Sold on strategy Featured

8:00pm EDT April 20, 2006
Since he came on board in 2002, Lewis Miller has shifted Sant Corp. into overdrive by revamping its sales model.

But putting together a direct sales force was only one piece of the plan that produced 50 percent revenue growth in 2004 and 2005 at the sales proposal software company.

Keeping the company going requires strong execution at every stage and every level, says Miller, Sant Corp.’s president and CEO. That means putting together a realistic strategy and a crack team that can sell, service and support the software product the 50-employee company is selling at a record clip.

Smart Business spoke with Miller about how he meets the challenges of fast growth.

What was your biggest challenge when you came on board as CEO of Sant Corp.?
First, understanding the shortcomings we had and, frankly, that was around control and controlling the sales process. When you’re selling software, there are a number of points around the sales cycle where it’s important for you to deliver certain value propositions to keep the sale moving.

When you do that indirectly, you’re just too far away from the sales cycle. And then we had to thread the needle of the sewing machine while it’s running. You had to keep it going while at the same time building a sales organization, which we did and migrated out of the partner model and continued to build up our sales organization.

What is the most critical thing a CEO has to do to meet the challenge of fast growth?
Establish a strategy. I call it ‘plan your work and work your plan.’ Establish a strategy that you’re comfortable with, that is, a strategy that can be executed.

There are a lot of companies that have strategies — not as many as there were five or six years ago — companies that have strategies that sound great on paper but just can’t be executed and you can’t sell through. So No. 1 is to have a strategy, and No. 2 is to execute it and, at the end of the day, if the strategy has a very high value proposition to the clients you’re selling to, it makes it a whole lot easier.

How do you know that your strategy is working?
Having a viable strategy all boils down to whether the goods and services that you provide are goods and services that customers will buy. There needs to be market demand for the services and the products you provide and, assuming that demand is there, then it really boils down to executing all the elements of that — building the products and services, articulating them properly and having a good marketing campaign to make people aware of them, having good cash management skills to be able to collect revenue equal to or faster than you’re spending it and, obviously, there are a lot of nuances to that.

How do you meet that challenge?
It all starts with good people, making sure that our hiring processes identify the right people with the right skill sets that we need, understanding those and understanding how they roll into your strategy and having a good hiring process to bring the right people into the company to help you grow.

It’s across the board. It starts with sales, but once somebody procures, they have an experience administratively with us about receiving an invoice, receiving software. Then they have an experience with us that talks about hooking up the software and making it ready. Then they have an experience with us to get them operational, to have them trained to be self-sufficient. And then they have an ongoing support relationship with us.

What do you look for in people who work for you?
Certainly past experience, having been in that position before, having made decisions that need to be made in a fast-paced environment, and that comes with scar tissue. I think in a fast-growth company, intuition is every bit as important as the analysis of a particular decision.

People also need to be open and adaptable to change. Fast-growing companies change very rapidly, and if you’re not open to change and if, in fact, you’re not a change agent, you can actually get in the way of a business growing.

How do you keep up with the pace in a fast-growth company?
Hard work. Nothing replaces that. Hard and smart. As I’ve gotten older, smart now weighs into that as much as actual time itself. Building a good team, good people that understand their various disciplines.

Keeping all those balls in the air as a single individual is nearly impossible, so you really have to be surrounded with good people, you have to effectively communicate your strategy to them so that they understand it. I call it ‘everyone in the same boat pulling on the oars at the same time.’

It’s very, very much a team effort, and that starts with good people and overcommunication of what you’re attempting to do so that everyone’s actions all day long can be multiplied.

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