Tag Archives: Competition

How Do You Find Your Sweet Spot? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company’s sales are bumpy. The CEO thinks that this may be due to a mismatch between products that they offer and their customers’ needs. They currently use online surveys to capture customer needs and input. How do you determine customer needs? How do you find your sweet spot?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important first step for a smaller and growing company is to clearly identify the customer niche that they serve. This must be a niche where the company can out-serve their competition.
  • There are two types of niches to consider:
    • A product/service niche focused on a specific set of products and services – one where you can offer a differential advantage over your competition and become known for this, or
    • A customer niche – a specific set of customers that you dedicate yourself to serve in a way that provides a differential advantage.
  • An example of the product model is an individual who started an e-commerce site for lacrosse equipment – products not commonly stocked in sports stores. They offered a wide range of lacrosse products, built an online community, shared articles, etc. and became THE place for lacrosse players to get their equipment.
  • An example of the customer niche model is to focus on a population and build a concierge or member-only service. The niche here is the buying group. This can be employees of specific companies or government workers as examples. Costco grew using this model.
  • For an early-stage company, survival is about single pointed focus on that niche where you can provide better products/services or better serve your customers than anyone else. As you grow you can diversify based on the reputation and loyalty that you gained early on.
  • Look at competitors – how are they gathering customer preference information?
  • Look at your passion – is it products or people? Choose a niche that fits your passion.

How Does Your Company Award Bonuses? Eight Considerations

Situation:  A company has lost six people since the beginning of year – about 7% of employees. Currently the company doesn’t pay bonuses but increases salaries annually. The CEO has been considering creating a bonus pool, distributed based on performance points earned during the year, and including a component for employee longevity. How does your company award bonuses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There is fierce completion for good software engineers. You will lose people unless you focus on culture and pay bonuses of some sort.
  • Based on reasons that people left you need to start developing and enhancing your company culture.
  • Don’t kid yourself. You already have a company culture. Hire a consultant to help you identify it so that you are developing it along lines that you desire instead of by accident.
  • Make it clear that bonuses are not entitlements but are earned. There should be clear guidance as to bonus criteria.
  • Check out the following YouTube – “RSA Animate – The surprising truth about what motivates us” to see what motivates knowledge workers who are expected to develop creative solutions. The bottom line is that it is more than money!
  • An effective bonus program must have a bias toward performance – the metric is key. Be careful about the way you create metrics and incentives and be wary of unintended consequences.
  • Pay special attention to the quality and skills of your 1st and 2nd line managers.
  • Besides bonus, equity and culture – plan for 10% attrition. In your industry, this may be the norm.

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.

How Do You Make the Most of Changing Your BHAG? Eight Points

Situation: A company recently changed their BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to focus on premium customer acquisition, but as a small-to-medium sized company has a 3-year focus instead of the typical 10-20 year focus of a larger company. They want to make this a company-wide effort. How do you make the most of changing your BHAG?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, it is measurable and specific – grow to 10 times your premium current customer base in 3 years. Your marketplace is changing quickly, so a shorter-term BHAG makes sense. Call it your 10/3 Program or 10/3 Challenge.
  • Is it too shallow? No – this is something that people can rally around. It represents significant company growth.
  • What happens when you achieve the goal? Celebrate in a big way, and then set the next BHAG.
  • How do you create excitement? Every time you hit a milestone, bring in pizza, or conduct a special event. Celebrate.
  • Success = Change. What does that next milestone mean for the company and your capabilities? This isn’t just about new clients, but also includes scaling your delivery systems and customer service. Rally your non-sales staff around these important tasks.
  • Create milestones not just around sales numbers but also around timelines. Tie incentives to achievement of BHAG milestones.
  • Conduct a company meeting to announce the BHAG, and announce progress in future company meetings.
    • Progress against milestones.
    • Share pipeline data to maintain excitement.
    • Develop scale-up programs and share progress of non-sales departments as they ramp up services.
  • Think about building a competition around the goal. As long as this fits your culture it can add excitement to achieving both milestones and the BHAG itself.

Note: The term ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’ was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1994 book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

How Do You Introduce a Product to New Customers? 7 Thoughts

Situation: A company produces a high performance product which is priced modestly higher than competing products. They are finding customers resistant to cost increases, even when they acknowledge the advantages of the higher cost product. The company needs to develop a new way to position their product. How do you introduce a product to new customers?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Don’t compete directly with existing technology. Position yourself distinctly, as a new solution to address unmet needs.
  • Sell your solution “for those times when you need to save time.” Once they start to use your product, they will find it simpler and easier to use than the old product and will convert themselves to your product.
  • Use the pitch: Book an extra client today because this will save you this much time. This plays to customers’ incremental revenue opportunities to justify the cost.
  • At conventions, conduct contests among attendees – try our product versus your old product. Those who can use it fastest, or below a set time have their business card placed in a jar for an iPad drawing several times a day.
  • Sell a lower priced “starter” kit – or provide a free sample with easy to follow directions. Once the customer is sold on the product’s advantages they will be less resistant to the modest cost increase.
  • Conduct seminars:
    • Local gatherings
    • Regional meetings
    • Larger companies
  • Focus on specialty functions within larger target clients – the functions that will benefit the most from your product’s advantages.

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 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.

Better to Focus on Cash or IP Protection? Three Suggestions

Situation: A company is resource constrained and faced with a serious trade-off: do they focus on short term cash needs – immediate product improvements that will speed new product iterations to boost sales; or longer term strategic concerns – assuring that they have good IP protection on their technology before they launch new versions? When you are resource constrained, does it make more sense to focus on initiatives that will quickly produce cash or strategic concerns that will protect your future?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Build two timelines – one for shoring up the patent portfolio so that you can safely build and launch new IP-protected versions of your technology and one for quickly completing product improvements to speed development of new product iterations which will generate cash. Assess both the energy requirements and the dollar risks and implications of each timeline. If you do not have the resources to do both in parallel, this analysis will help you to determine your best course of action. The risk analysis of each timeline should take into account what would happen if another company were to duplicate your technology and get to market with improvements before you do.
  • As a compliment to the above exercise, ask what happens if I don’t do either A or B? Do a SWOT and investment analysis on both. Which is the greater risk – launching with insufficiently protected IP or risking not being first to market?
  • These analyses will help you assess whether it may be feasible to accomplish part or all of either task with dollars in lieu of your own resources.

What Are Best Practices Hiring Out of College? Four Thoughts

Situation: A Silicon Valley company finds it difficult to find good candidates locally, and also to attract qualified distant candidates to the Bay Area. They want to explore hiring talented individuals out of local colleges and developing them within the company. What are best practices hiring right out of college?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Hiring out of college or graduate school is a good way to find long-term hires who can grow into positions. It is less useful if your need is for experienced and tenured individuals who can immediately get up to speed in a position of significant responsibility.
  • As in any hiring situation, you should review your hiring process before you start to hire. Many companies hire locally based on who applies or who’s a friend of a friend, rather than making an effort to recruit the best candidates.
    • What is your infrastructure? Do you have a system for identifying candidates who best fit your culture and needs? Do you have personnel who can mentor a new college hire, or are you willing to devote significant time to this?
    • An alternative is to hire consultants to develop a recruiting process or to mentor the new hire in specific areas of development during their first year or two on the job.
  • One CEO sponsors an annual competition at Santa Clara University for papers in his company’s field. This has won him considerable support at the school, and gives him access to promising students, several of whom he has hired. An advantage of this program is that the company gets to know the individuals and the quality of their work before making a commitment to offer them either an internship or a full-time position.
  • Be cautious using candidate assessment tools with college hires. An individual’s profile may shift significantly once they start working because there is a significant shift in priorities once an individual leaves student life.

In Challenging Times Do You Cut Losses? Three Considerations

Situation: A company lost money last year, but turned the corner with a profitable final quarter. One of the company’s divisions continues to lose money, though the losses are small compared to the total picture. The CEO is considering cutting this business. What factors should the CEO consider in making this decision?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • What expense factors contributed to the loss?
    • The biggest factor was allocation of vehicle and space expense. This division has seasonal revenue but carries the allocated expenses for the full year.
  • Make sure that your allocated expenses are fair to the business. Do overhead allocations reflect utilization? Unless closing the business eliminates vehicles or space, if you terminate this business these expenses will be borne by the rest of the company.
    • Study your allocations by shifting the allocation made to this business to other businesses. What is the impact on their profitability?
    • If you find that the current allocation does not reflect utilization and adjust accordingly, does the business still lose money?
    • If this division covers its direct expenses along with most of its allocated expenses, a small loss in this division may be preferable to a reduction in profitability of other businesses from closing the division.
  • How strategic is this division to the overall business mix?
    • Is this business essential to your product/service mix or just a customer convenience? If you terminated the business will customers be upset?
    • Do competitors offer this service, and would you be disadvantaged by discontinuing it?
  • What are the alternatives?
    • Can you raise prices to increase profitability and refuse business that does not meet this pricing?
    • Can you restrict the offering to less price sensitive customers?
    • Can you refer customers to other vendors or sub out this business?
    • Can you reduce the scope of the offering while adjusting pricing to enhance profitability?
    • Can you source other labor alternatives to reduce cost?

Category: Strategy, Service

Key Words: Profitable, Loss, Division, Business, Critical, Factors, Expense, Allocation, Seasonal, Overhead, Loss Limit, Customer, Price, Competition, Offering, Scope, Labor, Skilled, Contractor