Broad horizons

Integrated Broadband
Services LLC had a good
thing going, but it hired Dave Keil to make it even better. IBBS, which provides software and office services that
improve high-speed Internet,
had grown to $20 million in
revenue in 2007 without a
sales force, but it needed a
CEO like Keil to take the company to the next level.

“I’ve observed firsthand
companies that had great
products but didn’t have the
right sales and marketing,
and I’ve seen those companies struggle and ultimately
not reach their full potential
if they are relying on a product without the second piece
of that critical puzzle,” Keil
says, whose company posted
2008 revenue of $30 million.

Smart Business spoke
with Keil about how to plan
major changes at your company and how to get your
team to believe in you.

Q. When you became CEO,
how do you decide where to

I felt that I could either try
to figure it out on day one,
or I could do what I felt was
the first critical step: Get in
front of our key customers.

So I went through a pretty
intensive six-week effort to
get in front of every one of
our top 10 customers. Then, I
spent about half the four- to
six-hour sessions with their
senior team understanding
what we were doing well
today, understanding how
their business was and where
they were going in the future.

It was halfway through that
process when a light bulb
went off, and I felt I had some
of the key ingredients of what
our strategy needed to be.

It became crystal clear that
the No. 1 area I needed to
focus on was sales and marketing. The company had
been successful without
building that capability set.
Yet, I could see that was an
important missing ingredient.

If I did nothing else, I wanted to inject this sales and
marketing culture to complement what was already a very
strong operational culture.

Q. How did you
develop a plan to
do that?

It was a three-pronged
exercise that worked
for us, and I suspect
would work for others.
You really need to
understand the customer view. Any strategy needs to take into
account where our customers were and where
they were going. We did
a customer survey to
really understand what
our customers felt
about us today and
what they were looking
for in the future.

Some of the things that
were pointed out in the customer survey were instrumental in developing our
strategy. So do your homework; do your research.

Secondly, I made it a point
to spend time with individuals
throughout the organization.
It’s easy as a leader to spend
time with your five or six
direct reports. But often, you
learn more by talking to folks
who are out there in front of
the customer every day,
answering the support calls,
building the products, etc.

So I made it a point at least
twice a week to take an
associate out for lunch to
understand what they were
doing day to day and some
of the challenges they came
across. That helped me
understand the views of
employees not only at the
senior level but throughout
the organization.

Thirdly, in addition to
understanding where our
customers are at, we’ve tried
to take a broader market view by doing outside market research.

I’m a big believer in gathering
as much market data as you
can — both about what’s going
on in the short term and what’s
going on in the long term — so
your strategy will align well
with those trends. Or, if there
are trends working against you
that you are aware of it.