It seems that no matter the industry, CEO's all buy into the practice of "picking off the low-hanging fruit;" the business that's right in front of them that requires little effort to secure. They see it as found money that helps fund other initiatives.
Most start-ups do it to help gain traction and build some positive momentum. What they don't see is that it can also bring the first diversion from the plan.
Entrepreneurs, for the most part, have vision. They started their companies because they saw something others didn't; an opportunity no one was addressing or a problem no one was solving. They took a leap of faith with a plan to attack that opportunity with a vengeance, becoming rich and famous along the way.
They prepared their target list of prospects and their sales presentation and started banging the phones to set up meetings, often with people with whom they had some level of relationship. The meetings were friendly and as the new CEO went in for the sale, the prospect pivots slightly saying something like: "Well, Jim, that's a very interesting proposition and something I think I'll be ready to take a hard look at in six months or so, but you know what I really need right now? Fill in the blank.
Jim thinks a minute about the prospect's current need and knows it's something he could deliver because he's done it many times in the past when he worked for other companies.
"I can take care of that for you," he tells the prospect and proposes a price he knows is 80% of what the prospect would normally pay. Jim gets the sales and walks out happy.
A similar scenario plays out in a number of the early meetings. He feels his pitch is resonating and every prospect is interested in hearing more but he's also winning projects which fuel his business. So it's all good, right?
What Jim doesn't realize yet is that with every win of a related but unintended project, his pursuit of the original vision is blurring. He started off with both arms stretched straight out in front, palm to palm with index fingers pointing at the prize with a laser focus. These different assignments being tossed his way, however, require that he extend his arms wider and wider to catch. Before long his arms are now extended out to each side and his momentum toward the original vision has slowed to a crawl. He's got business but it's not the business he intended.
These easy assignments that fell into him lap with no effort, that low-hanging fruit is slowly killing the dream. Jim will wake up one day with a mid-sized company capable of delivering on a wide range of assignments and realize he owns a smaller version of the company he left a few years ago to pursue his dream. What's more, he has no choice but to keep grinding out of responsibility to the people he employs.
The challenge for every entrepreneur is to trust their vision. They start with all the confidence in the world and then, almost immediately, start to make compromises and find "smart business reasons" to justify them. I talk to so many owners and CEO's of 100-person companies who find themselves stuck on a growth plateau. They've stalled after a fast start and don't know why.
They proudly tell me about their great company and how they can do absolutely everything. What they rarely do is connect the dots and realize a one-stop-shop will only grow so big because it will find itself in competition with so many others. When every company can do it all, prospects start making their decisions on things like price and speed of service, both of which impact product quality.
Prospects play one company against the next and the 360 degree solution companies battle for scraps until they sink into the sea of same and vanish from sight.
My strong advice is for entrepreneurs and CEO's of young companies is focus on the vision. Understand and believe in what truly makes you different and better. Keep pitches tight to that vision and you will start finding prospects who have been looking for that and value your expertise.
Passing on the low-hanging fruit is insanely difficult. You will tempt yourself into thinking that one little taste couldn't hurt. Just remember that while the taste is sweet for the moment, the poison is strong and builds over time.