How Do You Deal with Management Infighting? Five Points

Situation: A company has two key managers who battle constantly. Recently these battles have escalated. Both people are valuable, but this has become a significant distraction. What’s the best way to handle this situation? How do you deal with management infighting?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Talk to the two people individually. Acknowledge company awareness of the situation and ask what’s going on.
    • Listen – make sure you understand what’s going on.
    • After you listen, coach. The message: I need you to step up. The company counts on you.
  • Both parties must feel empowered by the conversation.
    • Focus on behavior only, not the person.
    • Make sure that each feels validated but with clear direction to change behavior.
      • Acknowledge each individual’s value. Point out the problem, but make it clear that nobody is indispensable.
      • At the same time, be firm as to what is expected of individual behavior as well as individual performance. Set the expectation: either you act in a way which does not harm the company environment, or I will take your notice in 30 days.
      • If either individual can’t agree to this, then that individual is the problem.
    • Revert to guiding principles and values of the company. Raise the conversation to a higher level.
    • Establish what the individual wants from the company. Are their needs currently being met? What can be changed to better meet their needs?
    • An important end point of the conversation – because both are key players – is for each of them to value the other.
    • If, after providing time for the two to resolve their difference, they still can’t make peace with each other, you may have to make a hard decision.
  • Be careful – it may be necessary to take a different approach with each individual.
  • It may turn out that one individual is the instigator and the other is simply reacting to the first’s provocation. In this case, get a 3rd party to coach each of them.
  • Another company recently had this same problem.
    • The CEO sat each person down – talked about impact, big picture and what this does to their image in company.
    • This worked!

How Do You Manage Cash Flow Gaps? Nine Suggestions

Situation: A company has a significant monthly payroll, and business is growing. Accounts payable collections are 90-120 days. Their challenge is to finance the gap. They have tried, but can’t get their bank to provide financing. An SBA loan will help. How do you manage cash flow gaps?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for private non-bank financing.
    • Your AR is safe, low risk, and from reputable companies.
    • Non-bank financing offers better rates than banks, with access to cash from the lender on reasonable notice.
  • Investigate They offer business loans up to $300K at 5.9%. operates by spreading the risk over thousands of investors.
  • Talk to lots of banks – not just those with whom who’ve worked in the past. Given your cash flow needs and good credit history, if you offer to shift all of your business to another bank you may get a more positive response. Once you have talked to other banks, let your current bank know your plans. They may become more responsive.
  • Change your service policy so that you give your best service to customers who pay you fastest. Once the purchasers at companies with whom you work learn about this, they will pressure their AP people to speed their payments to you.
  • Put more focus more on services which pay up front.
  • Going forward switch as much business as possible to ACH payments.
  • Offer customers early pay discounts – 1% net 10 or ½ of the rate to your biggest clients.
  • Befriend lower level employees in client companies. Particularly those with whom you have regular business contact.
    • They can tell you how to get to the top of the AP pile.
    • Let them teach you their company’s practices.
  • Plan finances going forward so that you can finance the gap yourself.

Category: Finance, Operations

Key Words: Payroll, Financing, Accounts, Payable, Bank, Lendingclub, Non-Bank, Service, ACH, Payment, Early, Pay, Discount

How Do You Focus Your Sales and Marketing? Eight Thoughts

Situation: A company has a technology road map and a flexible set of technical capabilities. To date they have elicited broad interest from a variety of different markets. They currently don’t have the resources to pursue a large number of different markets, and will likely need their next round of funding within the next year to year and a half. How do you focus your sales and marketing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • A race to generate interest from a number of markets is a valid strategy at this stage of your development; provided that you raise or generate the cash to survive. This caveat describes your critical challenge – determining how long you can afford to maintain and fund a broad strategy.
  • Look at your burn rate and timeline. Pursue options that will generate cash before your next round of funding. Your top objective is to validate your ability to generate revenue prior to your next round.
  • You haven’t yet found the fish. You are fishing and have nibbles but no bites. Look at what your people are doing and start to eliminate options that are less likely to pay off both short and long-term.
  • To preserve development cash, create a new rule. Any project that you accept must come with development dollars. This will eliminate some smaller prospects and targets but will help you to focus on others which are more immediately promising.
  • When one company was in this position, their rule was that the first PO gets the engineers. No PO, no commitment of resources.
  • Another’s company’s policy is that they don’t work for free.
    • A softer version is to give the prospective client 30 days to produce an LOI for the proposed project or you will go elsewhere.
    • Even better is an LOI and $50K up front.
  • A third company’s strategy from the beginning was always to hunt for elephants – even when they had no money. This has worked well both short and long-term. It represented the level of faith that they had in their technology and capabilities.
  • The team needs to hear this message from you.

How Do You Develop a Sales Organization? Four Points

Situation: A small company’s business is increasing and they need to build a sales organization. To date all sales have been conducted by the founder CEO and a single employee salesperson. Should they build inside or outside sales first? Are there trigger points at which one or both should be increased? How do you develop a sales organization?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Right now you have first mover advantage in your market space. You have a unique offering and no existing competition. The immediate objective is to maximize early market share. Borrow if necessary to ramp sales. There is no trigger point.
  • Hire an outside salesperson now. You want an individual who is knowledgeable about your market and who has a large set of contacts. Make at least 50% of this individual’s compensation variable (commissions) to start and escalate the percentage of variable compensation as sales grow. Hire at current market rates.
  • Supplement your existing marketing with an investment in social media marketing and SEO (search engine optimization). Don’t try to do this yourself on the cheap – hire a pro. Invest in Pay-Per-Click to push your visibility.
  • To sell this plan to your existing salesperson and the rest of the team, it’s time for a Come to Jesus talk.
    • Make a strong business case for your program.
    • The trade-off is either invest now to rapidly build sales or become insignificant.
    • Once you’ve made your pitch and received consent, let the plan work before you ask for more.

How Do You Evaluate Marketing Partners? Six Observations

Situation: A company is interested in partnering with a larger company to market a suite of services. They have identified two good candidates. They haven’t worked with partners in the past and are curious about how other companies work with marketing partners. How do you evaluate marketing partners?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The danger of working with a single marketing partner is that all of your eggs are in one basket. Your success in this relationship will depend upon the success of the marketing partner. This, in turn, will depend on the amount of attention that they pay to marketing your services, and on how actively their sales department sells your services. The danger to you is loss of control over the marketing and sales process.
  • Another company had a similar situation several years ago. At that time, the advice of the CEOs was to not select an exclusive partner, but instead to work with two different marketing partners, even though they are competitors. The company followed this advice, and it has worked like a charm.
  • Start with a position that you want a non-exclusive relationship. If a potential partner insists on exclusivity then ask for fixed guarantees of business and fixed minimums.
  • Other companies around the table work in partnership with competing companies all of the time. All of the partners value the services that these companies provide, and the relationships are harmonious.
  • If a possible partner insists on an exclusive relationship, another alternative is to split territories and supplement your agreements with most favored nation clauses.
  • Going back to the original question, provided that the terms offered by the marketing partner/partners are favorable, you won’t really know how they will perform until you establish a relationship and monitor it over time. Exit clauses and conditions will be an important part of any marketing agreement.

Do You Focus on Taxes or Investment? Eight Considerations

Situation: A company’s accountants advise them to make distributions for tax purposes. Simultaneously, the company’s future is based on technology and staying ahead of the competition. This requires ongoing investment. Do you focus on taxes or investment?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The focus of the answer is distributions and company morale, not tax planning. Think about the impact on the team. Are there considerable differentials in compensation within the company? If so, this may be impacting morale.
  • Differentiate bonuses from variable compensation. Make bonuses special. This starts at the top. The attitude should be that if someone works hard, they will be compensated. Once bonuses become assumed, they are just regarded as part of the overall compensation package.
  • Smaller geographical units can help retain a small company atmosphere and drive. As a company grows, similar results can be achieved with Tiger Team projects.
  • If the organizational structure enables this, foster friendly competition metrics between offices – and publish the results.
  • One company distributes performance data to top staff – with color-color coded red/yellow/green metrics based on performance. All red and yellow numbers require an explanation. The company has seen a significant reduction in red and yellow metrics since they started this.
  • At company meetings – publicize and recognize top 10 performers in various areas. Recognition boosts morale.
  • Company events boost teamwork and morale. These may include company barbeques, in-house cooking shows created and run by staff, and quarterly outings – bocce ball, tubing, sailing on the Bay.
  • Growth is accompanied by change. When a company starts it’s a mission. After 15 years it’s a job. This is a function of growth, and it takes ongoing creativity to keep individual employees excited about their job and role.

Is It Time to Hire a Marketing Manager? Five Considerations

Situation: A small company has always used guerilla marketing as its marketing modus operandi – trade shows, etc. Their VP Sales recently left. They feel a need for a marketing plan and hired a company to assist them in understanding how they are perceived by their customers.  Should they continue to outsource, or is it preferable to bring marketing expertise in-house? Is it time to hire a marketing manager?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • How well do you understand your customer profiles? It is important to characterize, segment and understand your customers before you can understand your marketing.
    • What is the company size of your typical customer? Small companies don’t spend a lot on big trade shows, other than perhaps sending a couple of people as attendees. Event marketing may be a more effective way to reach small customers.
    • The company that you hired should be answering these questions for you.
  • Marketing is about creating an environment in which people are aware of you and find you versus your having to go out and find them. Social media have fundamentally changed the marketing challenge, emphasizing pull versus push marketing – commercials, ads, billboards, etc.
  • An important role of marketing is perception management so that when a lead or need arises, your company is a natural answer.
  • Whether or not you hire a person, you need a marketing plan. Once you have a plan, you need a marketing budget.
  • The company is now at 35+ employees. Fischer’s growth curve research indicates that at this size you need a professional in the marketing position – someone with experience who knows the ropes. This person could be inside or outside.

Do you Merge, Sell or Keep the Company? Nine Factors

Situation: A company has been approached by an international firm with an existing West Coast presence that is interested in expanding its US operations. A Letter of Intent is in place but will expire in weeks. The LOI is of interest because the company has cash flow challenges. The CEO seeks advice on whether and how to proceed with a sale or merger, or whether to continue as an independent entity. Do you merge, sell or keep the company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a personal decision. Do you want to be your own boss or to become an employee? It really is a question of what you want.
  • If you are burned out, there are advantages to having a boss, at least in the short term. However, 2 to 3 years out you may tire of this.
  • While cash may be tight, you can address this with other measures.
    • Can you save money by reducing office staff (hours or people) short-term until your cash flow improves?
    • Talk to private investors – offer up to 9% interest on a note. The company is a going concern and therefore likely to be able to pay off the note. You may be able to negotiate a note at a favorable rate.
    • Negotiate a 5 year note, with interest only payments for the first 3 years; sweeten the deal with an offer that if you get new business worth $X during the period of the note, you pay them Y% of upside.
    • You have revenue-producing business and receivables. Factor your receivables to raise the cash that you need. Adjust your prices to cover the cost of the factoring discount.
    • If you have the margins, or can increase prices to produce the margin, offer discounts for early payment of accounts receivable.
  • If you decide to sell, avoid a contract that takes away your flexibility to maximize your future payouts.
  • Can you be confident that the buying firm will survive until your payouts are completed?

How Do You Evaluate Business Opportunities? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company is planning for growth and is considering several business opportunities. None are fully baked, but broadly speaking the CEO is interested in a list of pros and cons that will help her team to evaluate the opportunities before them. What questions should the management team be asking? How do you evaluate business opportunities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Which of the opportunities do you find exciting? Which opportunities ignite your passion? Which opportunities would be exciting to pursue on a daily basis? Use this to create your first cut.
    • When you meet with your team, prompt discussion by asking: why do you come to work each day? What drives you now?
    • Now look at each of the opportunities that you are considering. Which opportunities best reflect your answers?
  • Rank the opportunities in terms of probability of success. For each, do a SWOT analysis – how does each address your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? How could each make the company stronger or address potential threats that you foresee?
  • Which opportunity provides the best segue to your long-term strategic opportunities over the next 2-3 or 3-5 years?
  • On a personal basis, how important is power and authority to you? What about the personal and work time that is available to you? What is your role, as CEO, in each opportunity? For each opportunity, does this role reflect your personal priorities? Finally, what is your ideal opportunity, in personal terms?
  • Once you have evaluated all of your opportunities – including your personal ideal opportunity – perform a weighted scoring of the opportunities to test your assumptions. Among the opportunities available, which is closest in score to your ideal opportunity?

How Do You Recruit an Outside Director? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company’s current directors are all insiders. The CEO wants to bring in an outside director for greater perspective, someone who can help the company grow to the next level. What should they look for?  How do you recruit an outside director?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for an individual at a company in a similar market segment that is the revenue size that you want to be and which is selling to the same customers that you do. You want their sales process to be similar in type and complexity of sale but non-competitive with your company.
    • This can be an inactive founder or past employee who has been in GM role with P&L responsibility.
  • Write a list of the needs that you want this person to fulfill. Use this to evaluate prospective candidates.
  • Is it OK to hire a stranger?
    • Before you speak with a candidate, research their background and reputation.
    • You want someone who can provide information and a perspective that you don’t have now. During the selection process you will get to know the person.
  • Consider a high level individual from a company that has been a top customer. This individual can help you understand how you are viewed in the market, and how you can enhance your positioning and competitiveness.
  • Have lunch with a local recruiter who regularly recruits directors for companies. Get their perspective on how to select an outside director and what to look for in a candidate.