How Do You Create a Value Proposition? A Three-Round Process

Situation: A company wants to effectively position itself for a recovery. The CEO believes that it is time to sit down with his team and focus on those areas which will help them to emerge during the recovery not only stronger than they were when the recession started, but ahead of their competition. How do you create a value proposition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Creating your Value Proposition starts by analyzing and understanding your most important strength. Is it Product Leadership, Operational Excellence, or Customer Intimacy?
  • No company can succeed today trying to be all things to all people. Choosing one discipline as your most important strength is the choice of winners.
  • To set your Value Agenda, ask your team “How do we compete and win in our marketplace?” This is not a single discussion, but requires three rounds – best done as three different sessions.

o  Round 1 focuses on understanding where you stand in your marketplace.

o  Round 2 focuses on understanding what your customers perceive as your “unmatched value.”

o  Round 3 focuses on building an operating model that enhances your unmatched value and helps to consistently communicate this to your clientele.

  • Once the three rounds are completed, formulate the top findings of each round into your Value Agenda for the company.

o  A Value-Driven Operating Model gives your company the ability to deliver on your Value Proposition.

o  Your Value Discipline is the combination of operating model and value proposition that will allow you to be the best in your market.

How Are You Staying Positive in This Economy? Seven Thoughts

Situation: The recovery continues to be uneven and uncertain. One company finds that both staff and their families are nervous about how the company will fare and the future of their jobs, and this has created strain. What are you doing to stay balanced and positive – both within your company and also in your personal relationships?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Transparency and communication. These are critical in both business and personal affairs. You have to be honest, avoiding either pessimism or unwarranted optimism.
  • Share the metrics of where you are – the reality – and projections on your expectations of how things will go. This has been a long bump in the road, but eventually things will get smoother.
  • Involve your staff in difficult decisions. Do the same with family on difficult personal or family decisions.
  • Be frank with family, but keep communicating. Time is more important to family than money – they want you to be there with them. If you’re working long hours in the evening, at least go home and have dinner with your family.
  • Staff adjustments, where necessary, have been done as single events and weren’t drawn out. CEOs have communicated more frequently about the state of business and pipeline. Assure staff that the company is solid. Show them the runway.
  • Those most worried are employees without project work. Some companies focused them on infrastructure projects to keep them engaged.
  • Cross-fertilize your teams. One company brought professional service employees into product engineering. Both groups learned and benefitted from understanding each other’s perspective.

How Do You Move a Live Online Data Center? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company has run out of space and is planning a move to a new and larger facility. The biggest challenge is that they maintain a live online data center upon which their clients depend. How do you move a live online data center?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is not a rare event. Many companies with live online data centers have to upgrade their systems on a regular basis as equipment and software technologies evolve. Maintaining service during a move is not significantly different. Research what steps these companies have taken to minimize disruption during upgrades.
  • Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Seek outside expertise to help you plan the move, and to develop options that will minimize both downtime and service interruption.
  • Ask a trusted data center resource for a 3rd party audit of your move plan.
  • When one company moved, they overlapped their leases by one month, and their Internet connections by 2-3 months. This gave them breathing room as they completed the move and allowed them to stay live uninterrupted through the move.
  • Another company increased their back up servers and service. They also planned their move to occur during what they knew would be a low demand block of time. As a result, they were able to complete the move, plug in the servers and were only down for 30 minutes.
  • If it is feasible, consider leaving your old center in place as a back-up data center.
  • Conduct a number of practice shutdowns and restarts to test your systems.

How Can a Lawyer Help You Meet Your Goals? Five Ways

A small company has need for legal advice, but is unsure how to properly utilize a lawyer. Legal costs have gone up over the last decade, so expense is one concern. Another is a desire to understand how to form an effective relationship with a lawyer or law firm, and how to effectively manage billable hours. Bottom line, how can a lawyer help you meet your business goals?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, seek the counsel of a firm that specializes in small businesses. Just as you would seek a specialist physician to treat a serious medical condition, SMBs are best served by corporate lawyers who understand how they are different from large corporations and who can advise them at a rate and under an arrangement that fits their financial situation.
  • Schedule regular “off the clock” lunches and conversations with your lawyer. The ideal lawyer for smaller companies serves as an “outside counsel.” Your outside counsel is essentially your legal quarterback and should be willing to meet with you off the clock to discuss general business needs. Of course, as a courtesy to your lawyer, if your conversation starts getting into areas where you are receiving legal advice you shouldn’t expect free advice.
  • Know what to ask your lawyer versus what to ask your auditor and tax specialist. Each has a separate and distinct domain.
  • Trust your lawyer – or find a new lawyer. The best legal relationship is when your lawyer is treated as a member of your team. Sharing the business context aids your lawyer in advising you.
  • There is no need to overspend on lawyers, but you do need to assure that you spend for what you need. A good relationship with your lawyer can help you to walk the line where you are spending appropriately.
  • Special thanks to Deb Ludwig of DJL Corporate Law for her contribution to this discussion.

How Much Inventory Should You Carry? Six Considerations

Situation: A company has been offered the opportunity to buy a container of raw material from China at what may be a favorable price compared to local supply. This raw material will last 6-12 months at current and anticipated production rates. Does it make sense to purchase 6-12 months of raw material inventory in advance? How much inventory should you carry?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is a fairly straightforward economic question. What are the risks and costs of purchasing this large lot of inventory vs. purchasing month-to-month? Here are the factors to include in your evaluation:

o    What is the cost difference of a container versus local supply?

o    Another option is to commit in advance to 6-12 months’ supply from the current supplier. What pricing will the local supplier offer for committed regular purchases?

o    How many months of inventory are required if you need to change suppliers?

o    What is the viability of the local vs. the foreign supplier? If you cease purchasing from the current supplier for 6-12 months will they remain a viable supplier? Similarly, can you count on the foreign supplier long-term?

o    What is your cost of capital, and what is the tax effect of significant inventory at the end of the tax year?

o    If you purchase a container, what is the exposure to overstock of certain sizes of product? What is the carrying cost of this overstock?

  • Do the numbers and negotiate between the two suppliers.

Category: Manufacturing & Operations

Key Words: Inventory, Purchase, Advance, Container, Carry, Cost, Commit, Supplier, Tax, Negotiate

How Do You Evaluate Career Choices? Three Considerations

Situation: An SMB CEO has sold his business and seeks a new opportunity. Options range from a mid-level position in a large company to various options in existing or start-up smaller companies. How do you evaluate your career choices?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important factors are to determine what you want to do and what will make you, and your family, happy. Start with a Pro/Con analysis of each type of opportunity compared with your short and long-term desires. Which among the following choices are more important?

o    Financial stability and some level of job security vs. higher risk and potential reward with lower security.

o    Desire to be a player or to be the person in charge vs. being happy with a staff position.

o    Ability to create your own path or willingness to adapt to the priorities of others.

  • Given these choices, here is what you may find:

o    In a large or established company the most likely opportunity will be a staff position. The trade-off is stability for authority, but be aware that large company organizational politics may be severe.

o    In a small existing company it is possible to be a player in a key position. The trade-off is lower stability and viability for more authority.

o    In a new company there is the chance to be the CEO, bringing business experience to a group with technology expertise. The trade-off is high risk, long hours and low stability for a high level of authority.

  • Other factors to consider are how critical your personal situation is and the depth of your resources. If you have time and flexibility, take the time to find a situation that best meets your needs.

How Do You Overcome Resistance to Change? Five Suggestions

Situation: A CEO manages more than one company and is overcome by the complexity of the task. The biggest challenge is the oldest of the companies which is increasingly resistant to change. How do you overcome resistance to change?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Regardless of the age or experience of any company, meeting on-going performance objectives is critical. The fact that strategic imperatives have led to the formation of spin-off entities does not change this. Managers and key personnel are expected to perform to reasonable expectations, whether in a family or non-family business.
  • Resistance to change may be a symptom of more fundamental issues. Is the older business receiving adequate attention from upper management? Are they receiving sufficient funding and resources to complete their objectives? Do they have the latitude to make decisions necessary to achieve their objectives? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then address this first.
  • Presuming that the answers to the questions mentioned above are positive let the key personnel in this company know that they remain a critical business entity. Telling them this 1-on-1 is not enough. They need to hear this in public forums within the company. They need to be clear on the opportunity that the company enjoys, and what this means both for the company and for them as employees.
  • You cannot over-communicate the vision, mission and opportunity. They already know that you are juggling multiple balls and need ongoing assurance that they remain important.
  • Make sure that you have a right person handling day to day matters in the core company and in each of the other entities so that as they grow that they can support themselves.

How Do You Boost Your Internet Marketing? Six Guidelines

Situation: A company wants to boost their marketing through the Internet. They have had a web site for years, but the site doesn’t bring in much new business. How do you optimize visibility for your web site, and how do you boost your Internet marketing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Among search engines, despite Microsoft’s efforts to boost Bing’s presence, Google is the elephant in the room. They host 65% of search engine traffic, and represent 75% of buying activity. Google writes the rules, others copy.
  • As an exercise to test your web presence, go to Google and search for your company and city. See whether you appear in the local directory. If not, have your web master put your address and phone number on each page of your web site. If you can’t find yourself or easily find your contact information, others won’t be able to find you either.
  • Use the Google External Keyword tool – just search and you’ll find it. This will help you to tailor your key words so that potential customers will find you. Another tool is wordtracker.com. Both will show you domestic and international hit rates over the last month on different key words.
  • What is the optimal number of words per web page? About 250. Put your key words in your titles, in the first sentence and the last sentence of the first paragraph.
  • The typical web user will form a lasting impression of your web site in the first 3 seconds. Can they find information easily? Is the layout pleasant? Is it informative? Does it have the information that they’re looking for?
  • Hitting high on Google searches counts. Only 20% of viewers will go to Page 2 of a search, and most only go 5 hits deep on Page 1.
  • Stay fresh. Change SOMETHING about your site at least monthly.
  • Thanks to Kevin Dean of WSI NetAdvantage for his contribution to this discussion.

Where Do You Currently Stand on Benefits? Three Comments

Situation: A small company (fewer than 50 employees) is reviewing their employee benefit package and wants to get a sense of what others are currently covering in their benefit packages. Where does your company currently stand on employee benefits, and what does your company cover in its benefit package?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • A recent small (unscientific) poll of entrepreneurial Silicon Valley SMB Companies on benefits offered found:
    • Health: 100%, Dental: 83%, Vision: 67%, Disability: 17%
    • 401K: 100%, 401K Match: 33% (most companies eliminated the match to reduce costs)
    • Reduced benefits in the last 6 months: 67%
    • Employee complaints or recruiting challenges following cuts: 0%
  • One company commented that when a key customer cut their payments they had to cut benefits. They reduced the company payment from 100% to 50% of benefit cost. Their employees make choices among options available, with a company dollar payment cap. Management explained the situation when they made the cuts, and there were no objections.
  • Several companies have shifted to consumer directed health care options.
  • A comment of caution was offered by one CEO – employees are unlikely to object to their company needing to reduce benefits to get through a difficult market. However, as conditions improve, employees are likely to expect some level of return to prior benefit levels. If not, the company at risk of increased turnover. It is best to stay ahead of the curve to assure that your benefits packages are competitive.

How Do You Ask for Consideration? Four Suggestions

Situation: A company played matchmaker between another company in the concept stage and a funding source. Having performed this service, the company would like to get something in return. There is no agreement in place regarding consideration for this service. How do you ask for consideration?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • A way to introduce the conversation is to say – We’ve been happy to help you identify funding for your company. What kind of role and contribution do you see for us as you move forward? This prompts the other company to confirm the inequity, instead of you, and makes it more likely that they will offer you something.
  • This is really a relationship challenge. You’ve done a great favor for the other company – obtaining funding for an early stage company is a major accomplishment. If there is a good relationship between the two of you it is reasonable to hope that they will recognize this. A minimal way to ask for this is to say – If you get funded we want to be your service provider.
  • In business, many leads are referrals. When we get a good lead, we try to assure that the referral source gets some business from the resulting project. This encourages them to continue to provide us with leads. It also reflects common courtesy. Providing this example may help your case.
  • On option may be to ask for an equity interest. For an early stage company, this is inexpensive as they have not yet established significant value.