Business leaders have many tasks to accomplish and prioritizing stuff can be hard. Yesterday I wrote about the need to “do fewer things, more often” in which I described that frenzied world we live in and why the shiny objects and distractions stop us from living up to our true potential.
Today I’d like to give that advice in more tangible terms and with a framework to think about your tasks – the funnel.
Sales people (and website customer acquisition folks) all think in terms of funnels and yet non-sales professionals seldom do. I’d like to encourage you to think about every new opportunity and every door opened as being at the “top end of your funnel” meaning something you’re working on that may or may not come to fruition. An example might be a business development conversation, a first customer meeting, the first candidate in a recruiting process, the first time you talk with a journalist at TechCrunch or the first meeting to consider your business strategy.
Having interesting and frequent opportunities at the top of your funnel matters.
But the ultimate score is only measured on the bottom end of the funnel. Meeting with 12 biz dev targets makes for great conversations with your board and takes the heat off of you for a while but doesn’t matter for shit if none of them close in the end. Meeting a lot of candidates to find your head of marketing is all well and good but if 2 months later you still have no one in the role you’re still down a person. VC meetings are easy to come by but money in the bank is the only thing that will fund your next 12 months.
We all know the type of person who lives in the top end of the funnel. They are the “shiny object chasers” who love to go to conferences, talk about “blue sky ideas” about what is possible and set vision for others to execute. In a way it’s intoxicating for those around them … initially. But lack of completion starts to erode confidence in one’s capabilities.
I point this out because in a world where it sometimes feels productive to be busy, people seldom find extreme focus to get stuff out of the bottom end of the funnel. I’ve met many VCs who take fund raising meetings with lots of LPs but struggle to get traction and I believe often the problem is that first meetings are easy but the 28 steps to get each LP to closure take an insane amount of focus, effort, follow through and discipline. Opening is easier than closing.
As a board member I’m sometimes a real pain-in-the-ass about this. I worked with a successful portfolio company recently that had to make some big moves in the market. I met with the leadership team and said, “What are the three big things we really need to get done to be successful this quarter” and we listed them, debated them and agreed on three. Now every time I speak with the senior team I ask about progress on those three things and am unwilling to talk about new stuff with them until I’m satisfied that we’ve made progress on the “big three.” I’m sure other people I work with recognize this focus on “are we getting stuff done.”
I recently helped a portfolio company with recruiting a critical, company-changing key exec (that I hope will be announced next week). The moment I realized that this hire was the right person for the company I dropped the 20 other things on my plate and didn’t let up until we had a signed order. I suck at a lot of things but tenacity is not one of them. And my greatest successes in business have come from this one trait of being tenacious to the point of obsession on the most critical things. Every night before I went to bed I would say to myself, what one thing could I do to make progress on this hire, which is why people who worked with me on it probably noticed a lot of late-night emails.
My weakness is that I have things that slip through the crack that warrant my attention, my strength is that I can get laser focused on the things that matter most to me.
Or as I learned from Steven Covey so many years ago in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Step one: Be proactive
Step two: Begin with the end in mind
Step three: Put first things first.
And that’s exactly it. Start, sure. Know where you want to go in the end. But DAMMIT put first things first. Get non-core things out of your way. Move stuff down the funnel and be careful about widening your funnel if you’re not closing enough of your tasks.
It doesn’t matter if it’s recruiting, business development, shipping product, writing blog posts, networking … it’s all the same. Lots of people start, very few finish.
And I bring this up because it comes up with many, many portfolio conversations. I hear about M&A deals and I get updates for months and months and finally say, “if you’re not going to buy them let’s stop fucking talking about it. If you think we have a reasonable chance at acquiring them at a reasonable price – what actions can we take to move closer to actually getting a deal done?”
Opening is a skill in its own right, but coffee is for closers.
(Cross-posted @ Both Sides of the Table)