Advisors learn too: what are the new lessons?

Howard Bell and Pete Daffern have been passing on their experience in leadership through crash and recession to CEOs around the world. But what lessons have they been learning – and passing on – through this new situation?

Howard: what’s different

“The rules of economics are unchanged, but the nature of the challenge is different. So is the context. World trade has shut down physically, but the digital environment means life – and business – can continue in many cases. Back in 1987, 2000 even, the digital framework wasn’t there.”

Pete: the truth about people

“One view of mine has only been underlined by all this: 99.5% of people are awesome. They’re good, hard working honest people with a moral compass pointing in the right direction. They get it, they can see the bigger picture. (It’s hard, but you can’t let that negative 0.5%, one person probably, distract you logistically or emotionally.) The stories I’m hearing are heart-warming. This is why I’m saying to CEOs, don’t be frightened of leading! Your people – the smart ones you want to keep – will understand and they’ll rally around honesty..

Howard: cuts on cuts

This feels more like 2000 than 2008. Back then, you made the changes, made the cuts and reached what you thought was the bottom step only to realise there were more steps to go: cuts on cuts. Incrementalism is disconcerting. It’s hard, but getting lean very quickly, yet not cutting the vital muscle, is the balance CEOs have got to achieve.

“Go through every vertical, in every country with every salesperson”

Pete: from the bottom up

A CEO I was talking to recently said to me, “the customers that have churned are not a surprise to me.” Those folks you had to do acrobatics to try and keep happy, they’re the ones I’m telling CEOs to let go of. Go through every vertical, in every country with every salesperson and identify the ones who are going to renew, who absolutely need your product. If you don’t know, pick up the phone and have the conversation. Gather the data.

Howard: leadership from truth

CEOs should have a red bucket and a green bucket. There’s no room for amber. Green are the customers for whom your product addresses an urgent need, the reds are the time-wasters, the talkers, who haven’t – or don’t realise they have – the urgent need. As Pete says, you probably already know who they are.

“Let your data inform you, not your vision deck from three months ago.”

What’s the world telling you? Let your data inform you, not your vision deck from three months ago. As Chairman, I’ve been asking for real data. Show me what’s red and what’s green, based on real conversations. What’s the derived demand? What are the defensive attributes that will keep on going, on automatic renewal and even upsell? Those things investors thought were boring about this business when they came in, the committed spend from sectors like Health, HMRC, Government – they’re now the pipeline.

Pete: shining a light

You should only have been selling your product to those who needed it and got value out of it. The days of high-fiving each other for selling something they didn’t need for a lot of money are well and truly over. And good riddance. There’s no hiding place now. This situation is shining a light on the hard truths it was previously possible to live with or ignore. In a few cases I’m seeing just how fat some companies had gotten: too many engineers for example, too many in finance. The job always was, and now especially is, to build pipelines and customer bases that match the unmet needs of customers.

Howard: more intimate

In some ways the move online creates more intimacy, more focus. Most entrepreneurs are digital natives. They’re less hindered on a screen and we can get to the point faster.

Pete: future change

I’m hearing noises that the big annual customer conferences, that can eat up 90% of a marketing budget – 90%! – may be a thing of the past, thanks to the move online. That’s something to think about. Face-to-face will just be part of the mix.

I mean the only thing I can’t do on this Zoom call now with Howard is make him a cup of coffee.


Not that you did that before…

What else have Pete and Howard been telling CEOs on both sides of the Atlantic about crisis leadership? Read more here.

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