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From Expert to Trusted Generalist - the art of becoming Managing Director

Rising through the ranks of a business is a fairly well-trodden path; work hard, deliver, always go the extra mile and you’ll be given more opportunities and responsibilities. Becoming the Managing Director, on the other hand, is the path taken by the few. We move from being THE expert in our field, to being a trusted generalist who knows enough to influence and direct the strategy and operational performance of EVERY area.

That shift from expert to informed generalist is huge. It’s tempting to become hands on in every area, yet the reality is we need to build and trust our team to be the experts in their fields. And so, further key skills are collaborative problem solving and learning to develop and trust our teams with significant responsibilities and decisions.

Am I exaggerating the size of the shift to become Managing Director? Well, according to a recent McKinsey article, the CEO’s job is so specialised executives can only prepare for the post by holding it. Simultaneously, just three in five newly appointed CEOs live up to performance expectations in their first 18 months on the job. Which is just crazy. Surely there’s a better way – at least in SMEs.

 “Peer 2 Peer is the Non-Exec Board you can’t afford”, Richard Strong

In July this year we created our Peer 2 Peer Mastermind group to help with this succession planning, and to help business leaders grow stronger businesses, without all the headaches! We’re four Board Meetings in and our Board is growing from strength-to-strength. Each new Member brings years of experience and expertise, building a well-rounded Board.

Each Peer 2 Peer Board consists of three vital elements: Member Updates and Insights, Skill Up Workshop, Hot Seat Business Challenge, and is supported by mentoring as well as peer support. It’s ideal for business owners, leaders and senior managers who have the ambition, authority and resources to create changes and deliver significant improvements, and who value trusted guidance, peer support and time to work ON the business.

Our November Skill Up Workshop focused on Promoters & Customers and, in particular, upon creating Marketing Plans to generate potential clients. It’s a huge topic and one that business leaders need to understand so they can contribute to marketing meetings and strategy in a meaningful way. Many of our Board Members were taking their new knowledge and the workbooks straight back to their businesses to have meetings with their marketing teams. The process of creating Marketing Plans, which is described in the workbook, enables them to facilitate collaborative problem-solving and have productive discussions with their teams on this traditionally woolly, expensive and yet essential topic.

Organisations survive and thrive by their customers. They provide the lifeblood of profits and cash. We grow our businesses by selling more to our existing customers or by gaining more customers organically or through acquisition. Our workshop focused on organic growth through marketing.

Depending on which study you read and which industry you’re in – it can cost anywhere from 5 to 25 times more to acquire a new customer than a retain an existing one. Therefore client retention is vital and there’s certainly no point in working hard to pour more water into a leaking bucket. So when we’re marketing for new customers it’s important to think of how they will perceive those messages and whether we appear to value potential customers more than your existing ones. (Just think about those special offers banks make to new clients that raise the hackles of their loyal clients.) This is particularly tricky when the new customers you’re looking for are different from your existing ones. But, done well, you’ll re-engage your existing customers as well as gain new ones.

In our last two Board Meetings we focused on reviewing and developing our Value Propositions, Brand, Content and Online Presence. This month we focused on bringing those together to draft a Marketing Plan which will raise awareness, educate prospective clients and demonstrate both benefits and credibility.

However, it doesn’t matter how good our Marketing Plan is, if our ideals prospects and customers don’t hear it or see it. Therefore, Step 1 is to identify our ideal customers. We may choose to work with many clients but if we had a magic wand…who would our absolutely ideal customers be? Who needs the best of our services? Who is most likely to refer us?

In Step 3, we explored Aspirin’s Relationship Building Wheel.

A customer will only buy when we and they are both aligned, i.e. when what we’ve got meets their needs at the exact moment they’re ready to buy. Which means we need to develop and maintain strong relationships with our clients, and ensure they understand the benefits of our products and services. The level of trust will, of course, depend upon the level of personal and business risk being taken.

Our Board Members identified which stages of the Relationship Wheel were weakest and discussed different methods of bridging those gaps, e.g. helping clients understand what they do and the benefits of that.

There’s an old saying that 50% of marketing works, but we never know which 50%. In today’s world, that’s incredibly inefficient, and that doesn’t allow for how quickly marketing is evolving. Our Board Members shared their positive and negative experiences of different marketing tools. Part of Aspirin’s ethos is around sharing knowledge, and not having to each experience the same headaches of learning and trying everything for ourselves – so these peer to peer conversations are a vital component of all our work. We recognised that different marketing tools have different benefits for each organisation and that we each have our preferred mediums, i.e. some of us love networking, whilst others prefer social media. Once we’ve found our preferred medium and the ones that connect well for our clients, we need to consider our content and how we communicate our brand and value proposition.

These are all fantastic conversations to have with our marketing teams AND our sales teams.

  • Do our sales teams understand the cost of client acquisition, so they cherish each existing relationship, and work diligently to continuously improve their sales conversion rates?

  • Where are the gaps in relationship building with prospective customers and how do we help them understand the benefits of what we have to offer?

Of course, all of this is predicated by understanding our customers current and future needs, perhaps better than they understand them themselves, and ensuring we can meet these needs as well or better than anyone else.

Our Peer 2 Peer Board is not intended to be the font of all knowledge. Our relationships with key suppliers, including marketing experts, are essential. But having enough knowledge and confidence to influence, ‘direct’ and OWN our organisation’s Marketing Strategy is vital for business leaders and especially for Managing Directors.

"I realised I haven't switched off from work for a year. I need to take the time to work on our own business." Peer 2 Peer guest

Does your business need an Aspirin? In December, our Peer 2 Peer Boards are joining forces for the first Peer 2 Peer Conference. Then in January, our fifth Peer 2 Peer Board Meeting at the beautiful 4 star Burley Manor, is on 21st January. Our Skill Up Workshop will be on Gaining More Referrals.

Aspirin’s ‘Why?’:

We’re passionate about the role businesses play in our society and communities. Today more than ever we need our businesses to play an important role, to be a force for good in strengthening our society and empowering people to be their best selves, particularly in these times of uncertainty.

Our Director and Peer 2 Peer Board Chair, Susannah used to be Finance Director of a technology business in Nottinghamshire in the waste industry, helping to grow it from a start-up to over £10m turnover and through a successful sale.

For the past 4.5 years, we’ve been running business seminars and leaders’ academies, bringing people together for support and shared learning. We’re always looking to add more value and create a better experience so when Susannah ran in to Christopher Bayliss last year and decided to join a Peer2Peer board herself, she knew that she had found what she was looking for. That was to create a more proven way of building significant success for businesses and doing it in a way that is enjoyable.

If that’s what you’re looking for as well, that proven way to have more success and enjoy it, then we may be the perfect partners to work with. As well as Peer 2 Peer Boards, we have an excellent 'High Performing Leaders & Managers' programme, a great 'Develop your Intrapreneurs' programme and a brand new and rather wonderful 'Be Your Best Self' half-day workshop for team members which has received fabulous feedback. If you'd like to know more, explore our website ( or message me.


The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs, Carolyn Dewar, Martin Hirt and Scott Keller for McKinsey, October 2019


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