Category Archives: Sales & Marketing

How Do You Create and Communicate Urgency? Seven Solutions

Situation: A CEO perceives that the company has a conflict between performance and planned timelines. Of concern is performance against key metrics like pipeline performance and closing new business. A sense of urgency isn’t present. How do you create and communicate urgency?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Management knowledge of company financial status and performance against key metrics – particularly key drivers like pipeline performance – is critical to their being able to assist the company.
  • A company decision to focus on project profitability may have the unintended consequence of exacerbating the lack of urgency. If revenue growth lags, the only option for managers who are tasked to hit a profitability target is to cut expenses. This delays projects and can negatively impact morale.
  • Accountability comes from meetings. Not 1-on-1 meetings but team meetings. Peer pressure is an important component of accountability. Nobody wants to be the individual who is consistently behind on projects or initiatives.
  • The challenge may be more external than internal. When business closes more slowly then everything else slows down: hiring, new development, investment and profits. All of these are driven by new business acquisition.
  • Another CEO has same issue with her contracts. All contracts include a timeline. If work or deliverables slip, the customer wants to slow down delivery and billings. Her solution is to include stop work and delivery delay fees in the contracts.
  • What actions would others take to address this?
    • Institute progress payments. For example, instead of charging 50% up front and 50% on contract completion, shift to, for example, 50/30/20 with the 30% due on completion of project framework. This way, only 20% can be delayed due of customer timing issues.
    • Built financing into total pricing. The customer is free to delay projects, or aspects of projects, but there is a charge calculated into delayed delivery which covers the cost of money and additional management.

How Do You Get Comfortable Delegating to Staff? Eight Points

Situation: A CEO senses that employees don’t have his sense of urgency regarding the business. A case in point is responding quickly to new customer inquiries in a competitive market. Too often, he takes over to assure that bids are submitted quickly. How do you get comfortable delegating to staff?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Prepare for a meeting with staff by defining the key desired standards in advance.
  • Initiate the meeting with this message: “We have a company image. This is how we define it.” Work with staff to create standards that define this image.
  • Agree on standards with the team.
    • Discuss standards with the team but have them make the decision. Guide the conversation – through questions – to focus on the desired standards. Be open to using the language developed by staff to enhance ownership.
  • Examples of standards that may apply:
    • Response time to incoming calls, maximum number of rings before response.
    • Time to return telephone messages.
    • Time to return emails.
    • Invoices completed the day or the order, or whatever is appropriate.
  • Establish a response regimen – assure that response is professional.
    • Train all people who pick up the phone.
    • Assign rotating office days for salespeople with responsibility to answer the phones.
  • Emphasize the importance of speedy response with an explanation that everyone will understand.
    • When a customer calls, assume that they are also calling 2-3 other suppliers. The first responder can shape the conversation in favor of their company and offering – for example the company can offer both a solution plus design and logistics assistance.
    • As first responded, assure that the focus is on the company’s strengths – this puts the competition at an immediate disadvantage.
  • Enforce and maintain the standards
    • Once standards are set, make review and updates of performance against standards part of weekly sales meetings. Use large charts to track this.
    • Create friendly internal competition. Who got the most business last week? Who did the best with incoming calls? Have the team develop competitive goals.
    • Recognize top performers with $50 – $100 cash award, restaurant certificate, etc. Make it fun!
  • If “everyone” is supposed to pick up the phone this becomes “nobody” because nobody is responsible for picking up the phone!

How Do You Productize an Offer? Four Recommendations

Situation: The CEO of a new company is struggling to generate sales momentum. Part of the issue is adequately productizing their current offer. A second issue is building a good sales team and sales momentum within the team. How do you productize an offer?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The issue may be that the company is regarding its product and the sales process too narrowly. Look at the sales process in new and different way.
    • Role play the current sales-to-close process. Have salespeople document what they do. Look for a product concept that appears from this exercise.
  • Try different models to determine what works best at the company’s current stage of growth.
    • Position the company’s ability to deliver outcomes. Make it risk free if nothing is produced. “Here’s our package – it costs nothing if we don’t produce results as promised.”
    • Consider specializing in services that enhance other companies’ sales – a need that is always present.
    • Look at the car dealership model – lower level salespeople qualify prospects and bring the qualified prospects to more experienced colleagues for the close.
  • How is the company currently positioned – as a generalist or a specialist? Potential clients more often look for a specialist to help them solve specific needs.
    • Conduct local surveys to help define prospects’ and clients’ top needs.
    • Start developing and advertising specialty areas. Add to the list of specialties as the company expands.
  • To build the sales team look at younger salespeople currently with competitors. If these individuals have been recruited right out of school, they will often look for other opportunities after a year or two.
    • Target good salespeople who are currently employed. Tell them that the company is interested in getting to know their business and look for salespeople who are good at selling themselves as well as their offering.

How Do You Build International Sales? Five Observations

Situation: A CEO wants to create new markets outside the US. They have investigated options and locations and are starting to plan. One question is how long it will take to start seeing results, so that they budget accordingly. How do you build international sales?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Decision timelines internationally are longer than they are in the US. For example, in Europe timelines are easily twice as long. This means that new entrants must budget for a sustained effort.
    • It took another company three years to develop traction in Europe. They have an office in Germany, but most new sales are coming from Eastern Europe. After three years their European operation is now break-even.
  • International markets, especially in Europe, can be very conservative. Job security and maintaining cash flow are the focus.
    • Labor laws encourage companies to do things themselves rather than outsource. The result is that a new entrant will face competition from internal departments of potential prospects.
  • In European the emphasis is not growth, but on conservative steady operation. Growth tends to come from acquisition.
    • Sales pitches should be tweaked for international audiences. For example, highlight reduced need for additional personnel to manage the systems, fewer breakdowns and glitches, and the ability to count on seasoned outside expertise to quickly address complications.
  • Relationship selling is very important internationally. Sales and tech support are best provided, and in some cases required to be provided in the local language.
  • In Europe, Italy can be an important lever to sales with the right partner. Italian companies can be excellent at marketing and can jump-start European sales. This will be a very personal relationship.

How Do You Create an Incentive-based Compensation Plan? Seven Ideas

Situation: A CEO wants to build additional incentives into the company’s compensation plan. The objective is to add group incentives to the pay mix – to focus more attention on group performance rather than just company goals. How do you create an incentive-based compensation plan?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The best policy is to be upfront, open, and transparent as the plan is presented.
  • Communication is the key to success, including the following bullet points:
    • Pay starts at a base which is 75th percentile – a generous base in our industry.
    • Group bonuses, which reflect the results of the group’s efforts, allow you allow to reach the 90th percentile or higher.
    • On top of this, profit sharing enables the addition of 10-20% of your base.
    • Altogether, management thinks that this is a generous package. The difference from the old system is that employees will be rewarded for making decisions which will benefit the group as well as the company – and you will be generously rewarded for this.
  • Once plans are communicated to employees 1-on-1, reinforce the message with a group presentation and open discussion at monthly company meetings.
  • Consider: significant changes in compensation may be best taken in small rather than large increments. Start with small incremental adjustments. If these are effective proceed to larger increments on a planned and open schedule. This is particularly true if the historic culture has been that we all win or lose together.
  • A downside of rewarding by team is that some will get rewarded for producing minimal results. Consider some percentage of discretionary payments to recognize and reward effort instead of pure parity within the team.
  • Consider longer-term results within the payment scheme – not just quarterly results.
  • People need to know that they are accountable. Let them know that a 75% base is reasonable but that the significant rewards will be for producing results above this level.

How Do You Best Exploit a New Opportunity? Three Observations

Situation: A service company has developed the capacity to produce and sell a product. The CEO is considering two options for this new opportunity: create a separate entity for the new business or run the businesses in parallel under the current umbrella. How do you best exploit a new opportunity?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Option 1: Create separate entity for the new business while the existing business continues in parallel.
    • How big is the potential win? The current company competes successfully for about 10% of the market. The new capability would allow the company to potentially compete for 100% of a larger market.
    • How different are the two opportunities? The current business requires specialized talent – it is a low volume, high margin business. The new opportunity is the reverse – high potential volume but lower margin. It is a more generic market with fewer specialized needs.
    • The separate entity option provides the most flexibility. The current model already functions well. A spin-off provides an additional option without losing what already exists.
    • Bring in another individual to develop and run the new entity. It’s a different game and requires a different focus. However, it will be a great opportunity for the right person.
    • The spin-off model will be more sustainable under separate management than under the current company.
  • Option 2: Operate both businesses under a single entity.
    • This option looks like a double compromise – it alters both the company’s current strengths and the fundamental business model.
  • A long-term alternative is to look for a financial acquisition for the current company. It produces good net margins, has good cash flow, a and spins off cash. This can be valuable to a financial buyer.

How Do You Expand Business Development Efforts? Four Thoughts

Situation: The CEO of a software company needs to increase revenue to cover expenses. He doesn’t want to cut salaries because if employees leave it will be hard to find replacements with the required skills. The better solution is to increase revenue. How do you expand business development efforts?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at the markets which are growing rapidly:
    • Gaming. This is currently a good investment area. Large casinos are spending heavily on high end projects, and people just keep gambling!
    • Medical imaging. Potential targets include:
      • Pharma and Biotech R&D and Marketing/Sales – the ability to show how a drug binds with the cell receptors and how this impacts the cell is interesting to both groups. Also look at Medical schools. This is where you find the top researchers and they love teaching and presentation aids.
    • Military markets, particularly simulation spaces and unmanned vehicles. They value realistic simulated environments. Also look at training programs that value visually intensive simulations including marine and naval applications, aircraft, and battlefield simulations.
  • Consider the company’s business focus and strategy. How can it move from a “next project” model to a recurring revenue model? Is it possible to write client agreements to include a piece of the recurring revenue stream from client products?
    • Look at what the company does and package this as a product/service vs.an hourly problem-solving model. Focus on where the market is going. For example, iPhone apps – cheap to the customer, so millions buy them People now interact differently using electronic media. This opens new options.
  • What is the company’s key focus – Product Leadership, Operational Excellence or Customer Intimacy? How is the company’s differentiating strength presented consistently to client audiences?
    • It is important to clearly define the company’s niche – what makes it truly different. The communication must be clearly understood both by the engineers, and the business development and marketing people.
  • Invest additional funds in business development – with payments highly weighted on success.

How Do You Transition from Boss to CEO? Three Insights

Situation: The head of a small service company wants to become more strategic – more like a CEO. Ideally, he wants to create a small samurai team to help him expand.  He prefers working with a range of clients to develop creative, out of the box solutions. How do you transition from boss to CEO?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The eMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber is a valuable primer on how to bring in more clients and revenue. The critical question that this book helps to answer is “what do I want to build?”
    • The book walks you through the critical questions that will help to answer whether your true ambition is to be a Picasso with helpers or a company. The answer may be either, but how you build each is different.
  • The more that skills can tied to a tangible outcome the easier it is for clients to hire a company. Quantify past successes. Make it easy to justify hiring your team.
  • To add to your pipeline:
    • Help friends help you. Make it easy for them to refer you. This can be simple: YouTube videos or improving the company website to highlight past successes.
    • The company web site can’t be just OK – it must be the all-important credibility builder that the company needs. Recreate the site to wow the visitor and tell the company’s story. Make it fun and compelling.
    • Participate in groups or forums that your targets attend. Create presentations, webinars, etc. Establish the company as an expert with the answer and as a trusted resource.
    • Also present to professional organizations to establish expertise and credibility.
    • Testimonials are powerful – particularly if backed by metrics.
    • Collaborate with people with similar depth of experience who can help develop the pipeline. Offer them a cut of total job revenue.

How Do You Maintain the Passion for Your Business? Six Thoughts

Situation: The CEO of a company is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the passion that she had when the business was young. Day to day work feels like having a monkey on her back with too much time spent on sales and business minutiae. Too little time is spent on strategy and growth. How do you maintain the passion for your business?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look at what you like and don’t like – delegate what you don’t like.
    • Delegate activities which are inappropriate for a top executive – like answering the telephone when others are present to do this.
  • Get everybody in the same boat – get them rowing in unison.
    • Delegate more responsibility – with the understanding that others will make mistakes. When they do, they must understand their responsibility for repairing them.
    • Prioritize tasks as they are delegated to reduce conflict or confusion.
  • Strengthen relationships with key suppliers and customers. This is a strategic move to reduce future risk to the company.
  • How did you get the monkey off your back?
    • Ask managers and employees for their input – have them develop solutions. If they push back that they don’t know how or don’t have the resources, let them know that their job is to provide solutions, not just to identify problems.
    • This takes time and patience, but if the CEO is steadfast this can yield results in a surprisingly short period of time.
  • Reduce time spent on sales. Become the closer – the only person who can do that little something to close a sale.
    • Have the others do the heavy lifting our qualifying the customer, developing the solution, crafting the proposal and presenting this to the customer. Limit the CEO’s involvement to reviewing the proposal prior to presentation, and to acting as closer ONLY if sales can’t do the job themselves.
  • Learn to take time off – develop other interests. This is the first step in being able to take longer periods of time off.

How Do You Maintain Focus on Quarterly Objectives? Three Ideas

Situation: The CEO of a service company is focused on growth, which is driven by new contracts. This, in turn is driven by new sales contacts per week. Sales staff are paid on commission. The CEO wants to assure that quarterly objectives are met to grow the company. How do you maintain focus on quarterly objectives?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Track and publish progress against weekly, monthly, quarterly metric objectives and key drivers.
    • Post charts around the office to maintain staff focus on objectives.
    • Put up whiteboards that show individual metrics as well as daily “top 3” focus items.
  • Identify key market sectors where focus will pay off for the company.
    • It’s OK to take a generalist approach as the company develops a new market sector. This helps to learn the dynamics of that sector.
    • As sector market penetration grows, develop functional or sector specialties.
  • Identify and focus on the gaps to company success.
    • Monitor and generate incentives to increase sales activity. The more fun that is involved in this, the faster the company will close the gaps.
    • Focus marketing on developing more prospects. Brainstorm creative marketing approaches that will generate prospects. Create a competition to develop the best new ideas with incentives or prizes to celebrate the most successful ideas.
    • If additional resources are required, currently beyond the company’s budget, investigate adding commission-driven contract resources with strong incentives for identifying new prospects and landing new clients.