Combine the values of belonging, meaningful contribution and social capital, and you create a powerful force that can accelerate the growth of your business. This is the theory behind turning customers into advocates and using them as a central pillar in your marketing strategy. Makes a lot of sense. People value recommendations and advice from people they know and trust. However, less obvious but critically important, this is also the theory behind building a high-performing team and elevating your leadership.
Mark Organ, a dynamic serial entrepreneur who has created multiple category-defining companies, shared these insights and plenty of colourful stories to illustrate them at our most recent CEO Leadership Dinner. Mark first revolutionized B2B marketing as the founding CEO of Eloqua, the world leader in marketing automation software, which was acquired by Oracle in 2012 for $871M. Spurred on by the impact of customer advocacy at Eloqua, Mark launched Influitive in 2010 as a SaaS platform to help companies mobilise their advocates to drive business growth. Today, in addition to being CEO at Influitive, Mark is a regular speaker and writer on entrepreneurship, marketing and advocacy. His latest book, The Messenger is The Message, explores how to use your customers and advocates to drive growth.
Mark candidly revealed the gritty details of his entrepreneurial journey for our dinner guests, a rare opportunity to hear about the good, bad and ugly episodes that shaped his career. As a successful entrepreneur, Mark professed it’s his duty to share his unvarnished experiences and advice as a way to give back and help the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders. Here is a summary of Mark’s most memorable advice for entrepreneurs and CEOs.
The top three must do’s:
- Build a tight-knit and highly-engaged board. Dysfunction and futility at the top will eventually poison an entire business. As CEO, be open and transparent, demand the same from your directors, and be mindful of conflicts of interest. Appoint directors with relevant operating experience, and choose a lead director or independent chairman. Don’t let the board get too big or overloaded with investor directors, preferably no more than two.
- Foster a people-first culture. Businesses don’t grow, people and teams do. Provide generous training and development opportunities for everyone. Create a unique and strong employee value proposition to aid in recruitment and retention, especially for your best sales people. Do everything necessary to retain them!
- Invest in yourself. In a turbulent world, a prepared mind is key to success. Just as you need to invest in your team’s development, you need to invest in yourself. Be insatiably curious and make time for your own learning and personal growth. Get a coach and use feedback, including 360-degree feedback from your senior team and public reviews on Glassdoor.
Tips on building your team:
- Have a clear plan for building your team. People are catalysts for value leaps. Create and communicate a clear vision for how your team will look in the future as a bridge between strategy and execution. As Mark does, you can do this by designing and sharing 1-year, 2-year and 3-year versions of the team org chart.
- Consider a Chief of Staff. A CoS serves the CEO and makes them a superhero. A CoS has no direct reports, but supports the CEO on strategic and critical items across the organisation, working with employees, customers and board members. Unless your business has reached considerable scale, this role is a better option and can be more impactful than a COO. Read more in Mark’s interview: Why You Need Two Chiefs in the Executive Office.
- Hire a CFO when the time is right. A good CFO is instrumental to building the systems and processes required for scaling a business and to freeing up the CEO to focus on more forward-looking initiatives. When do you need to make this pivotal hire? Mark’s rule of thumb is at $5m ARR. At Frog, we agree a CFO is a growth stage requirement.
- Hire the best, don’t compromise. It’s probably the most common piece of advice, but it’s worth repeating. Hire people that are better than you. Don’t compromise. Better to leave a position vacant than fill it with someone who doesn’t clear the high bar you need to maintain. As Mark says, “Better no breath than bad breath”. But, don’t neglect young, high-potential up-and-comers. Stars in the making can make a big impact. They may make mistakes in the beginning, but they more than make up for it as they grow and develop.
Marks’s insights were complemented by comments and questions from our guests. We were delighted to have seven executives from our portfolio attend: Adrienne Minster (COO at Rated People), Alastair Brown (VP Marketing at Dealflo), Alicia Navarro (CEO & Co-founder of Skimlinks), Dave Bailey (CEO & Co-founder of Mediatonic), Geoff Watts (CEO & Co-founder of EDITED), Julia Fowler (Co-founder of EDITED), and Michael Kent (CEO & Co-founder of Azimo).
We were also pleased to welcome B2B SaaS leaders David Benigson (CEO & CO-founder of Signal Media), JP Kloppers (CEO & Founder of BrandsEye), and Keesup Choe (CEO & Founder of PredictX).
While Mark and Fraser Stark, a former CoS and now VP EMEA at Influitive, brought considerable expertise on B2B marketing and customer acquisition strategies, the debate over dinner kept coming back to one thing, people. Advocates, customers, employees, board members, CEOs, and even family and friends all play an important part in shaping a business. There’s no doubt, whether a business succeeds or fails, it’s ultimately because of people.
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