Thursday, March 27, 2008

What CEOs care about - and how to get them what they need

One of my theories on how to be a good CEO is to keep things simple. I focus on four areas of the company, and I have no more than three priorities at any one time. This makes sure I deal with the critical issues, both strategic and tactical, and put great people, process and delegation in place to run the operations of the business.

I was reminded of the four areas when I put together a presentation on how to use intelligence for a CEO recently. I believe the important areas for a CEO are:
- Strategy
- Customers
- Investors
- Culture

For Strategy, search-driven research (this is web-driven market research like FirstRain) impacts how the CEO and his/her team understand their market. It's important to track
- market structure and trends
- fundamental drivers
- customers supply and demand chain
- partners and competition
- geographic changes in demand
in order to gather intelligence to support strategic decisions and validate or invalidate a strategy decision. We've seen customers drive FirstRain results to the CEO for strategic issues - macro economic, company and market trends showing first in the web - as well as within marketing for tactical competitive analysis of product lines.

For Customers, having a powerful intelligence system enables the executive team to stay on top of everything driving major customers: trends in their markets, deal win and loss, management turnover, supplier issues etc. and to be current on what senior management from the customer has been saying to investors and to the press. We have customers who use FirstRain to research everything impacting their major accounts so that the CEO and sales executives are continuously up to date on what matters to their customers.

Investors are the source of capital for both public and private companies and it's critical not to surprise them. Achieving this means not only keeping them up to date, but also being very well prepared when you meet with them. Prepared to engage on discussions about your competitors, the market, customer trends and at the same time, if you are public, being careful not to breach Reg-FD. Having prepared for many earnings calls myself, I know how powerful it is to be able to do earnings call prep with a system and not hearsay.

Finally, for Culture, the intelligence system is your feet. There is simply no substitute for walking around and talking with you employees. But for the first three, search-driven research is a powerful tool to keep the CEO and executive team on top of the strategic areas that drive the business.


Alan S Michaels said...

Hello Penny,

I greatly appreciate your comments and your passion for supporting CEOs with the information they care about - and how to get them what they need.

If I understand your service, primarily you provide sophisticated tools for executives to mine the web.

For the past 20 years, I have believed that the best way to support CEOs and other executives is to present information to CEOs the way they should want to see the information – using best practices for providing executives with strategically relevant information for decision making. For example, by providing CEOs with industry and company information that leverages the ideas of Michael E. Porter.

Do you agree, or do believe it’s better to start with a blank slate and ask each CEO what they want and develop a customized information architecture around each request?

After reading your blog and the services FirstRain provides, I’m wondering if the correct answer is both, which sounds odd because the two approaches are totally different.

Alan S. Michaels

Penny Herscher said...

The majority of the information CEOs want is in common - strategic and about their market. However, each business has it's own unique characteristics.

Our goal is to provide the common intelligence for strategy, customer and market information, but also the ability to tune. For example, I met with a CEO 2 weeks ago who wanted the usual plus our ability to comprehensively deliver up what key influencers to his market (analysts et al) are saying.


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