An entrepreneur’s ability to focus is her single largest bellwether of success.
At least according to Greg Head, the former CMO of Infusionsoft. Head — a 30-year veteran of the software industry — now spends his days consulting ambitious executives in growing companies on that five letter word: focus.
Head on Thursday visited Kansas City for an intimate discussion with young entrepreneurs convened by KC Roundtable and Bunker Labs KC. He shared tips and tricks he’s learned over the years to help those present to better focus their strategic vision.
Here are a few of his strategies.
Determine what stage your company is at.
Head said that there are three phases in a company’s life: exploration, narrowing and investing.
While in exploration, entrepreneurs see many opportunities — but you must focus on testing their value and sticking with those that are successful. And once you’re finished tinkering, Head said you must narrow it down.
“The reality is — which by the way is a magic trick that works every single time — is if you want to be successful, you have to start with being one thing, for one customer, one way.”
The narrowing phase entails that every entrepreneur pick one thing and be intentional about it, thus affording the final phase. Lastly, Head said founders should reinvest to widen your scope and offer more services or products.
The focus game
The “focus game” is exemplified by the likes of McDonalds, Amazon and Disney — which began with hamburgers, books and cartoon movies, respectively.
Head said that type of “narrowing” is difficult for most entrepreneurs. But if you maintain a targeted focus for a long enough time to become a market leader, you can expand later on.
A singular focus also enhances the quality of the thing you choose to sell, Head said.
“For the bigger companies, we don’t hear the story of how they all tried 20 things first, but it happened,” Head said. “Focus makes everything better. It makes the signal get through, and it makes your execution better. … Take barbecue for example: there’s sweet or dry rub. If you’re trying to be the best of both of those and you make one that’s kind of sweet and kind of dry — it probably sucks.”
How can you improve strategic focus?
You can’t hire someone to make you focus, Head said. The ability resides only with a founder, which is why Head often spends his time honing entrepreneurs’ strategic focus.
Head offered the group a six-point process to help lay an effective foundation.
Identify your category. Pick your category. Do you serve Mexican food, hamburgers or ice cream? You run the risk of doing each poorly if you do it all. Identify your category and stick with it.
Who is your target? Head said that you can’t be everything to anybody. In order to sell a product, you must appease a specific group.
Establish the benefit you offer. For customers to understand what they’re gaining from a product, entrepreneurs must prioritize a benefit. For example, McDonald’s prioritizes speed.
How is it different? Choosing one benefit means you’ll have to say no to some people. When you say no, Head said you can begin to differentiate yourself, which helps you stand out.
What do you care about? Maintaining a higher purpose and goal will attract people with similar values. For example, Chipotle said no to processed food and denied a working partnership with McDonald’s. Head said that sense of purpose will help reel in customers.
The more experience you have in your industry, the more seriously customers will take you. Become an expert in your field and communicate that to your constituents. If you focus over time, you will be rewarded with credibility.