Why You Must Now Become a Wartime (Founder, CEO, Sales) Leader & How To Go On The Offensive

Regardless of your title, if you are responsible for your company’s strategy and revenue, read on, you have great responsibility, risk and opportunity ahead of you.

I first came across the concept of the Peacetime/Wartime CEO in Ben Horwitz’s book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Ben explains :

Peacetime/Wartime in Business

Peacetime in business means those times when a company has a large advantage vs. the competition in its core market, and its market is growing. In times of peace, the company can focus on expanding the market and reinforcing the company’s strengths.

In wartime, a company is fending off an imminent existential threat. Such a threat can come from a wide range of sources including competition, dramatic macro economic change, market change, supply chain change, and so forth.

On his blog, Ben goes on to provide examples of the differences between Peacetime CEOs and Wartime CEOs.

Why Now (March 2020) is Wartime in Business

Businesses are facing an existential threat - many simply will not survive.

Macro economic changes, market changes, supply chain changes are all in motion.

  • The realities and fear of Coronavirus have gripped the world.
  • Humans lives have already been lost and the experts predict many more will be lost before we bring this under control.
  • In the western world (and in countries where there has not been civil conflict or war with other countries) our generation is experiencing an unprecedented disruption to life never seen before (government directed lockdowns, self isolation, empty shelves in grocery stores, people working from home, children’s school moving online, sporting events cancelled and hospitals at capacity)
  • Many industries have already been affected including travel, tourism, retail, live entertainment etc
  • People and businesses are naturally going to move into a ‘let’s wait and see what happens’ before making spending decisions,
  • Outside of direct impact of the virus people are and will suffer from anxiety
  • The net effect on businesses will be a decline in revenues, some will lay off people and others will shut down.


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How to Get On The Offensive As A (Founder, CEO or Sales) Leader

Without a doubt, it’s wartime in business.

If you’re responsible for your company’s strategy and revenue you must get on the offensive to survive.

Here are 5 priorities to focus on as you get you started:

#1 Discipline and Structure


In this chaos, as the leader of your business who will be providing direction, certainty and safety to your team and customers, you need to be at your best.

You need to ensure your personal disciplines and structures are in place to help maintain your mental, emotional and physical wellness.

Ensure you are mindful in prioritising the quality of your:

  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Food
  • Mental health

Your Business

During business peacetime, (some) businesses become lazy, complacent and loosen their structures and disciplines. Now would be a great time to review, clarify and tighten:

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Communication structures
  • Tracking and acting on business metrics
  • Formalising people management

#2 Team Love

More than ever your people need your love, care and understanding.

Your team will have heightened levels of anxiety. Unknowns about the world, their company, their jobs, their family.

Issues will start to fester as you’ll be challenged by distance (remote work), lack of casual ‘water cooler’ conversation opportunities and given everything else going on, your team members may hold back their concerns as they will assume you have bigger issues to deal with.

You need to heighten your sense of perception, empathy and communication.

Increase your group and one-on-one communication. Provide consistent updates on yourself and your wellness, the company’s current status and future direction.

Encourage people to talk to one another, to you and to other leaders in your business.

#3 Customer Pulse

Your customers and their teams will be in a state of disarray.

Make it your priority to constantly communicate with your customers. Understand where they are at and reaffirm you are here with them for the long haul.

Don’t assume any previous conversation, agreement, priority budget or key personnel is still in place.

Prepare for things to change and be ready to adapt to their needs.

By the same token a closer relationship and better communication will set you up in a better position to also negotiate and get what you are looking for during this period (more on that below in Sales Offensive).

#4 Cash Flow

Cashflow is the oxygen of your business.

It may not be obvious right now but your cash flow is currently threatened. Not only by the potential of declining sales but there is a high likelihood existing deals may change and outstanding invoices may not get paid on time or paid at all.

So it's time to review your cash flow with greater scrutiny, model with higher levels of skepticism, review more regularly and communicate with stakeholders constantly.

Here’s some other things you should be doing:

  • Become familiar with state and federal government assistance packages (Tax breaks, grants etc) and get your house in order to take advantage of them;
  • If you’ve partnered with a larger company - reach out to find any benefits they may be offering their partners. Explore other ways where you can get cash in earlier.
  • Cut expenses that are non-essential or non-value creating.

#5 Sales Offensive

It’s wartime in business and you will not win just with defence. You need a plan of attack and you must get on the (sales) offensive.

Here’s what I’d consider in my plan of (sales) attack:

1. Understand the changed opportunities

With existing customers - Update your strategic account plans taking into consideration that the world just changed. While there may be cancellations or delays of previous projects, there may well be new requirements which you may be able to fulfill. Make sure to have a sense of your customer’s pulse (as per above).

For the broader market you serve - review your assumptions and your understanding of what the market needs and what it will pay for.

2. Update your offerings

Given the results of ‘Understanding the changed opportunities with your customers and in the broader market’ as described above, move to update your offerings (product and services).

Consider what needs to be cut and what can be added. Also review and reprioritise your product/service roadmaps (what needs to be brought forward and what needs to be delayed and pushed out).

3. Refine your messages

Your customers and the market will be put at ease and will be inspired to hear from you. Here’s what I’d be messaging on:

About You - as the leader of the business your customers will be put at ease to learn that you are in a good headspace and you are leading well during these challenging times.

About Your Business - you are open for business. You are there for your team and customers. You are adapting and playing the long game.

About Your Offerings - how you are making it relevant to the changed needs of your customers and market. Why you. Why now.

4. Prepare for the ‘new-normal’ sales operations

Here are elements of the ‘new-normal’ for the foreseeable future:

  • No in-person Conferences
  • No Meetups
  • No in-person networking events
  • No more ‘coffee catch ups’ or ‘business lunches / dinners’
  • No serendipitous running into people in hotel lobbies

Here’s what I’d be preparing:

  • Lifting the online profile of your business and individual team members (especially sales & marketing people)
  • Adoption of social tools for engagement and value add (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, Instagram, etc)
  • Adoption of online virtual conferencing to host events (conferences and meetups)
  • Adoption of video sales calls conferencing
  • Adoption of effective email campaigns and communication
  • Adoption of effective messaging apps (e.g WhatsApp)

5. Implement Sales Disciplines

  • Enhance your disciplines (and support) for your sales processes and activities:
  • Ensure team members are on-message (verbally and in their written communication)
  • You have a plan for prospecting
  • You prepare, update and review strategic account plans
  • You have a deal review process


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