Broad horizons Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2009

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 start?

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.

Q. How do you get everyone on board with big changes?

I do believe in being open and honest with people from the start.

My first day on the job, literally, my first interaction with the old employees was based on what I felt some of the changes were that we needed to make.

Specifically, I told them that we need to introduce a more robust sales and marketing culture into the company. I was going to bring on a sales leader who had a lot of experience. So they heard that from me, literally, from minute one.

Then what you have to do is be consistent, and then follow through. I made it a point to not promise a hundred things but really talk about a few things and ensure that I could follow through on them — that these weren’t lofty 20-years-from-now activities but things that were going to happen in the next 12 months that I could demonstrate credibility and deliver on.

I promised them I would have a head of sales in place in the first half of the year. We actually exceeded expectations on that and hired him in April.

So people heard from me early, heard from me with clarity and saw that I delivered on some of those initial items I talked about.

HOW TO REACH: Integrated Broadband Services LLC, (770) 387-2053 or www.ibbs.com