It takes a leap of faith, but you can do more for your business by spending time with your friends than meeting strangers.
A CEO's job completely changes as a business grows from a start-up into a big company. When I speak to start-up CEOs, they are focused on getting their idea in front of anyone who will listen. If you have a pulse and ears, they will try to sell you their product or get you to introduce them to someone who might be a buyer.
As the company grows to 20, 30, or even hundreds of people, the CEO must become more discerning about which lunches to set up, which phone calls to take, and which emails to return. It's no longer possible to talk to everyone, so the CEO must prioritize the best opportunities--the biggest customers, the most important partners, and others with the most potential to have an impact on business growth.
Some CEOs will create rules of thumb: "I need to spend 20% of my time recruiting new leaders," or "I need to meet with each of our top 10 customers once a quarter," or even "I will meet with anyone who has the potential to bring us new business."
But every CEO probably has a valuable network of trusted relationships or advisors who can help them to prioritize. What if you just took their cue on whom to meet and which potential customers to target? What if you spent your time educating them on your business, rather than pitching your business to new customers? Would you get better results?
We believe you would. Here's how it works.
1. Prioritize From Your Network
When someone contacts you, ask a simple question: "Who referred this person to us?" If it's one of your most trusted relationships, respond right away. If the meeting was suggested by someone you know or have done business with, you still will want to take the meeting but potentially with less urgency. If you don't know the person and they were not referred by anyone you know, deprioritize the meeting or refer it to someone else.
2. Educate Your Network
Invest the bulk of your schedule meeting with the most trusted advisors in your network. Educate them on the things you need to grow your business--customers, partners, quality recruits, etc. Then ask them to suggest meetings for you. A warm introduction will go a long way toward making the sale.
3. Ignore Opportunities Outside of Your Network
If you chase opportunities outside of your network, you will probably lose the opportunity--so don't waste your time. That customer or contact probably has other alternatives within their network and they will favor those companies over yours. You will be differentiated only if one of your contacts vouches for you, and you will be disadvantaged if you do not have that connection. If you get a résumé from a potential recruit, ignore it unless the recruit was recommended by a friend.
It takes a leap of faith, but you can do more for your business by spending time with your friends than meeting strangers. Take the hour in which you would have met with a new prospect and spend time with one of your trusted advisors. Ask them for referrals, and when they do refer someone, take that meeting immediately.
KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree. @karlstark