Tag Archives: Early

How Do You Build Channel Sales? Three Key Points

Situation: A company has developed a disrupting technology that allows OEM manufacturers to produce high-end machines at a fraction of their current cost. The challenge is that the company does not possess the capacity to reach producers of high-end machines.  The CEO seeks advice on how to efficiently focus channel development. How do you build channel sales?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The dilemma is having a major disrupting technology in a market with a strong division between OEMs servicing the low/medium-end market and those servicing the high-end market.
    • This technology collapses the division between the low/medium and the high-end markets.
    • This shift disrupts the current business models of either group of OEMs, as well as their technology development plans. This is the source of resistance.
  • Therefore, the most promising channel development partner is either:
    • A low/medium-end OEM who is also a disrupter and who has the capability to develop a high-end sales and marketing effort; or
    • A high-end OEM that knows the market but who’s current strategy is failing and needs an entirely different solution to revive their prospects.
  • The near-term task is to gain market capability – both manufacturing and marketing/sales – and to use this capability to gain early market acceptance.
    • If, over the next 12 months, the company can begin to impact the market shares of the high-end OEMs, this is the surest way to gain their attention. Once the company starts to gain share, a likely outcome is that one of the high-end OEMs will buy the company to lock up their IP.
  • Another company used a similar strategy several years ago.
    • They entered a new market by way of a business collaboration with a high-visibility partner.
    • In one year, they took 30% market share from the market leader through this collaboration.
    • As a result, the market leader bought them because “it was less expensive to buy you than to spend the marketing dollars that we would have had to spend to compete against you.”

How Do You Improve Internal Processes and Procedures? Five Approaches

Situation: A CEO’s company has experienced margin erosion due to designs that did not transfer well to manufacturing, and inefficiencies in the transfer process between design and manufacturing engineering. He wants to transform the culture without losing technical performance while meeting cost targets and delivery timelines. How do you improve internal processes and procedures?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Reinventing the culture of a workforce is an organizational design challenge.
    • The heart of the challenge is understanding the motivations and desires of the individuals involved – particularly the natural leaders within the groups.
    • Learn this is by speaking with them one-on-one, either as the CEO, or through individuals with whom they will be open and trusting.
    • Once their emotional drivers are understood, design accountability and incentive solutions that will align their personal reliability and accountability drivers with their emotional drivers.
  • Tailor the language of communication with the organization so that it responds to the emotional triggers discovered during the 1-on-1s. For example, if there is a negative reaction to sales within the engineering teams, use a different term like client development.
  • Expose the designers to the “hot seat” that gets created when their designs produce manufacturing challenges. The objective is for the designer to see the manufacturing group as their “customer.”
    • Involve manufacturing engineering in design architecture meetings. Do this early in the process so that they can communicate the framework and constraints under which manufacturing occurs and suggest options that will ease manufacturability.
  • Shift from individual to team recognition on projects. Instead of recognizing the contributions of the design component or the manufacturing component, recognize the contributions of the team of design and manufacturing engineers that produced a project on time, on budget, with good early reliability.
  • To kick off the new process:
    • Identify some of the waste targets.
    • Involve individuals who are known to be early adopters.
    • Have them look at the problem, develop and implement a solution.
    • Deliver ample recognition/rewards to these individuals.
    • Next use these people to mentor the next level of 2nd

How Do You Fuel Early Stage Growth? Five Suggestions

Situation: An early stage company has assembled an impressive team and has a solid service offering. The immediate challenge is bringing in clients to fuel growth. The team has the capacity but needs some creative ideas on where they should focus their efforts. How do you fuel early stage growth?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Fully utilize the team’s talents. Team members with established expertise can offer clinics featuring the company’s service offering at local colleges, business organizations and other venues to target audiences. Think about business organizations with members who would benefit from the company’s services. Also reach out to venture capitalists and the entrepreneurial market.
  • Develop a strong value proposition:
    • Go-to Organization
    • Eyeballs on the market
    • Links to highly qualified resources
    • Demonstrated expertise in your space
    • Claims tied to the top priorities of target clients
  • For start-up and entrepreneur client targets:
    • Offer a packaged set of services for a fixed fee. Be open to creative payment options to fit the financial needs of entrepreneurs.
    • Start developing a full suite of services. Start by assessing the need and developing a target list of early clients. VC portfolio companies can be a great target.
  • Build a good web-based communications interface for client use. Think of what is needed to create an attractive menu and let this drive service development.
  • Develop a separate brand for ancillary services that will complement the current offering, but which is outside of the current offering. Look at markets which would benefit from the service, including medical and nursing providers.

How Do You Scale with Scarce Talent? Four Factors

Situation: A software company relies on in-house expertise to both position itself and come up with unique solutions to clients’ problems. The CEO wants to significantly scale up the number of clients served per year. The challenge is that it is difficult to find software engineers who are experienced in a wide range of code languages. How do you scale with scarce talent?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by looking at the load carried by your current employees. Do they have the capacity to significantly increase the number of clients that they serve? Do you have sufficient back-up to serve existing and new clients should something happen to a key employee? It’s one thing to have ambition to expand, but another to assure that you have the capacity to serve both existing and new clients.
  • Take a close look at your org chart.
    • What happens and where are the exposures when you double the current service volume? Where will the greatest stresses occur? These are the first areas in which you should start to build redundancy.
    • From an HR standpoint, you need a leadership development plan that extends down your organization chart. Use the stress analysis just mentioned to identify the areas in greatest need of additional resources and leadership development.
  • Look for areas where you can off-load current responsibilities to support staff to increase the capacity of your current talent. This increases potential capacity as well as the overall value of the company.
    • The lack of redundancy may prove to be detrimental to your ability to attract new large clients. Large potential clients and partners will use whatever means they have at their disposal (including stealth visits to your offices by local reps) to vet your organization before they make a commitment to you.
  • New client and partner relationships are like new product introductions.
    • A few early adopters will jump on your opportunity.
    • Many of the most established clients or partners will sit on the sideline to monitor the experience of early adopters.
    • If you trip in your service delivery early in your scale-up, most of the remaining targets will be slow to support your offering.
    • Count on the first two years of building additional clientele to be very intensive. It will distract you from many of the functions you perform today, unless you have additional personnel to support this.

How Do You Build a Young Company? Four Perspectives

Situation: An early stage company is positioning itself for growth. The CEO believes that they need to adopt a new model to grow. She is focused on a new channel – an affiliate model using the web. How do you build a young company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Introducing a new product to a new market is very difficult, especially for an early stage business that is still establishing itself. Shifting from direct sales to ancillary services presents a new challenge and a new demographic. In addition, in your market there are low barriers to entry so it may be too early to diversify. You are more likely to be successful marketing to your core.
  • Evaluate and decide whether there is growth in your core business. If so, stick with your core plan. If not, then you either must change or decide that your core market is not what you thought it would be.
  • You offer a valuable, important service. The issue is branding and a clear vision of what you want to be. Start by identifying your revenue stream. Then assess ways that you can move from one-time sales to an annuity revenue stream without major adjustments to your model.
  • Is it feasible to build a revenue share model for ancillary services with your core business partners? Here are the steps:
    • Develop a model.
    • Talk to both your business partners and customers – test the concept. See how they respond.
    • There are two things to look for: does it turn out that that the model is easy to sell and implement, with little effort or distraction from our core business, or does it compliment your core business. If either or both is the case, you may want to pursue it.

How Can You Monetize Marketing Alliances? Six Thoughts

Situation:  A company works primarily with early stage/rapidly growing companies. To extend their service offering, they have alliances with corporations which are interested in these companies as sources of innovation. The alliances have helped them to gain new customers, but the CEO is curious whether he can gain additional revenue from these alliances. How can you monetize marketing alliances?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Match making is a valuable resource – regardless of where your company is located or the customers that you serve. Companies are less likely to pay for something that they perceive as having received free in the past, but are more than willing to pay for options that will enhance both their top and bottom lines.
  • Look at ways that you can make your services more valuable to your current corporate alliance partners. How can you help them make more revenue, or enhance their bottom lines through a win-win revenue-sharing relationship?
  • Become a match maker and get a fee. Offer your alliance partners opportunities that are more intimate than speed dating. Make sure that you are playing both a key introductory and ongoing role.
  • Use speed dating to match companies and funding sources. Invite investment bankers or private equity firms. Charge a 1-2% match fee if they do a deal.
  • Simplify your model. Who is your real audience – who is the constituency that you can best serve?
  • The most valuable deals and matches are those that offer ongoing revenue opportunities to your alliance partners. This is where you can offer them the most important value – a value for which they will pay.

How Do You Hire Your First Employee? Seven Suggestions

Situation:  The CEO of an early stage company has identified a person to help her as an assistant. This will be her first real employee. Prior hires have been contractors who have been paid on revenue generated. This individual’s salary will be an expense without clear association to revenue. What guidelines do you suggest as she makes this hire? How do you hire your first employee?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Create a cash flow projection to make sure that you have the cash to afford an employee.
  • If you consistently expect 40+ hours of work from this individual, consider a salaried position which will give both of you more flexibility.
  • Paychex currently handles your payroll and benefits. Work with them to make sure that all labor law compliance issues are covered. Also, consider hiring a labor law consultant to help you avoid minefields.
  • Do a background check even if you have known this individual for a long time.
  • Consider working with a professional employment organization that can provide back-office HR support for you.
  • An employee handbook is unnecessary at this point. However, think through how you will want to handle issues that may come up including vacation, benefits and paid/unpaid leave like bereavement leave. Document these for inclusion in a future employee handbook.
  • Under the current health care law employers with less than fifty employees are not required to provide health benefits without paying a penalty. This may change as the law continues to evolve.

How Do You Manage Cash Flow Gaps? Nine Suggestions

Situation: A company has a significant monthly payroll, and business is growing. Accounts payable collections are 90-120 days. Their challenge is to finance the gap. They have tried, but can’t get their bank to provide financing. An SBA loan will help. How do you manage cash flow gaps?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for private non-bank financing.
    • Your AR is safe, low risk, and from reputable companies.
    • Non-bank financing offers better rates than banks, with access to cash from the lender on reasonable notice.
  • Investigate Lendingclub.com. They offer business loans up to $300K at 5.9%. Lendingclub.com operates by spreading the risk over thousands of investors.
  • Talk to lots of banks – not just those with whom who’ve worked in the past. Given your cash flow needs and good credit history, if you offer to shift all of your business to another bank you may get a more positive response. Once you have talked to other banks, let your current bank know your plans. They may become more responsive.
  • Change your service policy so that you give your best service to customers who pay you fastest. Once the purchasers at companies with whom you work learn about this, they will pressure their AP people to speed their payments to you.
  • Put more focus more on services which pay up front.
  • Going forward switch as much business as possible to ACH payments.
  • Offer customers early pay discounts – 1% net 10 or ½ of the Lendingclub.com rate to your biggest clients.
  • Befriend lower level employees in client companies. Particularly those with whom you have regular business contact.
    • They can tell you how to get to the top of the AP pile.
    • Let them teach you their company’s practices.
  • Plan finances going forward so that you can finance the gap yourself.

Category: Finance, Operations

Key Words: Payroll, Financing, Accounts, Payable, Bank, Lendingclub, Non-Bank, Service, ACH, Payment, Early, Pay, Discount

How Do You Make Time for Priorities? Eleven Recommendations

Situation: A CEO is building a new company. She has a small, highly qualified team, and much of the work is hands-on. In addition, there is fund raising to support the venture. The CEO also makes time for exercise and keeping in shape. With all of this on her plate she is getting overwhelmed. How do you focus on priorities in an early stage company? How do you make time for priorities?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Maintain your exercise and health – this makes everything else easier.
  • Decide on your strategic platform. This creates a larger conceptual framework and helps to clarify priorities.
  • Identify the gating items. Focus effort here and spend scarce resources strategically to push your goal.
  • Within your gating items, identify the factors that make you scalable. Focus most of your effort here.
  • Create a weekly focus.
  • Lay out your to-do list in a Covey quadrant – most and least important vs. urgent and not urgent. Review this weekly to eliminate or delegate less important priorities.
  • Operational issues are usually symptoms – identify the causes and fix them.
  • Daily, list what you’ve done. Look back every 1-2 weeks and assess how you spent your time. Eliminate time wasters.
  • Don’t let you passion be undermined by the drudgery.
  • As an early stage company, you have to react – understand and appreciate that some aspects of early stage company life will not be very strategic.
  • Fix things rather than adding people and complexity. This compliments Fisher’s Stages of Growth recommendations for a company of under 11 people.

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.