Steve Davis of SoundCommerce: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Be transparent with your team. I worked at a company that was in between an acquisition and a fund raise. The CEO and co-founder did an incredible job of keeping everyone up to date on all discussions, stating that although we can’t predict what will happen, here are the options in front of us.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Davis, CRO at SoundCommerce.
Steve Davis is Chief Revenue Officer at SoundCommerce, overseeing revenue generation and the management of SoundCommerce’s sales and customer success teams. He brings 25 years of experience supporting high performance sales execution focused on enterprise software to Fortune 1000 companies, early-stage startups and global entities. He has led international teams in APAC and EMEA for multiple companies. Throughout his career, he has led sales, marketing, channels, customer success and professional services teams. He has expertise facilitating seven company exits, three IPOs and four strategic acquisitions.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
So many mistakes, just hard to pick one. When I was in my early 20’s I had a business trip to NYC, and our company had a policy that you could stay the weekend if you did a Saturday stayover to save the company money on the flight. Being single, I thought this was a great idea as that would be a “free” trip to NYC for the weekend. It wasn’t until I checked out of the hotel did I realize NY hotel prices were more than the flight savings. Luckily, I had a great manager, who slapped my hand and said don’t do it again, because there was no way I could pay that hotel bill on my own! The take away is to be honest and own the mistake, and good things will often happen.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people, it would be impossible to pick one. One manager I had early on, saw that I was a decent presenter, and thought I would be better served in front of the customer instead of as a back office analyst. I ended up presenting to people very senior to me, which allows you to build thick skin pretty quickly. This one career move set me on the path to where I ended up today.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The purpose of SoundCommerce is to help companies run their businesses more profitably. The vision is to be able to bring silo’d departmental data together, in order to give clarity in decision making across the entire shopper journey. Today, many businesses measure their success by departmental KPIs (ie, Acquisition Marketers may measure Return on AdSpend, without thinking about the profitability of specific SKUs that could drive acquiring more customers. Modeling data across departments help our customers make wildly better decisions).
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I’ve lived through multiple turbulent markets, the latest two being the GFC of 2008 and recently the COVID years. Often there are opportunities to prosper in difficult times. The key is to lead your team with transparency, don’t sugar coat where the company is in terms of finances and the market. Be upfront with everyone, and then derive a solution that will help your team and company to drive through whatever economic cycle the world is in. There are many things that will be out of your control; be honest about what you and your team can control.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. We were taught to be driven, and that’s just inherent in who I am. I’m also competitive by nature, so the drive is just there. As for giving up, it’s not really an option. You do have to be pragmatic about how your company is performing; if it’s over, it’s over. There isn’t always a magic fix. But until that time, you try and do anything you can to not end up in that position.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story? 20 years ago I had a mentor give me “The Art of War.” It’s still to this day the best business book I’ve ever read. Almost every strategy from the book has a corollary to running a business in a competitive environment. Recently I read Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership which lays out must have guiding principles on leadership.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
A real leader will be transparent, positive, and realistic. Your team can see through the BS. When there are challenging times, the role of the best leaders is to figure out both the short and long term solution to get through whatever obstacles are in your way. Then, most importantly, these strategies need to be clearly communicated to everyone. Empathizing with personnel from your company, who may be engulfed with fear, uncertainty, and doubt, is key.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
How you boost morale really depends on what type of company you work for. It’s culture dependent, and what may work for one company may fall flat at another. People want to be treated as adults. I keep going back to transparency, but laying out the details of strategies and solutions, which will lead your company through a downturn, gives people faith that there is a direction everyone is on board with. You definitely need to celebrate the wins, and recognize great work that goes over and above what is expected. Recognition, along with great execution, is the best morale booster there is.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
It’s best in person, but in the current climate we’re in, it will most likely be over Zoom. Often the best approach is to send out individual emails first explaining the topic you would like to cover live. This way, whatever news that needs to be internalized, can start individually, before a group call. In the group meeting, take any and all questions, and also offer to take any additional questions 1 on 1. It’s never easy, but being empathetic and up front always makes the news easier to digest.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Part of being a leader is to plan for the unpredictable. You won’t always get it right; I don’t know anyone who planned for a pandemic. However, if you have both a short term and long term plan, looking 18–24 months out, you can put your company and people in the best position possible to succeed.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Transparency. No one wants to be in the dark. No one wants to be surprised. There will always be ups and downs.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
1. Hide information from employees. Don’t do this…
2. Companies often drastically change how they operate. Whether that’s layoffs, spending freezes, or hiring freezes, panic decisions can be made, before it’s necessary. If a company has a sound long term plan, it can be tweaked, instead of blown up.
3. Changing the product that has made you successful. Companies need to survive during difficult times. Changing your current successful product offering, when going into a turbulent less predictable timeframe, can be disastrous. Focus is a must.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Be transparent with your team. I worked at a company that was in between an acquisition and a fund raise. The CEO and co-founder did an incredible job of keeping everyone up to date on all discussions, stating that although we can’t predict what will happen, here are the options in front of us.
2. Have a short and long term strategy. When the pandemic hit, our short term goals were now unachievable, but our long term goals still remained as a north star for the company. It is easier to pivot the short term goals, while staying focused on long term strategies.
3. Spend smartly. If your company is doing well right before a macro crisis, it may make sense to go after the competition and further your lead, making your market position stronger. You may actually end up spending more in this period, operating from a position of strength. Of course, if you are limping along before said crisis, it most likely makes sense to reduce burn to make sure you have enough longevity to come out of a down period.
4. Focus. This pertains to all aspects of the company. Be incredibly sure you are only selling to customers within your product/market fit.
5. Automate. Look for inefficiencies that were ignored during the good times. In a downturn, saving hours of time on manual tasks, let’s the company work smarter.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble.
Courage is the foundation of integrity.” Taking risks is one of the most important parts of life, whether that’s personal or business risk. I encourage anyone to try new ideas; if it doesn’t work, so be it. Fix it and move on. But always try.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Steve Davis of SoundCommerce: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.