How Do You Focus Managers on Growth? Five Suggestions

Situation: Two key managers of a company are too busy with day-to-day activities to focus their planned 40% of time on growth. The company has hired personnel to relieve some pressure on them, and a new ASP (Application Service Provider) is improving customer out-reach. How can the CEO take pressure off these managers so that they have time to grow the business? How do you focus managers on growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Small companies grow through their early stages with everyone wearing many hats and doing everything. The company is now larger than this and it has to stop. Managers need to focus their responsibilities where you need them to focus and stop doing less important tasks.
  • Have you gone over key responsibilities and expectations for the two managers? Do they have clear objectives and deliverables? If not, focus on this.
  • Brainstorm with them how they could free-up time to focus on growth.
    • Do this in a meeting. Your plan is 10% growth. Ask for their ideas on how to grow the business, and develop a plan to put their ideas into action. What help or resources do they need to meet this plan?
    • Three heads better than one to ask core questions – let them come up with the answers.
  • Design processes to address needs and responsibilities.
    • Rank implementation of options in terms of impact to the company and financial results.
    • Given the ranking, implement programs sequentially – most relevant and easiest first.
  • Taking orders by phone is clerical. This should not be a manager’s prime focus.
    • Have a clerical person answer the phone, and train them over time.
    • Limit the manager’s direct involvement in phone orders to critical situations.

How Do You Optimize Your Buy/Sell Funnels? Three Strategies

Situation: A CEO is concerned that his company’s sales and marketing efforts are not effective. Too often the sales team finds a good prospect, but fails to convert them to the company’s offering. How can the company improve its sales conversion rate? How do you optimize your buy/sell funnels?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To improve both your marketing and sales functions, it is essential to move the company’s perspective from the Sales side of the Seller’s Funnel to the Marketing side of the Buyer’s Funnel. Only by understanding your customers can you:
    • Create awareness of their needs,
    • Acknowledge interest in a solution to their needs,
    • Consider options and develop preferences among the possible solutions, and
    • Determine how to effectively communicate with them through your marketing and sales efforts.
  • In today’s world, a quality web site is essential to your business. The objective of the web site is to convince the customer that they want to talk to or do business with you. Your web site must tell them:
    • Who you are.
    • What your values are.
    • Why you are special.
    • And it must include a “call to action” – a convincing reason for them to call you.
  • To better qualify your prospective clients:
    • Develop a scripted telephone interview that can be conducted by your sales people or less expensive inside sales/marketing people to qualify prospects before you spend the time and effort for an in-person sales call.
    • Use targeted marketing programs to leverage references to prospective customers.
    • Have lots of conversations with potential customers to understand their needs. Tailor your value creation process to address these needs.

Special Thanks to Craig Olson of MXL Partners for his contribution to this discussion.

How Does a Founder Hire His Replacement? Four Thoughts

Situation: A founder CEO, after many years building a business, has lost the passion that he had early on. He needs to hire someone to succeed him, assuring the ongoing growth and value of the company while minimizing ongoing personal involvement. How does a founder hire his (or her) replacement?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • When a founder has lost the passion to continue running a business it is time to move on. Passion is critical to meet the day-to-day demands of a business.
  • Before you start looking, decide whether you will continue to have a role in the business, and what that role will be. Will you remain Chairman of the Board and give up the CEO role? If so, are you ready to let go of the CEO role so that the right person can take it on? Typical company structures for Chairman/Top Manager roles are:
    • Chairman focuses on growth strategy, select PR and critical relationships.
    • CEO/COO/GM handles operational planning and day-to-day management.
  • The candidate that you seek will have the following profile:
    • Good energy, loves the business, but not ready for the risk of building a company.
    • When the right person has run the business for you for a few years that person may become your exit strategy.
  • Go to your next trade show with the mindset to find the right person. Many of the best candidates will be on the trade show floor – now working for someone else, but inwardly looking for their next opportunity.
    • Spread the news ahead of time that you’re looking. See who seeks you out.

How Do You Plan an Off-Site Meeting? Several Suggestions

Situation: A CEO wants to schedule an off-site planning meeting with her top staff. She has heard about the potential efficacy of off-site meetings and is intrigued by the idea of taking her staff away from the office for a day or two to concentrate on planning. She is curious about typical agendas, time frames, objectives and who should be involved in the meetings. How do you plan an off-site meeting?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • General considerations
    • Set the objective of the meeting in advance. Tell everyone involved the objective so that they are thinking about this prior to the meeting.
    • The staff involved depends on the objective of the meeting. Select participants to fit the need.
    • Include a team building event. One purpose of off-sites is to help the team or teams get to know each other better and improve collaboration.
    • Have an agenda for the meeting and meet without interruptions. Have participants notify key customers or contacts in advance, schedule back-up contacts if necessary, and don’t allow interruptions.
    • Hold the meeting during work hours. Options: one day, local for easy travel and return home; or two days, nice setting, dinner the first day, and late afternoon return home the second day.
    • Do you need a facilitator? This depends on the goal and organizer’s comfort with the topic of focus.
  • Typical Agenda:
    • A speaker or educational component pertinent to the meeting goal.
    • Breakout and group discussions to think through important issues.
    • A team-building event.
    • Some fun – dinner or an evening activity that allows individuals to talk in a relaxed setting.
  • Examples of effective events:
    • Broad agenda – What can we do better?
    • All-hands meeting – prompts contribution by all.
    • Opportunity for CEO to communicate the company vision and involve employees in the planning process for the coming year or period.

Who Do You Serve – The Customer or The Company? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company’s motto is that they serve the customer first. As an unintended consequence company projects get lower priority and action than customer projects. Frequently, the CEO finds that company projects are only half completed. What have you done to make company initiatives a priority? Who do you serve – the customer or the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a great question. Clearly serving the customer has to be top priority. However, you also have to complete company projects, particularly those which are critical to company function or which will enhance your ability to serve your customers.
  • Define the company as a customer for important projects. Call this “billable hours” to the company and credit them as such on these projects. Accompany this with employee training on how to prioritize “company” versus “customer” projects when priorities conflict. It may take time to work through this, and for the message to sink in.
  • Add completion of company initiatives to the company kudos list. LInk company award eligibility to completion of company initiatives. For mission critical projects, grant double credit for completion of company projects. Adjustment of incentives will help to get the message across.
  • In employee communications, include updates on company projects along with customer projects and give equal or greater emphasis as appropriate.
  • Have you defined your “ideal customer”?
    • Include internal customers within your definition of ideal customers.
    • This will help to clarify and prioritize opportunities and shift the mindset.
  • For mission critical projects hire additional personnel or contractors.

What are Your Key Business Metrics? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A CEO has been analyzing the metrics that she uses to track her company’s performance. Historically she has used common metrics like sales, gross and net margin, profit and net operating income, budget plan vs. actual expenses, and sales forecast vs. actual sales. She is curious what other companies use to track performance. What are your key business metrics?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important financial metric for many companies is actually cash flow – how much cash you have on hand and your cash flow forecast. Two metrics that can help you to better understand and boost cash flow are:
    • Receivables – aging rate
    • DSO – Days Sales Outstanding
  • Additional financial metrics include:
    • Portfolio performance
    • Variable versus fixed cost ratios
  • To augment understanding of profitability, track “good” profit – revenue from customers who are profitable, as opposed to revenue that is either break-even or unprofitable.
  • Sales metrics to measure future revenue include:
    • Order backlog – by month for X months out
    • From this, forecast beyond visible orders
  • Marketing metrics include:
    • Net promoter score – would the customer refer us to a friend or family member?
    • Client and referral client retention rate
  • Metrics for utilization of resources for a service provider include:
    • Total hours paid versus total hours billed
    • Resource utilization
  • Business trend tracking. If business is seasonal, look for historic peak to peak times – this may be 3 months and may be 18 months. Determine this and make the rolling cycle equivalent to your business cycle.
  • Review your metrics regularly to reinforce their importance across the company

How Do You Balance Two Businesses? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company provides both contract staff and consulting services. They have a large client for whom they provide staff, but not consulting. The client routinely requests discounted rates on contract staff from the company. The CEO believes that the client requests lower rates because they, in turn, offers consulting to their customers, using the company’s staff, and want to offer these services at a competitive rate. How can the CEO better respond to the next requests for discounted rates? In addition, is there a way for the company to market their consulting services directly to the large client’s customers? How do you balance two businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Don’t avoid the conversation on your rates. Make sure that your client knows that they are getting top quality services and that this is reflected in your rates.
    • Make the issue a price / quality trade-off. If cutting costs is important to the client, offer lower quality options at a lower price and let the client decide what will fill their needs. This positions you as flexible and willing to work with the client, without losing margin.
    • Offer modest discounts for incremental business, but not current business.
  • Tell the client sooner, rather than later, that your prices are as low as you can make them. Don’t wait until you are in pain.
  • How can you promote your own business to end customers via the staff that you provide for this client?
    • Give them business cards to give out that reflect your business, not your client’s.
    • Provide them with wear nicely embroidered “Company” shirts to wear at work.
  • Be aware that your desire to approach the client’s customers directly with your services will be a threat to your client and may result in them firing you as a provider of contract staff.

How Do You Integrate a New Team Into Your Culture? Six Ideas

Situation: A West Coast company has recently acquired an East Coast company. The two companies serve similar customers with different but complimentary services. The acquired team has a history and mode of operating. The CEO seeks advice on how much they should require the new team to operate as they do at the home office. How do you integrate a new team into your culture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Have patience. The transition and transfer of culture will take time. Your priority is for both offices to operate smoothly and profitably. Business practices differ by geography to suit their regional cultures. The remote office need not function just like the home office.
  • If you want a manager from your home office in the new office, take care who you select. Since you have history with the new company and office, select a manager who already has a good relationship with key senior managers in the new office. This will ease the transition, and will keep you updated on what is happening there.
  • Organize a dinner with your new manager and the senior managers in the new office. At dinner you will want to communicate your expectations and accelerate the transition.
  • Involve the senior managers from the new office in mentoring the new manager. This will give them an important role and will show respect for their knowledge and expertise.
  • Do all that you can to reinforce the link between the offices – in a constructive way.
  • Set benchmarks and plans of action, and manage to these.

How Do You Manage Multiple Products and Segments? Five Ideas

Situation: A company was launched on a single product with variations. Their R&D team has now developed several additional products which they are planning to launch. This will involve new product names and new customer segments. Having not done this before, the CEO seeks advice on managing multiple products, brands and market segments. How do you manage multiple products and segments?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important element is the plan – write it carefully and build from a solid base.
  • When working with multiple products or market segments, match your segment strategy for each segment to your product strategy for that segment.
    • Build a grid that shows all products and all segments where you wish to sell them. In each cell, determine both the decision maker(s) and their top purchasing priorities. This will help you to build your Product/Segment strategy and optimize resource allocation while increasing sales and marketing effectiveness.
    • It may also help you to fire problem customers who cost you money and attention and reallocate these resources to more promising opportunities.
  • Analyze the customer’s decision-making process for each product and segment. Make sure that your marketing and sales effort makes sense within their decision process and focus on what is workable.
  • When introducing a new product or idea, focus first on smaller segments and test the fit of your product or idea. This is low risk if you fail, and you can leverage what you have learned if you win.
  • Build a one-page strategic plan that covers your full company strategy. Each department compliments the company strategy with its own departmental strategy to support the company strategy.

Special thanks to John Maver of Maver Management Group for his contribution to this discussion.

How Do You Expand Your Business Model? Seven Recommendations

Situation: To date, a company has performed a single set of services focused on collection and delivery of a stream of raw data to its clients. The CEO wants to add a consulting service based on the expertise that the company has developed over the years. The CEO seeks input on both how to position this new service, and how to organize it, either within or separately from the current business. How do you expand your business model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consulting services can be offered at a premium to current services because the company will be offering analysis and recommendations for a solution, instead of just raw data. Intelligence is more valuable than raw data.
  • Offer the consulting service on a project rather than an hourly basis. For example, price a project at $10k for the consulting package instead of $200/hour for data collection and reporting.
  • To add weight to the consulting offering, provide final reports and recommendations as a professional, written document supplemented by a presentation.
  • Test the concept and early options for the consulting service with existing clients.
  • Create a new division for the consulting service so the customer sees it as an additional option and value that the company provides. This will change both the branding and image of the business.
  • To increase the opportunity for success, develop a full business plan for the consulting model.
  • Focus on the new consulting business with the same discipline as the current data business.