Companies are change engines, but that’s not just about profit.
The corporate future I see has companies shifting from single-minded profit-generating engines to platforms for change that help their communities.
I believe the next generation of leaders will balance the responsibility to drive incredible shareholder return with the responsibility to serve their customers, employees, and community.
That mission requires that leadership commit to a broader set of objectives than purely financial ones.
Leaders of the best companies will share three common pursuits:
- Seeking financial returns
- Developing their people
- Developing their communities
These three objectives aren’t mutually exclusive—they’re intertwined, complementary, and synergistic.
As co-founder and former CEO of Concur Technologies, the corporate travel and expense platform, the most successful individuals I’ve seen shared two key qualities: mastery of their discipline and caring about other people.
In my current role as managing director of Madrona Venture Group (full disclosure: I’m a Clari investor and board member), I look to invest in people who are humble, driven, insanely curious, and have a deep commitment to others. That combination greatly enhances a leader’s capacity to learn, to help others, and to succeed.
Below, I explain why putting people first is critical for driving growth, specifically in new global markets.
People-First Leadership Drives Growth
When you expand into a new country, it’s critical to be purposeful about where you’re investing and why. We’ve found that B2B and enterprise-related startups need to spend around $5 million in any given market in the first year. That budget will vary by industry, but it’s critical to invest enough across product, customer success, sales, and business development to greatly enhance your chances of success.
Operating in a new country is a significant financial endeavor. You want someone with a track record of pouring into their teams and cross-functional relationships—someone who has shown that they care about people.
This individual must also
- Navigate the broader organization
- Leverage its tools and resources
- Align the expansion with the company’s overall strategy
- Forge strong relationships
- Build trust in an international venue
This rockstar will also be humble enough to listen and adjust quickly in the new market when cultural or other factors make doing so strategic. They have to stay attuned to their community, open to accepting input from others, and willing to support their team. Without community—if they think they can parachute in, keep all of their pre-set assumptions, and remain siloed—they’re more likely to fail.
How to Measure Success Entering a New Market
Putting people first should not just be a rubric you use to identify internal leaders, but also a philosophy that applies to customers in a new market. Your customer success, support, and product teams should all put your customers first.
If you’ve created an effective customer success function for the new market, you should see results in three key metrics:
- Customer growth metrics
- Customer success metrics
- Financial returns
A good indicator of success is how your customers’ business is growing, and a detailed understanding of how your product drives that growth. Another is when your customers recommend your product to others, or offer to be references for new businesses.
Also important is developing a partner ecosystem for that country. You want to plug into the trusted advisors and companies in that particular market. If you can do that, you’re able to expand your lead generation and increase that level of trust you have with companies native to the new market.
After expanding successfully into two new markets, you can see whether there’s a repeatable process to follow for your third market and beyond.
Tying Everything Together
Prioritizing leaders who care about people is great for business. I don't know of a better return of energy of dollars anywhere in the world, other than investing in people because if you do that, not only do they succeed as individuals, they're helping the organization, they're helping the overall company, they're helping their communities.
The payback is not an incremental 10x growth in the company alone, or the community alone. It’s a 1,000x return in terms of what companies get back from supporting both, together.
It's also immensely gratifying. We get only so many years in life. A vital question for me, that drives so much of what I do, is—how do you help improve the trajectory of life for others?
Answering that question helps the rest of humanity.
And it’s great for business.
About the author: Steve Singh is the managing director of the Madrona Venture Group, where he focuses on B2B and enterprise-related start-ups. He is the founder and CEO of Concur. He serves on several boards, including Clari’s.