Tag Archives: Cost

How Do You Manage for Profitability? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company has multiple locations from which it both sells products and provides services. One location has been in place for several years and produces good revenue but consistently fails to be profitable. The CEO has met with the managers in charge of this location and has set broad objectives to demonstrate a trend toward profitability. However, she is concerned that these objectives won’t be met. How do you manage for profitability?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To be effective objectives must be specific, measurable, and timebound. In addition, there must be clear consequences for failing to meet objectives.
  • If a business is not covering its own costs, there are three alternatives: increase prices, reduce costs, or both.
    • Calculate the revenue impact of a 1% cross-the-board price increase at the location or across the company. Is this enough to cover the loss? What about a 2% increase? What is required to produce profitability?
  • Historically, have the location managers been responsible for business results? If not, does it make sense to continue with these managers and to expect different behavior or results?
    • While the managers may be well-intentioned, do they possess the necessary business skills? Would training or education assist?
    • Once objectives are set and incentives are changed to make the managers’ pay dependent on profitability, the CEO may be surprised at their ability to comprehend and tackle the situation – with the CEO’s oversight.
  • How do you change pay and incentives without sending a negative message?
    • A person who is paid hourly has the incentive to maximize hours worked, not productivity during hours worked. If the manager is shifted to salary at the same level he receives now or lower, with the potential to more than make up the difference through regular incentive bonuses, it becomes easier to direct him to make efficient use of his time.
  • How do you change the roles and focus of the managers?
    • The customer development manager is the only one who can impact revenue – by bringing in more business. Bonuses are based on both new business acquired and total revenue received.
    • The operations manager cannot contribute to revenue within his current responsibilities but can look for places where the cost of operations can be reduced. Bonuses are based on cost savings achieved.

How Do You Transition from Service to Product? Four Strategies

Situation: A company is transitioning from a service model to a product model. A major challenge is meeting funding needs during the transition. Funding sources perceive the current service model as heavy on cost of sales vs. implementation and this hinders acquisition of funds. The CEO sees this as a short-term problem as the company will quickly start to generate more cash through the product model. How do you transition from service to product?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In a competitive funding environment, it is important that the offering be credible. While others may be offering similar solutions, believability will prove to be a strong differentiator.
  • Where to focus over the short term?
    • Create a hybrid model as a transition between the current service offering and the planned product offering. Demonstrate that current customers have responded favorably to the product/hybrid opportunity.
    • Test this concept with an investor. The story is that the company needs funding to get to a saleable product model.
  • What is the message to investors?
    • Helping the company to achieve a short-term and very feasible objective gives the investor the following advantages: purchasing at a lower valuation, getting a larger share of the company for less, and at a low risk.
    • As the valuation of the company increases, the earliest investors will get the best deal!
    • During meetings with investors, ask them for advice on the current and following rounds and financing, and what they will find most appealing.
  • How do you mitigate the risk to the first investor?
    • Have a solid business plan and projections that have been vetted by others.
    • Have a list of referenceable clients.
    • Utilize the current service model and demonstrate the product/hybrid Package. Build a case on the advantages of the hybrid model including the financial case. The company is always there to provide back-up assistance to meet customer needs in the hybrid model.
    • Demonstrate flexibility – the customer can always choose the service model or convert to this if they wish.
    • A Key Point: You are selling yourself as the trustable resource, not the product or service.
    • Reference previous investment including founders’ investments. The founders did not invest to fail!

How to You Generate a Predictable P&L? Three Solutions

Situation: The CEO of a consulting company is frustrated by lumpy revenue and profits. From quarter to quarter it has been difficult to predict either number. Unpredictability reduces options in valuation and exit exercises, as banks and acquirers favor predictability. How do you generate a predictable P&L?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The objective is to construct a revenue base built on predictability, even if this is at lower margins. Given a predictable base, the company can complement predictable revenue and profits with higher dollar and margin opportunities as they arise.
    • Analyze the projects that the company contracts for both revenue and profitability. Some projects will be bread and butter situations which are more common and predictable, but which generate less revenue and profit per project. Others will be customer crisis driven. These latter projects will have higher revenue and profit, particularly if the company is the vendor of choice; the tradeoff is that the frequency of these contracts is unpredictable.
    • If the objective is predictability, the company’s base should be built on bread and butter projects. As the company grows, focus on this base. Customer crisis projects can then be added as they arise to bump both revenue and profit.
    • The objective will be to become one of the top 2-3 outside vendors of the choicest clients. Target projects may be ongoing maintenance of older projects in the client companies’ portfolios.
  • How would this model be pursued?
    • Focus on the company’s top 5 customers. Reduce risk by optimizing customer leverage as a proven entity and offer them strategic deals.
    • The focus is long-term project based with guaranteed delivery at lower cost.
    • Identify the fear or insecurity that exists within the customer and provide sleep insurance.
    • This model works well in the new economy – get lean, manage infrastructure size and cost, and grow with the economy.
    • Alternately, identify an area where the customer may not have enough resources and provide a solution that allows them to address this without adding additional personnel or by using existing personnel more efficiently.
  • Another option is to develop a virtual office model. Provide resources for $X per month, with an evergreen provision.

Do You Expand Production Locally or Internationally? Five Points

Situation: A company has built a very successful specialty manufacturing business in the US. Their manufacturing operations are labor intensive, with manufacturing practices optimized using motion studies and sharing best practices developed on the production floor. The CEO is evaluating whether it makes more sense to expand production in the US or to explore international options. Do you produce domestically or internationally?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are trade-offs between domestic and international production. Quality labor is available internationally at lower costs than in the US. However, risks include potential loss of quality control and higher levels of waste.
  • While investigating international production options, focus first on less critical operations where savings from lower labor costs outweigh the potential cost of wasted material.
  • Do not try to move highly controlled operations. These will include critical operations which require both an elevated level of operator skill and close supervision.
  • Before evaluating international options, break down the steps of manufacturing or processing to identify specific subcomponents or subprocesses that could be outsourced at reasonable risk.
    • For example, look at high volume parts where quality and variation in tolerances is less critical. These will be the best candidates for production in a lower cost, potentially lower quality environment.
  • How critical are trade secrets or patented IP to production? In the US and Europe there are strong protections for IP. However, these protections are not as strong in all countries. If production is outsourced to countries with poor IP protection, this may enable IP theft and create future low-cost competition.

Can You Pass Higher Expenses on to Customers? Six Thoughts

Situation: A company is concerned about increased energy expense as prices rise, and the impact on the bottom line. Pricing in their market is competitive. What’s the best way to recover these costs? Can you pass higher expenses on to customers?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Businesses regularly pass on their increased gas and transportation costs to both commercial and retail customers as these costs rise.
  • This isn’t just true for gas and transportation expenses. As other expenses rise, companies regularly increase their pricing to account for increased costs.
  • Is it necessary to send out an announcement letter about the company’s intent to do this?
    • Some companies do. Others just start adding a line with a gas surcharge to their invoices. This is happening frequently enough so that most customers just pay it without question.
  • What do you do if someone objects?
    • If a customer objects, you always have the option to credit them the charge.
    • Again, most customers are so accustomed to seeing and tolerating these costs that they don’t object.
  • Look at the company accounting system. Are costs and performance trackable by business segment? Performance numbers show both the impact and magnitude of energy cost and improve the ability to manage the business.
  • If the talent is not present to either improve the current accounting system or to shift to better software, bring in part time accounting help. A good source is Robert Half International/AccountTemps. The cost of adjusting the current system will be recovered as the company gains more control over expenses by segment.

How Do You Establish Performance Metrics? Three Guidelines

Situation: A CEO wants to establish baseline metrics to evaluate company performance, and guide both planning and operations. Without baseline metrics it is difficult to compare the impact of options that the company faces. What are the most important areas to analyze, and what do other companies measure? How do you establish performance metrics?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start with the basic divisions of the business. As an example, take a company which has three arms to its business – products that it represents for other companies, products that it distributes, and custom products that it manufactures to customer specifications.  
    • For each of these lines track gross revenue, profit net of direct costs, FTEs necessary to support the business, number of customers, net profit percent, net profit per employee and net profit per customer.
    • Calculate these metrics on at least a quarterly basis for the past 2-3 years to set a baseline and a chart of historic trends.
  • Once you establish a baseline, chart current performance on at least a quarterly basis and look for trends and patterns.
    • Where is your greatest growth and greatest profitability – not just on a global basis but in terms of profit per customer and profit per employee?
    • If you’ve included your full costs including the costs of the FTEs to support each business, then the analysis should show you where you want to invest and what it will cost you to support additional investment.
    • Do a similar analysis of costs per line to further support investment analysis.
  • This analysis will help to evaluate whether it is better to purchase another rep line, or whether you would be better off investing the same funds to grow custom business.
    • Similarly, it will demonstrate on what kinds of customers and products you want your sales force to focus to grow profitable business and will help you to establish objectives based on anticipated revenue or profit per new customer that sales closes.
    • Finally, it will highlight potential vulnerabilities such as the impact of the loss of a key customer in one portion of the business.

How Do You Evaluate an Acquisition Opportunity? Four Issues

Situation: A company is considering purchasing a line from another company to complement its existing product line. They would split commissions with the current owner, and gain an additional employee with knowledge of the products to be acquired. The purchase would add to the company’s offering, as well as rights to additional products. The CEO sees this as a low risk move. How do you evaluate an acquisition opportunity?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In evaluating a commission split opportunity, will the commissions that you would receive exceed the cost of both the additional employee which you will add, plus the support that it will require to maintain the new business? Do the new commissions cover the anticipated costs, plus a reasonable profit?
  • Have you vetted the numbers to demonstrate that this purchase provides a suitable return on investment vs. other potential investments that you could make? Is the marginal revenue that you will receive greater than the marginal cost that you will bear? Is the ROI of the new line greater than your cost of capital? If not, what can you do to improve the return?
  • Looking at your current operations, do you have your existing shop in order? Have you calculated the metrics that will allow you to understand, where you’ve been, where you are, and which provide a clear vision of where you want to go? If not, the question is whether you are ready to take on another line.
  • The bottom line question is – how do you know that this acquisition is the best use of your funds?

How Do You Build in a Declining Market? Five Solutions

Situation: Revenue for a product and craft business has been slipping. At the same time, their competition has been disappearing. It is clear to the CEO that demand is and will continue to be present because of the market that the company serves. The question is how to maintain the profitability to survive long-term. How do you build in a declining market?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The keys to recovery in a business like this will be in two areas: improving sales and increasing margins.
  • To increase sales the choices are more aggressive marketing and selling to existing customers or creating new markets like previous generations did when they started the business. Consider services that you could bundle with your products to augment the ways that customers use them. It will be the responsibility of your sales and marketing teams to demonstrate these product/service bundles to increase sales both to new and existing customers. This will help to solve the revenue slippage.
  • The other side is ongoing efforts to reduce cost which will, in turn, improve your margins. Costs can be reduced in creative ways that are not obvious. These include improvements in purchasing, reduction of waste, recycling of component materials, and inventory controls. It will be the responsibility of your production, purchasing and inventory management teams to develop these solutions. Assure that these teams are recognized and rewarded for their solutions.
  • Look at the segments of your product offering. Are they declining at the same rate or are there differences? This will help you to focus your efforts, as a company, to grow market share even if the overall market is declining.
  • Other suggestions for increasing sales:
    • Take advantage of the craft trends. Do this with NEW talent – not tired talent.
    • Consider partnerships and collaborations.
    • Set up contests and craft classes.
    • Look at how other industries promote to the craft industry and follow their lead.
    • Consider kitted craft products.

How Do You Respond to Unrealistic Demands? Six Suggestions

Situation: A tech company is having difficulty with a customer. Given three options – high quality, low cost and rapid delivery – the company can deliver any combination of two, but the customer wants all three. When the company asks which two are most important, the customer responds that they want all three. How do you respond to unrealistic demands?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The Devil’s Advocate response to this question is to look at your processes. Is it possible to do all three, and if so under what circumstances?
  • Think from the perspective of the customer:
    • What will you need and when?
    • Integrate the customer into the decision process as much as possible.
    • Demonstrate where trade-offs exist, and work through these in binary fashion until you reach agreement on the scope of work, delivery timeline and price.
  • The challenges change depending upon who within the customer company you are working. For example, the engineers understand the challenges and complexity of the product in question. However, the purchasing agents do not necessarily understand the product, its complexity, or how critical it is to their final product.
    • In this case try bargaining with the purchasing agent – if the purchasing agent goes back to the engineers and gets their agreement that your company can change the quality or delivery spec, perhaps you can be flexible in your pricing. Put the ball in the PA’s court – but make sure that the PA knows that he/she will be responsible for any project delays for not giving you the order today
  • Use stories to set expectations – better yet, use stories, combined with metrics about the costs associated with attempting short-cuts to develop authoritative arguments in support of your position.
  • Create a User Guide for your customers – paper and web formats – to sell your story. Sell fear, uncertainty and doubt; for example, if the PA wants to go another route here are the potential costs in terms of time, market share and profits lost.
  • In particularly difficult negotiations, use the real estate mantra: Some Will, Some Won’t, So What, Who’s Next?

How Do You Negotiate Contract Terms? Three Recommendations

Situation: A company has secured a significant new contract with a new, large customer. The customer sent over their standard, non-negotiable contract which includes the right to cancel orders anytime, even if the company has invested significant funds preparing product against those orders. How does the company respond? How do you negotiate contract terms?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Before you sign the contract talk to the customer about restocking or cancellation fees in cases where you have already invested irrecoverable funds against the customer’s orders. See if they will adjust their purchase order clause or offer language to cover unrecoverable costs.
  • If the customer says that they cannot change the contract, ask for an addendum or side letter of understanding that will protect you from loss of sunk costs against cancelled orders.
  • If the customer will not bend on any contract language, you can go ahead and sign the contract and then take care of your needs as they submit purchase orders. Create a stamp that you can stamp on their purchase orders defining your protections. Each PO is a new contract that supersedes the general contract.