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What If Your CEO Gets Hit By A Bus?

An interesting exchange transpired during the CEO workshop I facilitated in Dublin last Thursday.  The subject was qualifying what could be potentially be very large opportunities with Fortune 100 companies.  The CEOs and Managing Directors that attended the workshops represent small to mid-size Irish companies.

Bernie Cullinan, CEO of Clarigen, was one of the participants.  At one point Bernie described to the group some of the challenges she had overcome during her stint as CEO of Steeltrace.  (Steeltrace was a small Dublin-based technology company that was subsequently acquired by Compuware two years ago.)  © tezzer - Fotolia.com

There were no more than five people on the ground in the U.S. when Bernie redirected Steeltrace’s focus for their requirements management software from IT managers to the highest-level executives at Fortune 50 companies.  That change in strategy came when Bernie realized that their software could address the business requirements for Sarbanes-Oxley compliance as well as the functional requirements for their clients’ software development projects.

Overcoming an Objection

Bernie described how her team met with the CIOs of some of the largest global companies.  Although willing to potentially do business with “a small Irish company,” these senior executives asked specific questions about how knowledge within Steeltrace was maintained and managed.  Certainly those of us who have been the David, competing against a Goliath or two, have had our competitors raise the objection, “What if something bad happens to the CEO of that little company?”  That was a big concern the large prospects had.  Bernie and her team provided the right answers.

Ask the Important Questions Early

There was general consensus within the group that asking specific qualifying questions early in a relationship was key to prevent a small company from being totally consumed in the pursuit of a large multinational with only disappointment at the end.  “Assuming our products and service meet your requirements, is there anything that might prevent your company from doing business with ours,” was one suggestion.  Pretending your company is larger than it is isn’t the right approach, the CEOs agreed.  Researching the target company’s track record of doing business with providers that match your size and corporate profile was seen as a solid approach.

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