Chief Executive Officer or Chief Evangelist Officer?

December 1, 2014

Start-ups are often perceived as "the little guys with a big vision". They usually discover how a process or product can be made better, cheaper, faster or some variation on this. They craft a logical story around their vision and begin telling anybody who will listen, often tweaking the story as they go.

So once the essence of your story is put together, how do you sell your idea to specific audiences? Do you hire a proven sales professional who's job it is to call on targeted companies, pitch the good pitch and close the deal? Do you start acting like a big company even though you are not? Not only can you not likely afford that sales person, you have to ask yourself “will my target audience even give them the time of day ?”("you're from what company?"). Have you set them up to win?

Jason Tham, CEO of Nulogy who has developed a networked platform that connects packaged goods brands to their suppliers around the world, states " Some of the best advice I was given very early in our development was that the job of spreading the word and engaging customers was squarely in the CEO's lap - whether I like it or not. During that period I was being pulled in many directions and I had to prioritize and optimize my time. I had never envisioned myself as the lead sales guy. But on the sage advice of Robert H.Lane, as the Founder and author of the vision I made the conscious decision to be the firm's Chief Evangelist Officer, spreading the word and looking for client "partners" to engage us to solve this problem with them.  It forced me to get out of the office. By accepting that role in the early stages, I engaged with the marketplace, finding our target audience's real pain, allowing me to 're-frame' our offering - to tell the story a slightly different way that actually resonated with our target audience. Soon they were as enthusiastic about the concept as we were. I quickly realized I wasn't 'selling' them anything, I was infecting them with a vision that we all knew could dramatically improve the way they did business. The real bonus was the learning - the feedback from those experts in the industry that allowed us to add color, lustre and dimension to our original vision. That is something we could not expect a 'hired gun' to do. In fact, it was a job that could only be done by the CEO.”

In a large enterprise the CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer. In a start up it has a completely different meaning. In a start up the CEO is the Chief Evangelist Officer. The CEO is the face of the idea. He/she must exude enthusiasm and passion for the concept like no 'hired gun' ever could. They must carry the carefully crafted message to the world, even when the world doesn't seem to care. Their consistent, persistent message must fill the room until eventually people start to pay attention.  Tham explains, " I noticed the core idea doesn't have to change - just the small phrases we use to explain them. When you can 're-frame' your concept using their own words, they tend to embrace it far more easily as their own. I would have never considered myself a good salesman, but quite honestly, I found I was much better at it than most 'professionals' I could have hired. And because our customers were dealing with the CEO they felt respected and acknowledged. We can tell customers they are important in all of our marketing materials, but serving up the CEO to help them define and solve their problem - that's putting our money where our mouth is."

If your business plan includes hiring professional salespeople - think twice. The most important job in the company belongs to the CEO. Get out and talk to your target market. The benefits are abundant.

1. The process of telling your story evolves with the input and small details that can only be uncovered in conversation and interactions. Get out of the office.

2. 'Sales' is not a dirty word

3. Your customers love dealing with the Founder - the really big boss.

4. Relationships drive your business. Create them.

Start ups and CEOs from -30- Strategic Communications

Derek A. Lackey

A serial entrepreneur with many failures and successes, Derek has spent 20 years in traditional advertising, along with the past 8 in digital marketing. His ability to fuse the two with fluidity and... »

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Derek A. Lackey

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Robert H. Lane

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