What Changes in Benefits Do You See for 2015? Five Points

Situation: A CEO is doing benefit planning for next year. The company is small, with just under 100 full-time employees. They are growing, and anticipate reaching over 100 FTEs in the next 12 months, unless they consider either contract or less-than-full-time employees. The CEO is curious about what other companies are planning for employee benefits. What changes in benefits do you see for 2015?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Including employer-paid social security and Medicare matches, CEOs in the group are seeing a range of from 12.5% to 30% in benefits. This does not include 401K matches or bonuses.
  • Over the last five years, there has been a big shift in benefits, in particular a move from traditional health coverage to high deductible HSA plans.
  • ACA requirements for businesses kick in during 2015/2016. In 2015 employers with more than 100 FTEs will need to provide coverage to at least 70% of full-time employees. Starting in 2016 employers with 50 or more FTEs will need to provide coverage to 95% of their full-time workforce.
  • Much depends upon your annual cost per employee is for health coverage as well as your philosophy on employee benefits.
    • Starting in 2015, if a business is supposed to insure its full-time workers but does not, they will have to make a $2,000 per uninsured employee payment on their year-end federal income taxes.
    • The fee is $3,000 if the employee gets health insurance subsidies through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
    • Some companies who currently pay more than this in annual premiums per-employee are considering boosting employee pay and having their employees self-insure through the Marketplace, or by purchasing the same policies available in the Marketplace directly from health insurers. The policy cost is no different, assuming that the employees will not qualify for subsidies, but policies purchased directly from insurers may provide a better network of physician providers.
  • Before you make any decisions, it is best to consult an outside HR professional who is knowledgeable in both health care alternatives and the ACA.

How Do You Find and Evaluate New Markets? Four Factors

Situation: A company has determined that market shifts off-shore have neutralized their strategy for the past two years. They need to find new markets that offer growth potential. How do you find and evaluate new markets?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a classic competitive strategy challenge any time a company wants to expand within or beyond its core business. Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School is a top expert on competitive strategy. You can find talks that he has given on TED Talks and elsewhere on the Internet that can help guide your efforts.
  • Do a SWOT analysis. First, figure out your vision and analyze the strengths that you possess that will fulfill that vision. At the same time analyze your weaknesses to provide a counterpoint on what should not attempt to do. Then consider both threats and opportunities. Have these analyses in place before you expend major effort responding to or developing new opportunities. There are more opportunities out there that will end up as dead ends than there are profitable opportunities.
  • Don’t discount the expertise that you have developed over the years in your specialty. This is the area of your greatest profits both now and historically. It is likely to remain so in the future.
  • If you need additional resources to meet existing or new client demand – particularly if these involve activities that are less profitable to you – explore partnerships to access this expertise instead of trying to do everything yourself.

How Do You Respond to a Competitor’s Sales Tactic? Six Ideas

Situation: A company has learned that a competitor has cloned their client development approach. This approach enabled the company to gain early market share. They have since moved up-market and have enhanced their sales tactics. How should the company respond to the competitor’s tactic?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Reconnect with the market contacts that got you where you are. Be sure that they are aware of your track record, the value that you provide your clients, and reinforce your current market development focus. Now that you are established, position yourself as the proven producer who consistently produces results.
  • Study what the competitor is doing, who their target customer is, their close rates, and what if anything they are doing to enhance their close rates. Learn from them and copy or improve on their practices where this will yield benefit.
  • If your sales development is based on referrals, enhance the rewards to contacts who bring you new business in your prime target markets.
  • Your principal concern may not be your client base, which is likely unaware of the differences in your versus your competitor’s approaches, but in the referral structure that is your primary source of new business. Focus effort and resources to shore up your relationship with your referral base.
  • Focus on your strengths – performance and excellence in managing client relationships.
  • If the competitor is focusing on down market accounts that you no longer cultivate, then expect them to succeed in this market. Become the provider of choice to up market accounts and the natural referral choice for these accounts. If the competitor stumbles, you may pick up unexpected business.

How Do You Optimize a Promotion? Four Recommendations

Situation: A company has a long-term employee who has been growing in responsibility as Customer Service Supervisor. The CEO is considering giving this employee the new title of Production Manager at the same time that the employee receives an annual wage increase. How do you optimize a promotion?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Any promotion or increase in responsibility must be consistent with the strategic direction of the company. What are the company’s current and future needs and, based on past performance, can this individual satisfy those needs? If so, this may be a good match.
  • In addition, it is important to consider the needs and career path of the individual. Does the new position involve an increased time commitment, additional skills and training, or other important factors, and is the individual prepared for this increased commitment? Will a higher level of commitment be rewarded financially? The only way to answer these questions is to have a conversation with the individual.
  • If as the first two questions are considered there is any doubt, a longer-term transition may be appropriate. Meet with the Customer Service Supervisor and set a series of goals and objectives that will demonstrate their ability to assume the new role over a 6 month time frame. The concept here is that you must work at the level of the new job before you get it.
  • Before embarking on the above recommendations, draft a job description and list of responsibilities for the new Production Manager position, consistent with the company’s needs as it grows. This will involve input from employees who currently handle these responsibilities. Also look at the reporting structure as it currently exists and as it may change.

How Do You Coordinate Sales and Marketing Plans? Four Points

Situation: A small company uses a sales plan, but not a marketing plan. The CEO wants to know about marketing plans, and how they are different from sales plans. Most importantly, if a company has both, how do you coordinate sales and marketing plans?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Sales and Marketing Plans are two aspects of the annual planning and revenue forecasting process. The difference between the two is focus – strategy versus implementation.
  • The Marketing Plan is strategic. It defines and quantifies the market that the company addresses, and also what markets the company does not address. It identifies the key attributes of the company’s market and products or services, and sets the broad direction as well as the high level objectives for the planning period – usually one year. It also covers both current products and product additions or extensions. The focus of the Marketing Plan is one-to-many.
  • In contrast, the Sales Plan is focuses on execution of the Marketing Plan. Ideally, the sales team takes the Marketing Plan and sets individual and team sales objectives that will meet the revenue objectives set in the Marketing Plan. The focus of the Sales Plan one-to-one – what each sales representative, and each division of the sales team (unit, district, region, country, and so forth) commits to sell during the coming year.
  • To coordinate the Marketing and Sales Plans, it is best to draft the Marketing Plan before asking the sales team to draft their Sales Plan. It helps the two teams to coordinate their projections for the coming year and allows the sales team to project sales based on changes to the product mix included in the Marketing Plan.

How Do You Inform a Client about a Problem? Five Solutions

Situation: A company provides staff for a client. Overall the client has been pleased with the staff provided, and only a couple of individuals have had to be replaced. The client was recently presented with an individual that they seem to like; however, the company has since developed reservations about this candidate. How do you inform a client about a potential problem?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Meet with this individual face to face or via video conference. During the interview, tactfully ask questions that will either disqualify the candidate or satisfy your concerns. Only continue to present this candidate to the client if you are thoroughly satisfied that they can meet the client’s needs and will represent you well.
  • Ask the client for their impression of the individual. If they do not express any concerns, then your own concerns may be overblown.
  • The client will require the candidate to be trained by them prior to fully bringing them on-board. This will provide another opportunity for the client to say yea or nay. If the individual completes training to the client’s satisfaction, then once again your concerns may not be justified.
  • In any communications with the client, take care to voice only concerns that you can substantiate. Otherwise, you might expose yourself to suit by the candidate.
  • Independent of this situation, adjust your selection process to require face to face or video conference interviews. This will prevent the recurrence of future situations like this one.

How Do You Close the Books on Time? Four Suggestions

Situation: A company has experienced delays in closing their annual books for years. Inability to complete final inventory is the critical factor. In recent years it has taken four months or more to get final numbers for the year. How do you close the books on time?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is important to put a system into place well in advance of fiscal year end. A key part of this is to conduct final inventory so that it is done smoothly and accurately either immediately prior to or following the end of the fiscal year. Retail or wholesale operations normally complete final inventory within 30 days of fiscal year end.
  • If your inventory includes both large and small value items, ask whether you have to count everything. Based on past inventory it may be that small items that do not substantially impact final inventory can either be eliminated from the count or handled on an exception basis.
  • Consider a system of doing monthly or rotating monthly inventory smaller sets of items that make up perhaps 60% of sales, and quarterly inventory on an additional larger set of items that together with the first groups make up perhaps 80% of sales. By completing inventory of these items more frequently, the company will not only have a better handle on total inventory, but is also likely to be more accurate at the end of the year. At year-end inventory add those items that make up the final 20% of sales to the inventory count.
  • Again, depending upon the nature of the inventory, it may not be necessary to count items that, as groups, are valued under $500 per group. Seek expert advice from your accountant on this point.

How Do You Create a Win-Win Situation? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company collaborates with a large client to provide services to their mutual market. The company wants to offer similar services to secondary markets not currently of interest to the client. The challenge is that the client is very conservative; their current priorities are forcing long delays responding to the company’s requests, and the primary contacts within the client will not take any risks arguing the company’s case to their upper management. How can the company approach this situation to create a win-win situation with this client?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Since the services provided combine the capabilities of the two companies, it is necessary to develop a strong case to show how the proposed extension of services will benefit the client. Without their agreement the service offering is compromised.
  • One option is to offer a no-risk revenue share or royalty arrangement to the client in exchange for their agreement to allow you to build the secondary markets.
  • A second option is to offer to sell a minority share of your company to the client in exchange for your ability to develop the secondary markets. The deal could include an option to make a larger investment in your company if your strategy plays out profitably.
  • A third option is to raise money and purchase rights to the client’s capabilities outright. It is worth exploring whether the client would be open to this.
  • Find an informal setting to ask the client’s CEO for advice on how you should proceed. Have your ducks in line to offer options if the CEO responds positively.

How Do You Manage a Reorganization? Five Ideas

Situation: A company is preparing for a reorganization. The CEO plans to hire a new manager to in time become General Manager of the company. He also wants to terminate two current employees. How do you manage a reorganization?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Develop a 90-day integration plan for the new manager, including his/her top 3 to 5 objectives, and have the individual develop and execute the plan to achieve these objectives.
  • Use an early project to schedule working sessions with each department in the company during the new manager’s first week. This will help the new manager and current employees learn to work together and develop trust in each other.
  • In addition to providing broad objectives for the new manager’s first 90 days, clearly establish behaviors and outcomes that are unacceptable.
  • One of the employees to be terminated is a long-term employee who reports to the CEO but has not performed to expectations. The CEO should take the lead in terminating this person, and offer them a suitable severance package.
  • A junior employee who is not performing to expectations reports to a supervisor. However, the junior employee has repeatedly tried to work around his supervisor by approaching others in the company with his suggestions and complaints.

o    First, make it clear to everyone that the employee’s behavior is not acceptable and that he has to work through and with his supervisor.

o    Then let the supervisor determine whether or not to eliminate the employee, and support the supervisor’s decision. This includes offering a suitable severance package should the supervisor decide on termination.

How Do You Work with an International BD Person? Seven Ideas

Situation: A company has been approached by an international business development specialist who wants to help them expand into Asian markets. The company would need to hire local resources to support business that was generated. Most of this would be cookie cutter as opposed to creative work. How do you work with an international business development person?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Research the country markets where the specialist can help you and focus on the more developed and promising markets first.
  • If the specialist that has approached you has a local presence in the markets in which you are interested, lean on this person for help getting you started – office space, staff support, and so on.
  • One company started a subsidiary in Canada. The CEO believes that you must have a highly trusted person to own the project. Success is all about the relationship with this individual and their knowledge of both local and American culture.
  • Another company hired very promising business development person for a large Asian market. As the relationship progressed, they found that this individual was double dipping – working for them and their competition at the same time. Apparently this is acceptable in that culture.
  • Many cultures are relationship based. Local contracts are critical. Does your specialist possess these, and are they premier companies or also-rans.
  • Talk to individuals in your industry who have experience in the region.
  • Have your eyes open and recognize that this is will not be a quick process.