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July Interim Executive Meetup: Honing Your Pitch

A group of Cerius’ interim executives got together with members of the Cerius team to discuss “honing your pitch.”

Kristen McAlister:

We started these meetups to benefit both our team, as well as the executives in our network. And it’s a great opportunity for you to get to know each other. It started with just Pam and me. We knew all of 250 executives when we started, we’re now close to 17,000 and we’ve expanded our team quite a bit. And we get to know our executives through engagement like this.

We’re here because we’re a leadership matchmaker. We work with companies to understand what they need, whether their controller just quit on Friday or they need to hire their first CFO or they have a large IT project coming up.

We help them figure out who really is the best fit and what they need for their company. And then we work with individuals like yourselves to scope it out and make the introduction and we’re off and running with an engagement.

One of the big reasons why we’re here also is to, we call it, share, learn, and connect.

So any opportunity, please feel free to speak up. The goal is for you to share your experiences for everyone here to learn and for you to connect. And Christine will send out the contact information afterward so that if there’s something that an individual said you’re able to connect with them, after the fact.

We also like to do a state of the market. So if you look at anyone who’s from Cerius here on the call, between all of us, we’re probably talking to, I’d say at least 75 to 100 CEOs on any given month. And we get a pretty broad range of perspectives in doing that. I always love to share what we’re seeing out there. What’s trending as far as roles or industries, I’m going to turn it over to Chris.

What are you seeing in your pipeline right now? And kind of hot topics for CEOs?

Chris Shepard:

Sure. As far as roles, I would think finance and operations would be the two biggest. That’s really, not all that uncommon. One trend that we’re seeing is that a lot of companies are being surprised by the exit of some of their executive team.

We’re having people that have been there for a number of years literally walk out on a Friday or give two weeks’ notice. And it’s truly taking a lot of companies by surprise, which is why a lot of companies are turning to companies like ours that have trusted advisors that know them that can move quickly.

So, we’re seeing a lot of surprise moves in the industry. We’re seeing a lot of activity overall, but within role and function, finance is a really big one, operations, and we’re starting to see an uptick in sales roles, which is typical in the summer, as companies are looking to the second half of the year and trying to see who’s on target and who isn’t.

So, even though those are the most numerous opportunities we have right now, there are opportunities in every market and every industry and in every discipline, it’s a really good time to do what it is each of us does.

Kristen McAlister:

Yup. I’m seeing a lot of the same. Wall Street Journal had the article that came out, if you saw it, that said 25% of the workforce is going to switch roles this year. And we’ve certainly been seeing that at the executive level. I’ve been using the scenario of take a snow globe, shake it up and no one flake is going to land in the same place. I feel as though that’s what’s happening at our clients’ locations.

I was in a CEO meeting recently and I said that stat and a CEO slammed his phone down and he said, “I was just reading a text that our new HR manager just quit.”

So there’s a lot of shifts, for any number of reasons. Almost every article I read points out two more reasons why it’s happening and that just absolutely gives an opportunity for everyone on this call and everyone in our network who’s looking to either fill interim roles, step into a full-time role, or do project-based work. And this is a great opportunity and forum to discuss it.

One of the things that we find in getting to know our executive network is the more we better understand our executive network, who they are, what they do, and what your area of expertise is, the more we’re able to remember you, and the same goes for referrals. In the event we’re not able to have a role for you or keep you busy, we want you to be able to keep yourselves busy.

So part of what we do is also education. And anything that we can do and everyone on this call can do to help you figure out what is your sweet spot, of the individuals that you’re talking to on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, what’s the best way to portray yourself? What’s the best way to explain here’s what I do and what I do best?

So we’ll talk about that today. But before we do with the tight group that we have here, I’d love to go around, and let’s just do this as a big group and do introductions. Share (I call it) your name, rank, and serial number, kind of who you are, your area of expertise, and where you’re at in the country.

And this also gives you an opportunity to meet some of the Cerius team that’s on here, so that as you’re scheduling calls with them, or they’re reaching out to you, you can put a face to a name. Let’s start with Canetta.

Canetta Reid:

Hello. My name is Canetta Reid and I am an HR and legal compliance senior executive. I’ve got over 20 years of experience leading HR legal and compliance teams in Fortune 100 to 200 companies, private companies, private equity-backed companies. I am an HR consultant and I work with businesses of all sizes to drive transformational change, specifically around the areas of culture, employee engagement, and improving employee productivity.

That’s me. I’m currently located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Barry Levine:

Hello everybody. Barry Levine, I’m in Denver where I’ve been the last, 21 years. And I am a C-suite executive, CFO, CEO, COO, CRO, and, the roles that I’ve had mostly have been with troubled companies that I’ve ended up turning around and selling. I got started back east as a Wall Street lawyer in the eighties doing mergers and acquisitions and financings, and I just finished selling a company and am looking for a permanent C-suite role or also looking at companies to buy.

Barbara Bickham:

Hi, I’m Barbara. I’m in Inglewood, California. I do three things. One, I am the managing partner of this women’s innovation fund accelerator. We are raising a large fund to do gender-balanced, emerging tech, impact, and sustainable investing, into companies at the seed and series age stage. So we have various conversations with people on that.

The second thing I do is trailing ventures and was a C-suite executive as well. I can do CEO or CTO. I do that and I helped train investors and entrepreneurs on what is emerging tech? Because a lot of people think they know what it is, but they have no idea.

And the third thing I do is as this has gotten very popular, I am the host of this female VC lab, which is a podcast that talks about the journey of female investors. It could be at any level, you could be an LP, you could be an angel investor, it doesn’t matter. So that’s what that one is and the next one comes out on Thursday. You guys should listen to that one. Cause I got a really big lady on that one tomorrow.

I’m not going to say who it was, but I was like, wow. I’m like, how did these people find me? I don’t know. That’s what I do. It’s on everything. Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon.

Michelle Diamond:

Hi everyone. I’m Michelle diamond. I live in Beverly Hills, but I’m in Palm Springs this week, even though it is quite hot. So I’m in the Villa in Palm Springs this week. I don’t know how much I’m going to go outside. I am a growth strategist. I do growth strategy development and execution work, organic and M&A, I help companies with the strategy development, the planning and leading the initiatives, obviously all the way to completion.

I have worked with companies ranging from startup at every growth stage startup, early growth stage, small-mid cap, all the way up to Fortune 50. Industry agnostic, to date I’ve worked with 65 companies and 31 industries. So it’s been a great ride. I’ve also worked with Fortune 100 companies in the past as well, working in operational roles, heading up a manufacturing business, as well as creating a competitive intelligence function, and then doing some finance and accounting roles, in my earlier life, because I am a CPA as well.

I also just finished writing my first book, so I’m actually very excited. It should be out actually in a few days. There was a printer error this morning. So I also have announced that it’s already up online, but hopefully, we’ll get that fixed, and then I’ll have that done as well. And, I’ve been on my own now for the past 16 years, working on interim executive roles as well as traditional consulting and advisory roles, mainly for CEOs and executives of those companies.

Kristen McAlister:

Welcome and congratulations. It has been a long time. It’s been a long process.

Matt, why don’t you introduce?

Matt Sauer:

Good morning, everybody, or good afternoon. I’m Matt Sauer. I’m the chief people officer for Cerius. I’ve been here since 2012 as the chief people officer and before that, I was actually an interim HR executive for Cerius for a couple of years. Before that, I was the VP of HR for two very large corporations.

I live in Arizona. It’s a beautiful day today. It’s only going to be 100 degrees, so it is nice here. So I hope you all are cooler than I am, but I like it here. So thank you for being with us.

Ida Benjamin:

Hi, I’m Ida Benjamin and I am in Houston, Texas.

Welcome everybody to our meetup and I am on the talent acquisition team. So one of us will call you after this and talk to you some more about what you want to do. If you need any help, we’re here for you. Thank you.

Chris Shepard:

I’m Chris Shepard, located south of St. Louis, Missouri, and I work on the client-side of the business.

So I spend my time looking for the right opportunities for each of you to work in. So thanks for being on the call today. Looking forward to learning more about networking and how we can help.

Christa Cantele:

I’m Christa Cantele I’m in Dallas, Texas. I’m a part of our talent acquisition team. So like Ida, I work to help engage you and talk with you and discuss the opportunities that we’re working on and look forward to getting to know all of you and putting you in the right opportunities as they come around. Thanks again for being here.

Dave McClung:

Nice to meet you all. I’m Dave McClung, I’m in Northern California and I work on the client-side of the business. I work with our clients to fully understand their needs and scope out the work. And then I get ahold of Ida or Krista or one of our very talented talent acquisition team members.

And we find one of you and we hope to make a perfect match for our client. So I look forward to meeting you and learning a little bit more about you.

Abby McMillin:

Hi, I’m Abby McMillin. I help to lead the talent acquisition team. I am located in sunny, California, in Orange County.

And I really appreciate you guys taking the time today. It’s incredibly helpful for us to learn more about your backgrounds and put names with faces. So thanks for taking the time to spend with Cerius today.

Kristen McAlister:

I’m glad that we’ve got a tight group today because in the breakouts, Ida and Christa, Chris and Dave, they don’t always get to meet everyone.

And I know I get contacted quite a bit, which by the way, I’m Kristen McAlister Co-Owner of Cerius Executives. I’m in Washington DC, I think we’re giving Arizona a run for their money when it comes to heat and definitely Houston with the humidity. I had to get out of my tank top in order to be on this but it’s hot and humid here.

But they’re really the individuals that are on here are the ones that are working directly with the clients and working directly with our network and understanding who’s the right fit. And with that, I’m going to turn it over to Chris to introduce our topic today and the discussion questions that we’ll roll into and make this a good engaging discussion.

And I’m excited, Canetta, because I remember being in your group when we originally had discussed this topic and how tight your introduction is getting is phenomenal. Really enjoyed seeing that and I’m very curious to hear how it’s gone the past couple of months and what types of reactions you’re getting.

So with that, I will turn it over to Chris and take it away.

Chris Shepard:

Awesome. Thanks, Kristen. So, thanks for being on the call today. One of the things that we can’t do here at Cerius is have a job opportunity for everyone all the time. It’s just not possible for us to do that. What we can promise though, is that we will help you get better at your business of one, and help you in your consulting business so that you can find more opportunities.

We don’t just want you to work on opportunities with us. We want you to be in the market and engage and find those opportunities on your own. So that’s one of the reasons we host these types of meetings to really help you, help yourself, get better results in your business because the better the interim market and industry is the better Cerius is.

And so that’s really our goal today is to help you with your business. And because we are a little bit smaller in number today, you’re going to get a lot more one-on-one attention and you’re not going to be able to hide when there’s only a dozen of us. So, locate your mute button, be ready to unmute. And, let’s engage.

We’re going to talk today about networking. It’s a really important thing, but we want this to be valuable, informational, but we also want this to be a little bit of fun. So I thought we could play a little bit of a Zoom game if that’s okay with everybody. Just take a minute and look around your office space because, in this game, I’m going to ask you to hold up an object.

And then I’ll call on a few of you to explain it, but you’re only going to have five seconds to find it. Okay. So just kind of, if you’re someone who has a messy desk, this is going to benefit you tremendously. Okay. So let’s just play a little show and tell game. Everyone, find something that is the color red.

So just the color red around you, five seconds and hold it up, to the camera. 5, 4, 3, 2, and two and three quarters, two and a half, two, and okay. And everyone, keep it held up. Yep. Keep it held up. We’re going to talk about it. So, Canetta, what do you have there that’s red?

Canetta Reid:

It’s dual function and serves as a stress ball, but it also is a stand for, your phone.

Chris Shepard:

Okay. Very good.

Barbara, what do you have there that’s red?

Barbara Bickham:

This is a Christmas ornament. So it’s got a thing here and it’s a dog Christmas ornament. That’s what it is.

Chris Shepard:

Okay. Very, very cool. All right. Let’s try again. Let’s find something around you that is shiny. Something that is shiny. That is reflective 5 seconds, 4, 3, 2, 1. All right, Krista, what do you have there? You’re in a coworking space, so this is probably extra fun for you, right?

Christa Cantele:

It is, I’m in a business center. So I have a picture frame that has got a mirrored embellished, area to it, as you can see. And, it’s probably about a five by eight in size.

Chris Shepard:

Okay. Very nice. Nice. Barry, were you able to find something shiny?

Barry Levine:

It’s a cube from a deal that I did where we raised a few hundred million dollars and the company had sold parts to fighter jets. So there’s a gold fighter jet. There’s a gold tank and there’s a gold battleship.

Chris Shepard:

Cool. Yeah, very good.

So the reason that we do this, is kind of just as an illustration and exercise and thanks to everyone for playing. But when I said you’re going to have five seconds to hold up something that I announced how many of you had anxiety whenever we started down that road? Just, yeah, just, just me and Dave were the only anxiety people here is like, what is the expectation?

What am I going to have? Am I going to have to explain something weird? That’s on my desk, right? There’s a lot of anxiety about that. Am I going to be able to fulfill this? What you all found was even though you didn’t know in advance what it was and you didn’t know you’d be doing it, it was a lot closer to you than you thought it would be.

Right? All of us had something red, all of us had something shiny. And I think that really is a good illustration for where, where our next in business engagement comes from. When we think about what is my next assignment, it’s a heavy lift, right? We’re like, Ooh, I don’t know where my next one’s coming from.

I don’t know how to get the next job, the next assignment, the next engagement, but really with the networks that we have, I think your next engagement is much, much closer to you than you may realize. I think that you’re only a phone call or an email or two away from really having that next assignment. And so that’s what we want to talk about today is how do you network, how have networks changed, and how can you get the most bang for your buck when you do a networking assignment and engagement?

Before we transition to that, I did just want to give Deborah a second to introduce herself.

I know she came in while we were doing that exercise that had to be super confusing to come in at that exact moment, Deborah. So, I’ll just let you, just give a brief introduction and welcome everyone to the call.

Deborah Klein:

Oh, well, thank you, actually, no, I have attended a number of seminars that have started out with similar, maybe not so exciting icebreakers, but, certainly similar activities.

My career has been in non-profit leadership, and most recently in healthcare, fundraising is a very strong element of what I do and I’m in Southern California. I don’t know what else, folks shared about themselves.

Chris Shepard:

You nailed it perfectly. That’s exactly what we were looking for.

So, we’re going to all share individually here in just a little bit, in some group topics. So thank you for the introduction and thanks for being on the call today, Deborah.

Many of us really are a business of one, right? You are the HR function for your company. You are the marketing person, you are the salesperson.

And then you have the specific discipline that you have actually worked in, whether it’s a CFO or operations or HR. One thing that a lot of people, we find in working with thousands of executives is that they’re really uncomfortable being the chief sales officer for their own business. They’re really uncomfortable marketing themselves in a way that that gets business.

And so like most things, when we are uncomfortable with it, it usually falls to the bottom of the to-do list. Right? If you’re an HR person, you probably love the HR side. If you’re a finance person, you probably love financing, balancing the books of your business. But we all have to be doing activities that bring in new business consistently. And one of the best ways we found, internally here at Cerius, one of our number one ways to get new business is through networking referrals. So networking has changed a lot over the last year, year and a half.

How many of you remember the speed dating type networking events, where you would get a stack of business cards, you’d put them in your pocket and you’d go to a hotel conference room or something, and you would just start going through passing out cards, meeting people, having those types of events, right? We’ve all been a part of those. We’ve all been a part of networking-type groups that met every Tuesday somewhere and did something.

And we’ve just had less of those over the last year, year and a half because of the pandemic. So, you know, networking has kind of changed a lot, and some of the things that I think we need to do, have changed also.

Normally, most of us would go to one, maybe two networking events a month, right? They involve driving downtown. They involve getting together in a certain place at a certain time and we just couldn’t do them every day. And Zoom and people’s willingness to be on Zoom, really has changed that a lot. But one of the things that we’ve also found Zoom has changed is that while we may have increased the activity and the number of meetings that we have, what’s working on those meetings has also changed.

So when you were straight in front of someone, face-to-face, there were a whole lot of things that went on that you were able to keep their attention, make a memorable impression, and move forward.

How many of you have a zoom right after this meeting right here? Like, as soon as you get off this one, there’s another one. Right? So because of that, there’s a little bit of fatigue that goes on where if this interaction wasn’t really memorable, you’re going to move on to the next one and then the next one. And really the goal of that meeting may be lost. You may not have a real profitable networking thing, because we’re just jumping from Zoom to Zoom to Zoom.

So one of the things that we’ve found is that, in networking, one of the things you have to be, now more than ever, is memorable, right? You have to make a mark, you have to make an impression. You have to really be better at what it is you’re saying and be more concise, more specific so that someone knows when to refer you and why they should remember you.

Recently I was on a networking call, a Zoom call, and, the interaction between two people, it was kind of insightful. There was a business coach on the call and when they introduced themselves, they said I’m a business coach and I help businesses go from A to Z. And that was really it.

The next person on the call was a chief marketing officer. I wrote it down that way, I made sure I had it right, but he said, “I help small to mid-sized SaaS technology companies decrease their churn and increase their market share. I just helped the client increase their business by tripling the number of qualified leads for their sales team.” Now, which of those two was more memorable to you and why? Does anybody want to share?

Barbara Bickham:

The second one had a little bit more information. Like here’s some traction, it did make you ask, like, do I want to know more information? Like, do I want to know more about this person?

Chris Shepard:

Yep. Yeah. The first one was kind of vague and, really not specific.

They’re a business coach that helps businesses go from one point to the next. That could apply to a whole lot of people. but it really doesn’t give you the confidence you need to know when to refer that business coach, right? That’s so vanilla, you could refer them to anybody, but they’re really not a perfect fit for anybody.

That chief marketing officer, you know who to refer that person to. It needs to be a SaaS company, that’s mid-sized that has a lot of churn and it needs more market share. Now, the number of times that you’re going to have that come up may be less, but when you do hear someone that is a SaaS company person that needs more market share that doesn’t have enough leads, you know exactly who to refer. It’s like, Mark, the interim CMO, that’s exactly what he does.

So our marketing efforts in the networking space really have to be more targeted. We have to really, not be generalists when it comes to networking and when it comes to making ourselves more referrable.

That’s kind of just the premise and kind of some of the thoughts of what networking is, why it’s changed.

But we don’t just want to give you something to think about. We want to give you some real, tangible takeaways so that you can improve your pitch, you can improve your networking efforts, and you can get more clients. So to do that, we’re going to have just a series of focus conversations that Kristen, our COO, is going to lead that really drill down into specifically, just a couple of key areas. Kristen, you want to take it away?

Kristen McAlister:

Yeah. And we certainly, with this group, since we’re not going into breakouts where we need to have everyone doing exactly the same thing, we can also expand it a bit because you’ve got individuals on this call, think of this as your advisory board.

So there are individuals on this call, who have worked with a range of different clients and are working with CEOs day in and day out who have been through what you’re going through. And it may not be that your biggest challenge is getting that referral. It may be when you’re talking to that CEO, or maybe when you’re working with that CEO.

So we certainly can open it up and feel free to ask questions, as we go, to this group to make recommendations on, you know, Michelle, you’ve got a book coming out there might be some recommendations on, how to bring the book into your pitch, bring the book in a way to where it’s demonstrating what you do and how you do in supporting that so that individuals don’t feel as though they’re being sold or marketed to, and there’s some value in it for them.

So let’s open it up a little bit. One of the things about being memorable and really finding a niche: I was on a call recently I’m a member of a group called Provisors here in DC, and I met a CPA, I’ve lost track of how many CPAs I know, and she said, “I specialize with construction and real estate companies who have partnerships.” That stuck in my head so much that I made two introductions for her following that meeting, because I immediately thought of someone else who works with real estate and construction CEOs, that’s tangential to what she does and I knew a construction company that had a partnership and they’ve been complaining about their CPA who didn’t understand their vertical or their partnership. So it was very quick and easy for me to better understand that narrow focus.

With that, would love to go around and really please share, I know we shared at the beginning, here’s what we do. Michelle, you mentioned who you work with. Canetta, you mentioned HR and legal. Tell us, what is the one vertical industry size of company or situation that is where you are the biggest expert in, you could pull out the numbers off the top of your head, this is where your value proposition shines.

Would love to better understand from each of you, what is that situation that when we hear it, this is when we should be giving you a call. You should be absolutely top of our list. The first one that we call when we hear this situation is because this is where your value proposition in your niche shines.

I know I’m putting everyone on the spot, so I’m actually going to start with Chris to lead it off. When should everyone in this group think of you and say, you’ve got to meet Chris?

Chris Shepard:

A great transition. So, if you’re in the marketplace and you’re hearing from clients, you’re hearing from friends, from associates, and they’re talking about a problem that they have within their organization at the C-level, and they say, “I just don’t think we have the right people to solve this problem, I don’t think we have the right knowledge, I don’t think we have the right experience. There’s just this one thing that keeps coming up in our business that we just can’t seem to get, right.” That’s a reason to call Cerius.

That’s a reason specifically to call our client services team because we partner with them to find the right person to help them get over the issue that they’re currently facing on an interim, fractional, and project basis. So that’s a very specific time when you hear that you should default to, I need to leverage my network at Cerius.

Kristen McAlister:

And so what Chris went for is here’s the situation versus the CPA, who said here’s the swim lane I’m in: construction companies partnership. So one, you can either niche in an industry or a specific role, or here’s the situation and the problem that I solve. Barry, we’d love to hear what are we listening for you?

Barry Levine:

As I mentioned before, I’ve been a C-suite executive that is brought into companies that are experiencing certain levels of pain and are not performing well. And I helped them figure out, what the issues are and execute the plan to fix them.

Kristen McAlister:

When you say not performing well, is it not performing well because of any one thing?

Barry Levine:

I mean, it’s dependent on the company, but all of them have been losing money for an extended period of time. And, it’s usually not just one issue. So it’s a matter of looking at the financials, sales, and marketing operations, human capital, and really kind of doing a wholesale evaluation of the company and fixing the areas, but more importantly, figuring out the ones that have the biggest bang for their buck, and, instead of just, creating a lot of activity, fixing things that really aren’t going to make that much of a difference.

Kristen McAlister:

Is there a specific industry?

So for example, I just had a large manufacturer call and say, “We’re just having growth we’ve never seen before, but we’re losing money. And we don’t know why.”

Barry Levine:

I’ve been in a lot of different industries. I think there was somebody that, when they were introduced, said they were in 61 different industries and different verticals and stuff.

So I’ve been in manufacturing, distribution, technology, healthcare, among others. So, I think that gives me, in my opinion, an edge from the standpoint of having experienced these issues in multiple industries, being able to, look at a particular industry, kind of as an insider and as an outsider, and bring best practices from multiple industries, to bear.

Dave McClung:

Kristen, I had a thought, when you brought up the subject, I was thinking, you know, I’m a technology expert because I spent 25 years in the computer disc drive industry, as people were building out the cloud, right? So I was an evangelist for the cloud. I became what they call a subject matter expert in the data center, implementation, and optimization.

So with that, I could say that I’m a technology generalist, but when I mentioned that I’m a subject matter expert in data centers, that usually carries a different kind of weight and it makes it more specific. So I think of that as my superpower, what is the thing that I’m good at a lot of things, but what is my real superpower if you had to ask me what I could really help you with? And that’s the way I like to frame it. And I think that all of us have a superpower within the discipline that we call ourselves, CFO, COO, whatever it is, we definitely can think of an example where we really have expertise in a particular subject.

When Chris brought up his story about the two people that introduced themselves, you know, right now a light went off because I’m looking for a SaaS, software as a service salesperson. And I thought, well, obviously I would call the second person. even though the first person might be just as good at doing the job, they’ve articulated the fact that, that they’re an expert in SaaS implementations and so that would be the person I’d call. And I think that’s what we’re trying to get at here.

Kristen McAlister:

Yeah, so Barry, what I’m hearing from you is if they say they’re losing money, that’s the time to call you.

Canetta Reid:

So, I believe that organizations would look to me where there is an employer who’s looking to build or improve employee processes, specifically where they’re looking to improve employee experience, drive culture change, mitigate risk, that would be when you would want to engage my expertise.

Kristen McAlister:

Any clarifying questions?

Chris Shepard:

And is there a specific industry that you’ve done a lot of work in, or you would consider yourself an expert in or are you more generalized?

Canetta Reid:

So kind of to what Michelle said, I am industry agnostic. I mean, my experience is across retail, manufacturing, oil and gas, CPG, healthcare, probably the only industry I haven’t had experience in, I guess would be maybe tobacco, I don’t know.

But, certainly where there is high employee turnover, or you’re looking to try to improve employee experience, which quite frankly is just about any employer out there, today. That’s where my skillset becomes very easy.

Chris Shepard:

I think that’s where the value of talking this through with everyone on the call is important because to me, what stood out there is you said, one thing that is common across all those industries is I help people with really high employee turnover. Right? That’s a distinction point. That’s something that stuck out just as you said it, it stuck out in my head as healthcare has that all these places may have it, but that is one thing you have a lot of experience in, right?

Like if you have a high employee turnover, there’s a whole set of issues that go with that, that I can handle. I am an expert in places that have high employee turnover. So, that’s a real differentiator and I want to come in, Barbara, while we’re on this part of this subject, when Barbara said that she also hosted a podcast, like it kind of went in one ear and out the other, just because I listened to a hundred podcasts, right.

Like I recorded a podcast on Saturday and it was like, ugh, another podcast. But then she said specifically the female VC lab podcast showcases the journeys of female investors. I was like, now that’s not a vanilla podcast. That’s a very specific podcast with a very specific thing. And I’ve already subscribed to your podcast, Barbara.

Because while I may subscribe to a thousand podcasts, I don’t currently, or I didn’t prior to this call subscribed to one that specifically talked about the journey of female investors. So when can, when Barbara said I’ve got a podcast, there’s a part of me that goes, who doesn’t.

And then she says, but I specifically do this, I go, “oh, that’s something different that is interesting to me. I want to learn more about it.” So that difference between I can do a lot across a lot of industries in HR sounds different to a perspective person than I specialize in high employee places that have high employee turnover.

Does everyone kind of see that little nuance? You may say, well, that’s not that big of a thing. It’s the difference between me subscribing to the podcast and just passing that off and going to the next thing, right? That very specific thing where Barry works with companies that have a lot of revenue but may be losing money. They may be growing, but they’re not making money. Well, that’s when I need to call Barry.

Kristen McAlister:

Yup. And that’s what we hear. And the phone call that we get is the pain of it is like, I know that you know the strategy and you are a one, two punch in any legal department.

So when you look at the pain that they’re in, how many wage and hour lawsuits are they in right now? If that’s anyone who’s complaining about a wage and hour lawsuit, they’ve got employee issues. They probably got high employee turnover because the only time you get those is when you’re turning over your employees and then they go and complain.

So those signals that we’re listening to when the CEOs are calling us or referral partners, and they’re almost complaining of here’s the pain that I’m in, do you help with that when they do wage and hour?

Canetta Reid:

Well, it’s interesting that you say that. So, yeah, certainly mitigating risk, and addressing legal compliance issues like wage and hour.

I cut my teeth on wage and hour claims and used to fly across the country testifying, in class action litigation. But building out solutions to help mitigate risk, and address, those types of issues are also a part of my expertise.

Kristen McAlister:

Because you’re also an attorney, you just said the magic words of mitigating risk.

I was in a room with 12 CEOs two weeks ago. And what dominated the conversation was only two of them did not have a wage and hour complaint against them at the time. 10 out of 12 had some type of wage and hour lawsuit going on.

Deborah, I know that you’re someone new to our network, would love to understand kind of what’s your value proposition and what are we listening for?

Deborah Klein:

Well, today, I guess more so than pre-COVID, larger organizations or non-profits are looking for perhaps new and different pathways to revenue, support donations, expanding the donor base. And that’s really where I come in. My sweet spot is major gifts fundraising. It’s working with higher net worth individuals that really do want to make a difference through philanthropy.

It’s being able to key in on who these folks are, building a prospect base, and then working with philanthropy professionals, myself included, to move these prospects into donors to cultivate them, and to close gifts and that’s the area where I’m most successful and most comfortable.

But when it comes to nonprofit management and administration, I have a very broad skill set and a lot of passion for supporting particularly healthcare and higher ed.

Kristen McAlister:

Perfect. So you just, what you just said in healthcare and higher ed, those two right there, keying in on those. Typically, what we don’t hear is, “I need help improving my fundraising processes.” What we hear is what’s generally the pain or what’s going on. What is that?

Deborah Klein:

So some of the challenges are sort of right at the onset, we just don’t have a donor base. How do we find people that are willing to support our organization? And I’ve conducted a lot of startups, especially in donor base building, and that is an area of strength. And I have a lot of creative avenues.

But also it’s the stewardship, somebody comes on board, they’re happy to support the organization. It’s right in their wheelhouse, what have you. And then, oftentimes organizations, particularly smaller organizations just don’t spend the time with the donor, once the gift is made, it’s almost as though they’re forgotten.

So stewardship is a big piece of where foundations will say, “you know, we just don’t know what we did that wasn’t right.” And that will be my first question: How are you caring for the folks that have taken care of you? And a lot of times you get sort of that blank stare. “Well, we sent them a thank you note.” Well, maybe not enough. So that would be another area.

Kristen McAlister:

Perfect. I always want to pause for any other questions. So what I heard was healthcare, education. They don’t have the donor base, the revenues are down, or they’ve maybe recently lost some large donors and they’re not sure how to replace or even why. Perfect. Michelle.

Michelle Diamond:

In a nutshell, I help companies grow faster, more profitably than they could on their own, by helping them to identify and into new markets, especially where and where not to play, helping them to identify and win against competitors in general and also to combat against competitive threats and help them to eliminate roadblocks to strategy execution when they know the direction is supposed to be going, but they’re having problems with actually executing to get the results they need.

My area of differentiation is that I do it in a way that’s simple and easy for, not just the CEO and executive, but the whole organization to understand. And I leverage best practices across industries that usually help them to differentiate against the competition and set them apart. That’s what I do.

Kristen McAlister:

You talk about growth initiatives that set apart, that’s generally the solution. What’s the pain that they’re in?

Michelle Diamond:

I’m helping them to identify in new markets is because they are rather in a situation where they want to expand, but they don’t know how. They might be in one market. They don’t know if they should penetrate or they don’t know they should look for other markets. I mean, with things like COVID, even though it’s not always COVID related, COVID creates shifts, right? So with these shifts and these different markets, a lot of times CEOs and their boards don’t know where to take their companies and where they should play going forward in a way that’s still going to be profitable for them, not just based on what they’ve always done in the past.

The same thing with the competitive landscape sometimes comes to work with companies because they have a competitive threat. It might be that a big one is coming up or maybe the company, their industry is consolidating or something like that. Or honestly, it could be a matter of just innovation, from other companies that they haven’t been doing.

So I help them to come in a lot of times, step one is just giving them a landscape. Because quite frankly, regardless of the size of the company, whether they are venture-backed early-stage companies or whether they are a Fortune 50 company, most of them don’t have a clue who their competitors are.

So a lot of times step one, and sometimes it could be the entire engagement, is doing, if they’re a globally competitive landscape, or even on a national one, just to let them know who exactly are your competitors, your direct, your indirect, your emerging, things like that. And then from there, I help them to develop the strategies.

Well, how are you going to win against this new competitive landscape? One might be an existing one that was always taking place, but they were so focused on operating the company in a certain way they have blinders on, and if they’re public, maybe their stock price is going on. Even if they’re not public now, now they realize, okay, we have to do something differently, but they don’t know how, because for companies that have been operating a certain way, only have a certain set of expertise, they don’t understand how to look outside of them to be able to do whatever they need to go forward to the next level.

Or if they’re in a situation where they are losing money and their back is against the wall, how to turn themselves around properly, turning yourself around, obviously you can cost cut, right? And so you can’t cost-cut anymore, which is what most companies do for survival purposes, but at a certain point, or you can look to acquire as well, but you can’t put a bandage on a company that doesn’t have the right foundation.

So even though I helped companies organically, M&A target, You know, if I’m helping them to identify an M&A target, I’m still making sure does this really go through with where you can best win going forward. So the issues really relate to whether they end with if they’re already growing fast, how to help them to better scale so that they’re not, you know, busting up the seams sort of thing.

And that also has to do with identifying the right markets and things of that nature, because they could be doing something really well, but they could also be losing money. Why not have the infrastructure in place to do it? So when I do the third bucket, which is eliminating the roadblocks, the strategy execution is what I call it because that’s like tons of engagements. The issue is really like, okay, well we know what to do. We just don’t know how to do it. Or we are having problems doing it. And the reasons for those problems can be a number of reasons. And I help companies know what those are.

Kristen McAlister:

Think through how to get that part down to 10 seconds, because as a referral partner, I’ve now forgotten the original part of it. What’s one thing you want me to remember?

Michelle Diamond:

The way that I would say it was to me would be generic, but I’ll say it anyway. You guys can give me the feedback and that’s fine. You know, when I’m dealing with someone, with a CEO, I’d let them know that I can help them to solve their growth problems or capitalize when they have growth opportunities in a way that’s faster and more profitably than they put in their own.

They all get that. So usually after I state that, then they’ll go into well, okay, the two buckets, they want to capitalize on the growth opportunities and accelerate. Or they have a growth issue and they need to solve the problem. I’m helping them from the strategic side because obviously a lot of different people can solve those problems in different ways in terms of, like I said, even I’d take the strategy development piece out, which is broad. Again, most of the time I’m helping them to identify in incidental new markets where, and where not to play, because they don’t know whether they’re doing it wrong because they’re losing money and then I help them to win against their competitors.

Kristen McAlister:

I’m just repeating this for the rest of our team identifying new markets or winning against their competitors.

Michelle Diamond:

Especially when they don’t know where and when not to play, because a lot of times that’s the underlying issue. So that’s why, even though it’s identifying its new markets, sometimes they say, we want to expand or identify new markets, but they don’t always need to expand.

Sometimes they just need to be in the right place. And that’s the subset of those two things. But the majority of my work, I would say beyond there, and then the execution obviously varies.

Chris Shepard:

Yep. And I think Michelle, I think you’ve really hit on a really good point here is that one of the most difficult things is making a memorable and impactful pitch. It is like trying to boil down all this experience into the segments that are going to move you through the process to be memorable.

On Netflix right now, there are 15,000 current shows and movies, 15,000, but they’re probably only a handful that you text to your friends and say, “Hey, I just watched this. You should.” A vast majority of content out there is not shareable. It’s not memorable. We get through the end of it and go, “meh, that was okay.” And we tell no one about it.

We want your networking pitch to be those top few titles. That well thought out, well-orchestrated, well-put-together pitch that whenever someone hears it, they go, “Hey, I know someone who knows somebody that does a very specific thing.” And that is hard to do; the majority of networking pitches do not strike through and have that kind of share-ability.

So one of the reasons we’ve spent so much time on this idea of the pitch is if we don’t get that right, if it’s not memorable, if it’s not remarkable, if it’s not transferrable then the next section, which is, what do we do with this really won’t get a lot of value, right?

Like if it’s just a generic show that everyone’s already seen, no one’s going to refer it. No, one’s going to remember it. But if there’s a very specific pitch that you have, that’s going to break through the clutter, that’s going to break through and be more memorable.

Kristen McAlister:

The opportunities on this call as Barry goes into his next assignment as the chief restructuring officer, and he’s thinking, “Who’s a specialist, they’ve got to expand their marketplace. Their competitors are killing them. I’m seeing it in the numbers. Who’s going to help them identify some additional markets that they can take these products into?” now you’re probably going to be top of mind.

You’re going to be one of the individuals that are thinking through because it’s much easier to now connect. It’s easier for me to connect the dots. So I think you said it beautifully and succinctly to where I’ve got it, and I know the rest of the team has it. We’re talking to any number of clients and unless they have it, that’s where that the goal is for everyone here.

Thank you so much, Michelle. I know that this is sometimes tough in a group, but I really appreciate everyone’s openness because we’re all learning and you can see most of the team is head down taking notes. I think they’re writing down every single word that’s being said. It’s fantastic, Barbara.

Let’s go back to, what are we listening for to think this is right up Barbara’s alley.

Barbara Bickham:

I help entrepreneurs find their ultimate investor and make their bootstrap company into an emerging tech company. So if they have revenues of around a million dollars and up, I can help convert their company from their MVP into, a higher scale emerging tech company. That’s what I do.

Kristen McAlister:

You help them commercialize it?

Barbara Bickham:

Well, I help them grow and scale it. So they go from like baby company to big company. That’s what I do. I help them scale it, but they have to have something to scale. Right. So I don’t do startups anymore, like ideation, I do bootstrap companies. They have to have like a million dollars of revenue and up, and I help them scale their companies and apply emerging tech to it. Because a lot of companies may have started off kind of with nothing. And so they put some little tech together and if you want to be competitive, as Michelle was speaking, in this world around the world, you have to put some emerging tech into your technical stack.

It’s going to be AI. That can be blockchain. That can be a quantum computer. We don’t have to go into all what that is, but that’s what I do. I take these companies that have revenues and scale them with emerging technology. I also have them find investors because they all want that. So I also have helped them do that.

So I do two things: help them find their ultimate investor, help them scale their company with emerging tech. That’s it.

Chris Shepard:

So Barbara that’s super, super great. Hopefully, we’ve given you enough at least, examples, maybe some feedback that you can take and refine the pitch that you’re working on.

You can make it that one title that gets referrable. You can make it that thing that really stands out, pops, makes you memorable. I know Christa and Ida can probably both testify: when they’re doing an initial interview with an executive, the ones that really have what they do well articulated, that really moves the process along. Ida, Christa, anything to anything to add there? Abby, maybe?

Christa Cantele:

Yeah, absolutely. Chris, we all have a limited amount of time when we’re talking to people in a business setting, whether it’s an interview or a networking event, and to be able to truly capture someone’s attention and have them remember you, whichever setting that is, and it could be a talent acquisition person, it could be the CEO that you’re talking to, is you’ve got to have that elevator pitch and you’ve got to do it in a way that’s genuine and memorable, and it’s just equally important for Ida and myself when we’re talking to you, because we’ve got a limited amount of time to get through and talk to people for the engagements that we’re working on.

So it’s always a good thing to have down pat.

Chris Shepard:

So we won’t expand on that more. We’ll let you take that offline and over the next week or so, maybe work on that some yourself, if you want to reach back out to us and say, “Hey, here’s where I’m progressing with this. How does this sound, do you want some more feedback?” We’re all here on the Cerius team to help you with that. Because the better that gets, we think the more opportunities that you’ll be able to engage on for an assignment.

So the last thing we kind of wanted to touch on before we give you your afternoon back really is this idea of once you have your pitch kind of ironed out and worked out, what do you do with it?

And, since some of you are going to continue to work on your pitch, we won’t go into too much in-depth on this. I’ll just give an example that we’ve been using here at Cerius. So when you really look at what we do, we’re placing high-level, thoroughly vetted executives in engagements where they can provide value.

And one of the places that we can do that really well is private equity companies. And so once we really honed in on what it is we do and what sets us apart, really is this idea that across many different industries and in many different disciplines, we have a network for it. As each of you knows, we don’t specialize in one thing, we don’t just do CFO, we don’t just do healthcare. We are broad spectrum. If you’re in a place and you just see a CMO, a CFO, and a CEO, we can do all three of those. That’s one of the things that makes Cerius different. So once we really articulated that and realized we can be across disciplines and across industries, where does that fit?

Well, it fits in private equity companies, right? Because they’re buying businesses in multiple different industries that need multiple different roles within those companies. That’s one place that could use a one-stop-shop of interim executives to come in and do that work.

So think of that example and how that applies to your specific discipline and the specific thing that you do well.

Barbara, I keep going back to your podcast because you’ve got me amped up about who’s coming on tomorrow. But like who needs your work specifically?

Barbara Bickham:

Let’s talk about the private equity company that needs my work. For example, Black Rock is starting a blockchain practice. This is my expertise. I’ve been in this field a very long time. Kristen and I have worked on the blockchain project together. So any of these private equity companies that want to do central bank digital currencies, want to do any type of token economics, they want to know about NFTs or want to know anything related to a blockchain, they should be following me because they are all trying to get into this new area because they see money as growing here. And it is economies, but they don’t really understand it. So that would be somebody that should be following me. And some do, and some don’t.

Chris Shepard:

See that is everything we’ve been talking about for an hour is that right there: you are an expert in a very specific thing that probably not a lot of people are. And there is a very specific group of people who are looking for that technology. Or they’re looking for that knowledge.

Kristen McAlister:

Well, and I go back to what’s phenomenal here and I start to brainstorm, I look at Barry and what you do, I sure wish that I could turn around companies because if I could just get out to my entire network and ask one question, every person I meet says, do you know of a business that’s losing money right now? Guaranteed out of 10 people, there’s going to be two to three. I’d love to talk with them.

Even just getting the introduction to, rather than trying to sell or pitch, I’d love to interview them. “I’m working on an article. I’m working on research. I’ve done this three times. I’m starting to find, similarities would love to get introduced to them.” Just that one question and that specificity is going to get introductions guaranteed.

I wish I could narrow it down Cerius into that simple of a question. Our marketing department would be thrilled.

Chris Shepard:

And that’s exactly the thing. When you have a very articulated pitch, that’s very specific and you may have multiple ones for different verticals and different segments of your business, but the light bulb just clicks. Like I’ve got a meeting with one of my private equity companies on Friday, Barbara. I don’t know if they’re into NFTs and blockchain, but they’re probably going into it. So, now that you were able to refine that, like I know that the second I hear blockchain and NFT, I need to call Barbara, one so she can tell me about all this technology and two, so I know who to refer you to. I know when to call you.

One thing that Kristen and I were talking about this morning, the second time in a month this has come up, but this conversation around ESG. And Canetta, you may be able to speak to that, within the HR segment.

Michelle Diamond:

That’s another thing I have expertise in. Our fund does ESG. We actually create sustainability plans for the portfolio companies. So I have a two page sustainability plan for portfolio companies. I do have some expertise in that as well. And then being on boards.

Canetta Reid:

Yeah. And, again, in my experience in working with companies that have responsibilities, particularly to their suppliers, and other vendors, working with them to develop strategies around, and solutions for audits as well as a number of the governance issues that arise. I’ve worked with companies on that as well.

Barbara Bickham:

So, but then Chris, the ESG is that really, I call it the people portion or are they really thinking about the environmental portion? Because ESG now is kind of more than and beyond just environmental as well.

Chris Shepard:

It’s really more the people, the specific ones that had reached out to me, it’s more of the people side, the governance side that was set up.

Canetta Reid:

It’s all of the social responsibility issues. So it’s all of the human rights issues. It is the environment. I mean, it’s everything, and as I said, there are a number of companies that if you want to do business with them, you’ve gotta be able to demonstrate that your company has a strategy and has a plan to ensure.

Ikea and Walmart, these days they’re requiring their vendors and suppliers to be able to comply because it’s a hot button issue.

Barbara Bickham:

So, but in the past, I know that they were very environmentally focused versus people focus. And now it’s kind of shifted; the S part of ESG has gotten more, highlighted versus the environmental piece.

Michelle Diamond:

Sometimes that’s part of my strategy. I actually help companies on the ESG side as well. That’s part of where to play and where not to play in terms of markets, especially on the environmental side, because the world is shifting in terms of that as well. And that does carry over into the social side, as droughts occur and then talent shifts and workers shift and things like that. It all kind of interrelates. So it’s not something that’s something I lead with, but it’s definitely incorporated into the work that I do because it has both to go into all of that high-level decision-making that companies are always looking at.

Chris Shepard:

So, one thing I think is probably apparent to everybody, but I’ll just articulate in case it isn’t: once we get to a very specific topic in which we have the expertise, the conversation level just ramps up, right? Like if I had started this call and said, ESG, we’re going to just set it on because it’s topical, it’s memorable. We need experts in it. And if you are one, there’s a market for it. I think that really sums up what we’re trying to teach here today is if we can drill down into some very specific, memorable things that each of you can do well, you’re more rememberable, right?

Like we will remember the ESG section of this conversation moving forward. Kristen?

Kristen McAlister:

Yep. Anything that we can do to provide the market scope.

So Canetta, we talked about wage and hours. You start talking about wage and hour and ESG. You get the attention of just about any CEO.

Barry, you talk about the growth that’s gone on this past year. The number of conversations we’re having with businesses saying, “I just grew at an unbelievable rate over the last six months, but I’m losing money. Why?”

Those are the conversations that we’ve had with any number of CEOs over the past couple of months. Nonprofit – I don’t know how many conversations Chris has had with nonprofits where, “We don’t have any funding sources. We need someone in there setting them up.” Those are the issues that they’re having.

So I appreciate this conversation to where to also feed out from our heads because we do this day in and day out, and we forget what to share and the amount, where your expertise is, you can take two of your 50 things – two of them might be very topical right now and over the next six months compared to last year.

So hopefully this has helped frame and align some areas of expertise with what’s trending in the market right now and what’s going to resonate with referral partners and CEOs. Chris, take it away.

Chris Shepard:

So just to kind of wrap this up or give you a few minutes of your afternoon back. When I asked for something red, almost everyone who had something red smiled, right?

It’s like, that’s what you’re looking for? This is what I’ve got! And that really is what your networking pitch needs to be. It needs to be that if you’re looking for ESG, if you’re looking for blockchain, if you’re growing but losing money, if you’re a nonprofit who’s trying to figure out how to create a donor base and how to keep it — those are very specific things. If we can articulate them and do those well, we’re just gonna ramp up our networking activity or business development activity. When you’re selling something someone is looking for, that’s the rising tide that lifts all boats.

We think once your pitch is refined and really great, we think you’re going to use it more. We think you’re going to engage more in networking activities. And when you do that, one thing that we think will happen is people might say, “Barry, I don’t need that. But if you happen to know a chief marketing officer, we really do need that right now.” Or you do get an assignment and you get in there and you realize one of the reasons they’re losing money is marketing or one of the reasons that they’re not being compliant is because they need someone in a very specific role. When that opportunity happens, you can say, “Hey, I don’t really know anybody in that space, but if I hear it, I’ll let you know.” Or you can refer that opportunity to us here at Cerius.

We think you should do the second for two reasons: one, it’s good for your brand. As an executive with an existing advisory network, like Cerius, you’re able to say, I know a marketing person, I know people that can get us one, let me set up an introduction. That’s just good for your brand to be able to complete that. The second thing is it’s good for your bank account.

When you bring an opportunity to us here at Cerius, which is as easy as an introductory email, we close that opportunity, we give you 5% of the billings for that first year. So if you bring us an opportunity for a chief marketing officer, we’re able to put one in there, that’s a hundred thousand dollars in 10 months, you’re going to get $5,000.

So that’s our referral fee and that’s our referral program. It’s good for your brand because you’re a trusted advisor to the engagement that you’re on. And it’s also good for your bank account because we appreciate you guys sending that to us, a larger and larger percentage of our business is coming from this referral network because companies need experience and companies need trust.

And that’s why we put these events on. It’s why we want you to be on more engagements. And it’s why we’re trying to build up our relationship with the people that we have here at Cerius.

We hope you found today’s call memorable. We hope that your wheels are turning to think about how you can make your pitch more memorable to get out there and do more business development and networking.

And we thank you for being on the call. Thanks for being part of the Cerius network. And we’ll talk to you soon. Thanks, everybody. Take care.

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