run the operations while they redirect their energy and focus externally. Leaders who make the transition to early stage growth are typically the ones who maniacally focus on:

– Understanding the characteristics of their best customers;
– Recognizing opportunities to better serve those customers through refining their offers;
– Knowing the competition and maintaining a healthy paranoia with respect to the competitor’s ability to outpace them.

All of these items are externally focused. Like the Luna Moth, they are not prioritizing the internal machine over external focus. Like the Luna Moth, they know the importance of the external focus for the broader future of the company (in the moth’s case it is focus on the species survival of course). And unlike the mysterious rules of nature for the moth, they will hopefully be rewarded for this external focus by making their company viable for the future – well beyond just a ten day timeframe!

Business owners and their sales and marketing teams benefit immensely when they take the time to understand more about the quirky and irrational nature of effective persuasion. Human psychology is often incorporated into consumer driven marketing and sales, but sometimes gets trumped by market and segment analytics in a B2B (business-to-business) context. For B2B businesses, giving sufficient credence to the role that humans play in the persuasion dance is an often overlooked but excellent place to start your go-to-market plan development or refinement. For insight into enhancing and improving business success, exploring more about the actual human receivers of all of our messaging and sales and marketing efforts can yield valuable insights on how they choose to act or not act as a result of our best efforts.

In a world where analytics and objective rational data are overwhelmingly available, we are often reminded that human behavior and decision making does not always subscribe to nice neat predictive formulas! Science suggests that it is in fact more irrational factors than rational ones that guides our decisions. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic,a Professor of Business Psychology at the University College London, writes, “… effective persuasion highlights the irrationality of human thinking. We may be living in a data-driven world, but that does not make people more logical.”

Psychological research from UCL suggests that if we want to effectively persuade someone to buy our solutions or take our course or join our team, we should recognize that 90% of the time it is the receiver of a message (e.g. Offer, value proposition, proposal) who is more likely to influence the effectiveness of the persuasion than the prowess of the persuaders (e.g. Sales professionals, marketers, executives).

So for starters, putting some of the focus on these receivers back into our planning strategies and execution plans is critical for sustained business success. In workshops designed to hone messaging, value proposition and offer strategies and plans, I passionately urge teams to “start with the customer,” and challenge their inside-out notions of value with “I’m the customer, so what does it mean to ME? Why do I care about … how fast, amazing, beautiful, useful YOU think the solution is?” The very structure of our workshops are designed around this critical view that there are human beings on the other end that require and even deserve relevant them-centered (vs you-centered) engagement and value!

Getting to know how our receivers might make those irrational decisions can be a great foundation from which to challenge the status quo for go-to-market. Benefits are derived from considering key findings from the psychology of the receivers role in effective persuasion including:

• People yield to persuasion because they cannot tolerate ambiguity.
• Few things are more persuasive than fear.
• Persuasion is emotional first and rational second.

How do you incorporate this psychology in your own planning? Could you use it to better inform the creation of thoughtful A/B testing and marketing campaigns? Could you use it to formulate better sales playbook to raise awareness of this dynamic for your sales members and provide them meaningful and resonant messaging and support for ways to engage potential customers (the humans decision makers)?

At Lumen Strategies, we work with the executive teams to identify and develop pragmatic ways to go deeper in understanding the profile of your prospective customers and helping you bring the most relevant and valuable elements of what you do forward in your branding, your messaging, your offers, and your go-to-market execution. Contact us to learn more about our Go-To-Market Opportunity workshops!

Culture matters.  Culture really matters when a company is in rapid transformation fueled by growth.  This series addresses common “Growing Pain Gotchas,” and this post specifically speaks to what can happen when culture is compromised.  Remain alert to spotting early warning signs of vultures that are feeding on any decay in your cultural foundation and you can keep your company healthy and viable for future growth and success.

I was engaged with an early growth stage company who had done a very good job of identifying their target customer, delving into understanding the needs from the customer’s perspective and evolving and enhancing their offer to meet that customer’s needs.  The efforts were paying off and their metrics around new customer acquisition began to trend quite positively.  The founders had established a culture that embodied a number of values in support of their mission.  Integrity, focus on long term benefits for their clients, team work, and mutual respect among employees were all core elements of their culture.  Improved patient outcomes, their underlying mission, drove their decisions and priorities for investments.

Somewhere along the way, growth began to happen.  The pace of growth and the challenges and opportunities it raised began to consume the leadership team in the day to day as they struggled to stay ahead of the demands placed on the infrastructure.  The mood remained positive and enthusiastic so on the surface all seemed well.

I live in a rural part of North Carolina, and the Turkey Vulture is an omnipresent feature where woods and pasture meet highways used by cars and trucks.  Inevitably there will be roadkill, inevitably calves will be still-born in the pastures, inevitably the survival of the fittest of creatures will leave remains to be scavenged and removed by the Turkey Vulture.

In growing businesses, the frenzy of addressing the opportunity can result in a leadership team being so busy they temporarily abandon best practices of disciplined and thoughtful examination of the business’s cultural health.  This company’s leadership team simply got so busy peddling the bike to get up the immediate hill that they missed the signs that the wheels were about to fly off.  A talented individual was recruited to join the leadership team in support of the growth opportunity.  She brought with her an impressive rolodex of contacts and obvious salesmanship skills.  Blinded somewhat by the positive attributes of this individual, the team moved quickly to hire her and failed to sufficiently vet her with respect to cultural fit.

In this case, the individual began to scavenge for opportunity, but opportunity defined by her personal agenda which ran counter to the established culture.  Integrity was replaced with self-promotion at the cost of integrity.  This individual’s self-interest began to drive actions resulting in short term tactical sales wins rather than seeking and developing the long term partnerships with physicians which resulted in support of the mission of better patient outcomes.  The promotion of team-work inside the company was replaced with this individual’s insistence on taking contrary positions to the other leaders in order to create conflict in hopes of taking power.

Fortunate for this company, the founders had remained accessible to their troops.  They fostered an open environment where individuals, no matter the position, could come forward with suggestions or constructively share concerns.  The founders were jolted from their focus on the day to day when an individual contributor in the organization came forth and shared a story about tactics and focus in a recent “win,” the story exposed the behavior of the recently hired sales leader and the founders addressed it quickly.  They also agreed to make sure that a discussion around culture and a vetting for cultural fit would be key to any future hires.

Have you experienced growth recently that has consumed you in the day to day? Are you keeping a watchful eye on the foundational culture of the company you are building?