Visionary guru Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Inder Guglani compares creating a vision with being a movie: You need to be able to close your eyes and see the movie or vision and how it will come together.

“If you see it, you can describe it to everyone and get them excited,” he says. “If you cannot describe your vision, you don’t have a vision.”

Guglani’s focus on vision has helped grow, an online marketplace he founded in 2000 for freelance talent in creative markets, to 2007 revenue of $18.4 million. The company employs 20 people and 10 contractors and has more than 100,000 freelancer profiles on its Web site.

Smart Business spoke with the founder and CEO of about why your customer is the key to forming a successful vision.

Q. How do you create a vision?

Understand who your customer is and what their needs are. Focus on their needs today and understand how these needs are going to evolve over time.

You need to be able to see it before you go directing other people for the achieving of the vision. If you’re wrong in your research and vision, you’re not going to get the results you’ve desired. But that’s the risk you take and what drives you to work harder in understanding your customers better.

Have a finger on the pulse of all the interaction that is occurring between the customer and personnel who are interacting with the customer. You can understand the issues the customers are dwelling on. Talk directly to customers and understand how they’re evolving and where they plan to be in the future.

Q. How do you keep your finger on the pulse of customer interactions?

Read the interaction, at least all that is documented. Talk to the folks who are interacting with the customer. Go out on a sample basis because you can’t afford the time of meeting every customer, but pick a few folks who you believe have a representative profile of the average customer.

Every interaction is a data point, and the more and more data points [you have], you either validate your vision or find contradiction, and if there’s contradiction, you have to get to the bottom of it and resolve it. If your vision is a good one, then every issue should either have a resolution today or be resolved sometime in the future.

Q. How do you live your vision and sell it to employees and customers?

If your vision is a good one, the selling should become easy. If you’re able to sell the customer on the long-term vision, then your confidence has already grown to bring that vision to your company and sell it to employees.

It goes from understanding customer needs and developing a vision, expressing the vision, selling it to the customer, bringing the vision into the company, explaining and deriving an operating plan of the vision, selling that plan to employees, and then showing how they benefit from executing the plan.

Make sure your employees understand your customers today as well as how your customers will be in the future. It’s your job to bring the customers’ needs through your vision to the tables, desks and minds of your people so they can execute on it.

Q. How do you get employees to understand customers’ needs and the vision?

Start with customer feedback. Put it on the board and explain the motivations behind the interactions the customer is sharing. Present the vision and how that takes care of the motivations that are generating the interaction.

The vision gives them a framework, which empowers them to make a lot of decisions independently. That reduces management oversight and overhead costs.

Q. What if an employee does not understand the vision?

Understand the motivation of the employee. There could be a communication problem, or this employee’s motivation may be different.

There is no better way than one-on-one interaction. Put the truth on the table, share what you’re seeing and ask them to reconcile why what they’re doing is deviating from your expectations. If there are some hurdles, that gives a task list of what to focus on to remove those.

If there’s no hurdles — they’re just not motivated — you better question why. It may be true that you have the wrong employee for the company, vision, job or task, and it may require you to make a change.

Q. What is the benefit of having a successful vision?

Getting there is simpler. If you’re able to see where you’re going, you’ll take the shortest path to it. That’s the lowest cost, most efficient way of getting where you are today to some point in the future, and that can be your little competitive edge.

If you continue to do a good job, over time, your resource base continues to grow and your leverage continues to build. If you can execute it well, layer by layer, year by year, you keep going from strength to strength.

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