Global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, Tiffani Bova (tiffanibova.com) offers a uniquely practical take on the realities of growth. Her book, Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business is one of our recommended reads of 2018. Before working with Salesforce, she was a VP, Distinguished Analyst and Research Fellow at Gartner. She has also worked for start-ups and Fortune 500 companies including Sprint, Inacom, Interland (web.com) and Gateway Computers. She sat down and contemplated our bright and breezy but far from easy questions.
What book are you currently reading?
Becoming by Michelle Obama
How do you describe what you do?
I have the amazing opportunity to meet with companies all over the world and help them be more successful. With each interaction I have, I get a chance to listen and learn about what companies across various industries, geographies are doing to grow their businesses. Meeting with sales, marketing and customer service executives and leaders who are reshaping the future of their companies provides me a front row seat to the realities of business today. Then, I am able to take those lessons learned and share with others how those insights might apply to the challenges and opportunities they face.
What is your big idea?
That the one thing about growth is it is never one thing.
Why does it matter now?
Challenges to growth have multiplied. The problem is that too many companies respond with a strategic business model and forget about the mental model. Growth strategy is a thinking game that works when you have the right mindset to inform the when, where and why of every strategic move you make.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
The people I get a chance to interact with every day, both at our customers as well as within the Salesforce organization. They are passionate about their business and inspire me to bring my best each and every day.
What does success look like?
It used to mean something very different than it does today. I recently said that success in my 20s was all about figuring out what I wanted to do. My 30s was about how much money could I make and what my ‘title’ was. My 40s was learning, consuming and expanding my knowledge set and horizon. And, now in my 50s I equate success to giving back to an industry that has been so good to me over my career and finding ways to make a broader difference for companies large and small around the world on helping the grow.
What is your competitive advantage?
I have been told that one of my ‘super-powers’ is that I am unique in the sense that I am a ‘practitioner and academic’ at the same time. I have held leadership roles at start-ups and Fortune 500 companies in sales, marketing and customer service and spent 10 years as a Distinguished Analyst and Research Fellow at Gartner. My real world experience gave me the understanding of the nuances usually overlooked by someone who has never ‘done the job’ before. I know the language, the challenges, the opportunities and more importantly, I know what questions to ask to get to the answers someone is looking for. While becoming an analyst was a steep learning curve for me, it allowed me to use my 15 years of experience in new and innovative ways to help clients be more successful.I often heard how they appreciated my ability to stay close to the day to day, with all my various customer conversations, and the long horizon, with my access to industry leading research, at the same time.
How much time do you spend travelling?
This year was my heaviest travel year yet. I logged 325,000 (fly) miles in 2018. I spoke on 6 continents in front of tens of thousands of people and met with hundreds of companies. Launching my book, Growth IQ, and doing my day job as the Global Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce has kept me really busy….but I wouldn’t have changed a thing, great year!
What is the secret of a great presentation?
Another one of my ‘super-powers’ is storytelling. I work hard at my craft. People can always make more money, but they can’t make more time. So if they chose to spend time with me, whether I am on stage or in a one and one situation, I want them to feel they got value and it was worthy of the time spent. While it is impossible to nail it every single time, if I start with that goal in mind,then I think it allows me the mindset to deliver a ‘great presentation.’
What is your next goal?
Learn from the feedback I have received in 2018 and use that to step up my thinking even further. The practical usage and success of my advice and insights are what matters. So finding a way to capture that, share it and further my own Growth IQ is definitely an aspiration. Another, and not just because of where this Q&A is being posted, but it would be landing on the Thinkers50 list. I know I stand on the shoulders of so many on the current list, that it would really be a great accomplishment to be considered someone who has developed a body of work worthy of the same recognition.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Be committed to being a student of your profession, whatever that might be. There are no shortcuts to the value of time spent and real-world experience. Then I think you are able to find what you are good at, and double-down there. Don’t get bogged down by trying to get better at things that aren’t your strengths,move on quickly. Surround yourself with people who can fill in those gaps for you, learn from them, and then you can become really good at being you.
What is the biggest issue for business in the next decade?
Focus. So many things are going on both internally and externally that it can become overwhelming and distracting for leaders trying to steer the company in the right direction. Finding which ideas to pursue, how to vet those ideas against internal capabilities and customer expectations and which current efforts should be retired, isn’t something to do once a year during annual planning meetings, but rather a cadence which the entire company participates in everyday.
Describe yourself in three words.
I’d rather use three words others have used to describe me — passionate, driven and confident.