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.

How Do You Maintain Company Culture as You Expand? Six Ideas

Situation: A company wants to open a satellite office in a lower cost geography where they can provide current services at a reduced cost to improve margins. In doing this, the company wants to maintain the same culture and controls on quality of work that they enjoy in their home office. They also need to accurately forecast revenue for the new office. How do you maintain company culture as you expand, and how would you forecast revenue for the new office?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Maintaining company culture is tricky as a company expands geographically. Assign one of your current managers, someone who buys into the company culture, to head the new office. Also maintain the same hiring and personnel management policies that you have at the home office.
  • As the biggest concern is cost efficiency, make sure that the office manager has clear objectives to realize anticipated savings.
  • Look for an incubator that can handle all the peripheral office details so your staff can focus on their work instead of managing facilities.
  • When it comes to revenue forecasting:
    • Given the lower costs associated with the new geography, look for opportunities to trade margin for longer contract commitment windows to improve revenue forecasting.
    • Both margin and delivery can be lumpy when opening a new location. Obtain a credit line to help you smooth the rough spots in your revenue stream.
    • Investigate deferred revenue options to spread revenue risk – right of first refusal on next generation projects in exchange for a lower cost per project to the customer.

What Will You Do Differently in 2015? Six Observations

As we begin 2015 more people are feeling upbeat about the economy than they have through most of the last six years. The dollar is at new highs against global currencies. The US is approaching energy self-sufficiency. However, some still see regulatory headwinds and downsides. What do you see and what will you do differently in 2015?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Over the last six years, software companies have seen large increases in outstanding credit to clients, combined with restrictions on clients’ credit lines available and fewer new purchases. We hope for a better year in 2015, and will focus on reducing outstanding credit to improve cash flow.
  • Cash continues to be king. B2B business sectors with good cash positions are solid.
    • If your product/service saves clients money and makes financial sense, you’re in good shape.
    • Raising money will continue to be a challenge. Investors have been focusing on accelerating deliverables, creating a difficult environment for entrepreneurs. The Wall Street Journal says that the share of people under 30 who own businesses has reached a 24-year low, referring to young entrepreneurs as an endangered species,.
  • What is your current planning horizon?
    • We continue to plan quarter to quarter. There are too many variables for a longer horizon. We pay up our credit lines, and cover multiple payrolls with safe bank deposits.
    • We are watching headcount and dollars in the bank.
    • We are communicating more with our best employees and bringing them into more decisions so that they won’t be looking elsewhere.

How Do You Bring in a General Manager? Four Recommendations

Situation: A CEO has hired an individual who is currently working on projects for the company. The CEO likes this person and anticipates that he could eventually become General Manager. There have been a few rough spots but, overall, objectives are being met. How do you bring in a new General Manager?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Transition the individual from their current responsibilities to GM in small steps. This will allow him to develop relationships and credibility with the rest of the team. These relationships and credibility are what he will need in the more senior position.
  • Coach the individual about any behaviors that you may observe, or which may be reported to you by others within the company, which are contrary to your culture. Understand, from the new individual’s perspective, what motivates these behaviors. Encourage the individual to develop alternative behaviors that are more consistent with your culture. Be open to the possibility that some of the behavior may be addressing flaws in the current culture.
  • Maintain open communication with your key managers who will be impacted as the new individual gains responsibility. As the individual gains authority within the organization, be clear that you support your new manager.
  • Your current culture is always in flux, and will continue to change as you bring in the new GM. This will create natural resistance as people adapt to the new situation. Be patient and stick with the plan. When others complain be honest and up-front that you support the new manager, and that everyone will have to adapt.

How Do You Merge Two Firms Under One Umbrella? Five Points

Situation: A company has been approached by a customer with a proposal that the two companies combine. The customer believes that the combined companies will represent a greater market presence than either presents alone. This may make it easier for the combined entity to gain business from larger customers. How do you merge two firms under one umbrella?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • For a company to merge with a customer is a tricky process, assuming that the company has more than one customer. The merger places the company in competition with its other customers who may respond by seeking alternate providers. If this happens it will create a short term hit to revenue. This possibility has to be modeled into merger financial forecasts.
  • Different companies have different cultures. This fact is often ignored in merger discussions because culture is difficult to quantify or measure objectively. However if you ask those who have been through mergers, culture conflict between merging entities is most often the reason for their failure.
  • It may make more sense for the company to focus on ongoing sales to the customer than to entertain a combination that would result in the current owners losing control. In declining the proposal, it is important to emphasize your interest in maintaining a healthy ongoing relationship with the customer.
  • If the customer offers terms that are appealing, an alternative to a merger is a limited scope joint venture as a trial project to test the viability of collaboration.
  • Establish with your co-owners a price at which you are willing to give up control. This will help you to refuse offers that are below this price.

How Do You Prioritize Demands on Your Time? Six Points

Situation: A CEO is involved in a number of outside Boards and organizations, both because this involvement helps the company, and for personal reasons. Recent changes in family demands are now prompting reconsideration of this level of involvement. How do you prioritize demands on your time?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • List all of your priorities – both business and personal – and the amount of time that they require on a weekly or monthly basis. For non-family activities, rate each in terms of importance both to your organization, and to your heart.
  • Decide how many outside Boards or organizations you are willing to participate in and how many hours of the week or month you are willing to allocate to this.
  • Reduce your involvement in outside boards and organizations so that you get the time commitment down to what you are willing to allocate. Thereafter, to maintain control of your time. If you add a new commitment, drop an existing commitment.
  • Where you have commitments that are important to the company, but lower priority in terms of your own passion, delegate representation to good people within your company. This both maintains company presence and enhances their professional growth.
  • Where you want to terminate involvement let the organization know of your plans in advance, and negotiate a phase out schedule and timeline. They will appreciate your working with them.
  • Consider putting someone between you and your calendar to communicate with those making new requests for your time. This person can say no more easily than you can.

How Do You Keep Customers and Employees Updated? Five Points

Situation: A company wants to keep both customers and employees up to date on what is happening within the company. This includes announcements of new products, services and initiatives, changes in personnel policy and benefits, and other information important to both customers and employees. The CEO is considering a company newsletter. How do you keep customers and employees updated and what benefits do you accrue from the effort?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Customers and employees are two different audiences and require different communications. Externally focused company newsletters are a value-add from a marketing perspective and enhance the image of the company in the eyes of clients and prospects. Internal company newsletters are valuable to reinforce vision, understanding of company policy, and inter-departmental alignment.
  • Both efforts are justified from a time and expense standpoint, and perhaps deserve even more focus.
  • Within the companies represented around the table, frequency of both internal and external newsletters varies from semi-annual to monthly publications.
  • Both print and online newsletters have value. Employees respond positively to both. Print media make it easier for them to share important updates in benefits and excitement about company developments with their families. Online media can be updated more frequently and inexpensively, and the HR department can track the number of views to measure impact.
  • Emailed external newsletters are valuable because they enable you to measure ROI from the effort by building in tracking mechanisms and correlating web page hits to business development and revenue.

How Do Business Prospects Look for 2015-16? Six Observations

Situation: A CEO is planning for 2015-16. While the economy seems to be picking up, there are clouds on the horizon. Do you believe the positive indicators? How do business prospects look for 2015-16?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Company A: Based on our pipeline we should be recruiting heavily. However we are being conservative and are only adding personnel selectively.
  • Company B: We expect 2015 to be modestly better than the last few years. Engineering saw a turnaround this summer; however we need to see signs that this early economic cycle work spreads more broadly to the rest of the economy.
  • Company C: Some of our development work looks like a spike due to delayed projects. This may not be sustainable.
  • Company D: Weakness in Europe and the recent announcement that Japan has entered another recession give us caution about international prospects.
  • Increasing numbers of Baby-Boomers are retiring. However, some statistics suggest that 60% of retired boomers will be living on Social Security, meaning that they will struggle to make ends meet. This could create a negative shift in consumer spending.
  • The current stock market rally is based on the higher profitability of large public companies. This has come about as a result of two factors: recessionary cutbacks and easy money from the Federal Reserve. What we may be seeing is a Fed–funded bubble. There is a question of its sustainability.
  • Implications for business:
    • For companies doing business internationally – the lower dollar helps.
    • Cautious additions to employment/investment.
    • Need to deal with inflation if the recovery accelerates.
    • If and when the recovery accelerates, employee retention may become a challenge.

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.