Tag Archives: Cost

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.

How Do You Change Suppliers for a Key Product? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company buys several important components from a single US supplier. They are considering an offshore source for one of these components which makes up a large portion of what they purchase from the supplier. Does off-shoring make sense in this case, and how do they mitigate the risk? How do you change suppliers for a key product?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The key consideration is the off-shore partner’s ability to reliably make the component at the price promised. If they can, why not outsource offshore?
  • The decision depends upon two additional factors: the amount that you stand to save by off-shoring your source, and the potential cost to you of inconsistent or unreliable components from the off-shore supplier.
    • If the cost of failure is high, a modest savings is less valuable. You may want to wait until you have higher volume and higher potential savings before looking at off-shore sources.
    • In the US, we assume – with some security – that a pilot run predicts a large run. Historically this has not been shown to consistently apply to offshore suppliers.
  • Can you afford to invest and potentially lose the amount that it would cost you to secure your first production order from the off-shore source?
    • If the answer is yes, invest the time and effort to visit the supplier, and secure resources to monitor their production – your own or a trusted partner’s. Your presence and interest are very important.
    • The principal challenge will be quality and consistency of raw materials, and varying age of production equipment used to produce your components.
  • Are you concerned that your current supplier might cut you off?
    • The CEO is not sure, but has identified this as a risk.
    • If this is the case, start now identifying second sources for other components made by this supplier – if only to keep them honest in price, quality and delivery.

How Do Small Companies Outsource Infrastructure? Eight Ideas

Situation: Start-ups and early-stage enterprises are typically both resource and talent constrained. The CEO of a start-up asks how others successfully outsourced infrastructure cost effectively and when they were early-stage so that they could focus on critical success factors and improve their opportunity to succeed. How do small companies outsource infrastructure?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the early stages of company development, outsource everything possible and focus our efforts only on the key functions.
  • In order to focus on the most important things first, decide what must be accomplished and when. Set priorities, establish key milestones and create a timeline to measure achievement. Celebrate your successes!
  • Identify the most important strategic foci within your business model and outsource everything else.
    • For example, use outside data centers instead of developing these yourself.
    • With the increase in Cloud-based options, early stage companies can do without the IT infrastructure that they used to need. Just be careful to safeguard your intellectual property!
  • Attend relevant meetings and functions to learn about existing and available capabilities. Look for local networking opportunities relevant to your market.
  • Incubator sites have developed in a number of high tech centers. These are designed to cover infrastructure needs at a reasonable cost so that founders can focus on product and service development.
  • Hire a virtual assistant – you can find these locally using a Google search.
  • Take advantage of lower cost labor and enlist younger, less experienced labor to manage databases and clean records.
  • Set up a wiki for information. This exchange is free and you can tailor it to your needs. It is permission-based; you can find it at pbwiki.com.

How Do You Pitch a Blue Ocean Service? Six Recommendations

Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
    • How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
    • What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
    • If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
    • What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
  • Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
  • In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
  • Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
  • Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
  • Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.

Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.

How Do You Respond to Delivery Delay Requests? Four Points

Situation: A company negotiated a contract with a customer giving them a significant price break in exchange for a large committed order with extended delivery. The customer has now come back and requests additional time for delivery and payment on the order. The company has already procured extra material to produce the large order. How do you respond to requests for delivery delays?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Response will depend on the company’s history with customer. In the case of a long term customer who pays bills it is best to work with them. Explore solutions to meet them half-way.
    • Ask for a new commitment to take delivery by a date certain. Request consideration in return. For example, request partial payment up-front to help cover the cost of managing the delivery delay.
    • Keep the conversation going. Don’t get to point where you alienate a good customer.
  • If the customer is newer with less history but good potential for future growth, also respond flexibly but ask for additional consideration in good faith to cover your additional costs. As in the case above, request partial upfront payment to cover carrying costs – maybe a larger payment than for an established customer.
  • If the customer has been difficult in the past, or has been late with payments then the situation is different. There is no assurance that the customer isn’t just gaming the situation. Because the company has already committed resources to deliver the large order, demand an adjustment on price and terms in exchange for the delivery delay.
  • Whatever the history and situation, it is important to emphasize that you want to work with the customer.

Does it Pay to Share an Employee? Four Points

Situation: A company has an excellent bookkeeper. However, during slow seasons cash is tight and the bookkeeper is not occupied full time. The CEO contacted a friend at another company, and that company has hired the bookkeeper for 10 hours / week. This is working well for both for both companies. Are there downsides to doing this? Does it pay to share an employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • If you share an employee, share at your cost – your fully burdened cost per hour. For the company using a piece of your employee, this may be a significant hourly cost, but is much less expensive than a consultant and lower risk than bringing on an unknown individual.
  • Keep a short term perspective – once the economy improves you will want the individual back full-time. Make sure that this is well understood by the other company.
  • Make sure that this is not a burden on your bookkeeper. Ask whether the individual can handle two bosses. It helps to fully segregate the individual’s time with time rules – for example, by day or half-day with clean break points in time worked for Company A vs. Company B.
  • Overall, the apparent benefits of this situation outweigh the challenges.

What’s the Best Way to Renegotiate a Lease? Four Strategies

Situation: A company in a competitive real estate market has about 50% more space than they need at $2.80/sq. ft. per month – full service. The lease is up in 5 months with an option to renew for 2 years on the same terms. The company wants to both reduce its space and to reduce the cost per sq. ft. by about 25%. What’s the best way to renegotiate a lease?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Gather information from multiple sources on current and forecasted cost of space in your market. Sources may include: other tenants, real estate agents, similar buildings, and walking the neighborhood to evaluate conditions. Look at newspaper ads and Craig’s List for both space & furniture.
  • Ask other tenants in your building whether have excess space that they would offer to you under favorable terms, or whether they are interested in your excess space. In either case ask for both price and terms.
  • Be careful with the information that you gain from real estate agents. They have more incentive to keep prices up than to find you the best deal. Balance their information with information that you gather from other sources.
  • Success in negation often is a matter of which side is best informed. Line up all of your options. Present these to your landlord and see if you can get what you need without having to move. For many landlords, a good tenant at a lower price is better than no tenant.

How Do You Assess the Value of a Consultant? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company has relationship with a consultant. The consultant has approached the company for additional work with a higher dollar value. How do you assess the value of the services that are being offered? How do you assess the value of a consultant?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consulting is a competitive market. Look at the work being offered and tell the consultant that while you appreciate the value of her services and the relationship that she has with the company, you want to talk to others to understand the market rate for the additional services being offered.
  • Are consultants or contractors really much different from employees? How do you determine value when you are hiring? You determine this based on skills and market pay rate for skills. You’ll need to some homework to determine appropriate rates, but otherwise do the same here.
  • Look at your budget and upcoming expenses. If the proposed work is more important than other planned expenses, decide on a dollar figure and tell the consultant that this is what you’re willing to spend. If the consultant can convincingly pitch a higher value, you’ll listen.
  • Is the relationship with the consultant important to you? Is the proposed work important? If both are the case, sit down with the consultant and help them to craft a better offer.