Situation: The CEO of a software company has been presented with two opportunities by a large customer – international expansion to support their sales and creation of a data warehouse facility. The company has the option of pursuing either or both. The customer is not offering up-front cash to support either opportunity. Should they pursue either or both? How do you choose between opportunities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Keep pursuing both opportunities and establish a series of decision points which will yield either a Go or No-Go decision on each. The big question is to determine how either will support company growth.
The customer is interested in both opportunities so ask them for assistance such as: removing barriers, client referrals, or some form of cash or investment.
For either opportunity to succeed requires a high level of internal buy-in and support from the customer.
If the company can afford to be aggressive now, this is a great time to move.
Look carefully at the ROI on each opportunity under different scenarios.
Do background work with potential clients to validate each market opportunity.
Specifically to International Expansion
Buy-in from the customer’s head of international sales is essential – without this it will be difficult to establish a solid relationship with the international sales team. Lack of this support will be a No-Go sign.
Can the customer provide office space, access to their infrastructure, administrative support, assistance in gaining necessary licenses to do business, etc. during start-up?
Could this venture be undertaken through a joint venture with an established international company? This would save start-up costs and allow validation of the opportunity before risking the company’s investment.
Execution will require a large-scale effort – both time and money. Include both in the Go/No-Go calculation.
Specifically to the Data Warehouse Facility
A competitor’s right of first refusal on this business is a barrier. However, the opportunity may be viewed as too small for the competitor. Is it possible to buy rights from this competitor?
Ask the customer to transition their customers to your company and its product.
Situation: A company has been looking at alternatives for expansion but would be willing to stay in their present site if the landlord is willing to lower their rent without requiring more time on the current lease. Another option would be to purchase a building and lease out extra space until they need to expand. The CEO seeks advice on how to move forward. Do you more or negotiate a lower rent?
Advice from the CEOs:
Much has to do with the current real estate market. If the market is slack, there are more options whether the decision is to move or renegotiate the rent with the current landlord. However, if demand for space is high then landlords and sellers have the upper hand. This is a classic demand-supply situation.
Investigate lease buy-out options if the decision is to move. Better yet, if the decision is to move ask the new landlord to pay off the old lease.
For the money required to move an operation of substantial size, why not buy? In this case, the decision is balancing the size of the down payment with the company’s current cash position.
If the decision is to buy, consider creating an LLC to purchase the property and fund the purchase through a Small Business Administration loan.
The Devil’s Advocate Perspective while you make the decision: don’t worry about the least until it runs out. Instead focus on making as much money as possible and prepare for a move closer to the end of the lease. Renegotiating a lease and looking for a building at this time can consume a lot of time.
Situation: A company has strong technology and good top customers. However, the CEO is concerned that the company is too dependent on a few large clients. She wants to increase business among mid-tier clients. How do you expand the sales funnel?
Advice from the CEOs:
Get very crisp in identifying who your core customer is and focus on them near term. Look at what you offer that your competition can’t match and create appealing offers for new clients.
Simplify and clearly define your market position.
Here’s an example: First to market with the best, smallest, fastest solution.
This clearly defines who you are. Focus the company on delivering this.
In each high potential market find one company to whom you can offer a significant advantage.
Their current market position might be number 2, 3 or 4. Offer them a solution to gain an advantage on #1 and shift the playing field. This is a win-win for both you and them.
Horizontal business expansion could be the best near-term strategy. This lets each vertical market solve their own problems of technology direction, logistics, etc. Seek customers who have the resources to manage this in their respective market places.
Tailor contract minimums and pricing according to customer order commitments. Be willing to sacrifice price and some margin for committed purchases that match your timelines and resources.
Buyers often overstate their anticipated needs because they don’t want to be caught with short supply.
You can meet and promise lower prices for higher volumes because they rarely order them. However, combine this commitment with higher prices for the lower volumes that they are more likely to order.
Look across markets and focus on promising targets.
Use a call center to queue up prospecting telephone calls.
Have sales people conduct scripted qualification calls with prospects by telephone.
Only send sales people out to talk to qualified prospects. This saves travel expense and increases the productivity of in-person sales calls.
Situation: A company is rapidly expanding and is considering the pros and cons of domestic versus off-shore expansion. One of the appeals of off-shore expansion is the availability of good talent at lower costs overseas. However there are appealing counterarguments for domestic expansion. What is your experience, and how would you advise this CEO?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a challenging question. Based on others’ experience, success off-shoring depends on your ability to be disciplined and rigid in your design specs. If this is the case, then off-shoring can work. However, if either you or the partner changes the spec then delays and difficulties result. You have to make sure that the off-shore labor force possesses the skills that you require to successfully complete your projects and that your specs are sufficiently detailed to overcome challenges of language and understanding of usability.
Tightly specify each job that you want to have done off-shore, and develop performance metrics so that shortfalls will become obvious quickly.
Some large technology companies operate off-shore centers not to save costs, but because they actually find better talent overseas. India and China are producing excellent engineers, and given the size of the populations, the top percentile of talent can product a large number of talented people.
Some companies contract through off-shore entities, and tightly integrate the work of off-shore and domestic engineers. This is a perk for the off-shore engineers and helps to produce value.
One large company sends US Indian employees to India for 2-years stints to oversee their Indian operations.
Maintain strict hiring policies for your off-shore operations. Some companies have encountered difficulties when the managers of off-shore entities hired relatives because of family ties as opposed to talent or qualifications.
Over the past five years, the differential in pay for off-shore and domestic talent has shrunk. A large number of companies have found that domestic talent is easier to manage and in many cases is more productive. Further, there are no language challenges and time zone differences make working with domestic talent easier.
Key Words: Expansion, Domestic, Off-shore, Talent, Cost, Design, Spec, Skills, Integration, Hiring, Policy, Language, Time Zone
Situation: A company’s primary objectives are to hone their business model and establish their first satellite office as a model for future expansion. An opportunity has arisen from a trusted source that could rapidly expand both business and opening of satellite offices by providing service to a single national client. How do you evaluate the tradeoffs between these options?
Advice from the CEOs:
What is the impact of this new option on client diversity? One of Porter’s fundamentals of strategy is to not have too much of your business dependent on any one customer.
What is the impact of this opportunity on your personnel, time and resources?
Are there areas in which this opportunity will save time and resources, for example by consolidating some back-office functions like billing and accounting?
If this opportunity will take an inordinate amount of time and focus, consider starting a new entity to take advantage of this opportunity.
Use a decision-making grid to evaluate the new opportunity versus your present strategy:
Identify the most important factors of both your current strategy and the new opportunity.
Weight the importance of each factor as a percent of with the total adding up to 100%.
Rank each opportunity against each factor.
Multiply the factor ranking times the weight for each ranking.
Sum the weighted rankings.
See whether the summed rankings support of contradict your gut feeling, and further analyze depending on the result.
Once you have identified the risks in this proposition, determine contract provisions that will reduce risks to acceptable levels. If the potential client is unwilling to yield enough of these points in the contracting stage to acceptably mitigate your risks, then walk away from the deal.
Don’t risk your entire company for one opportunity. Financial rewards are only a scorecard.
Interview with G.K. Sally Solis-Cohen, President, CEO Intronet
Situation: An early stage company is simultaneously undergoing geographic expansion and broadening its network to include new audiences. This mandates finding the right people to run the new opportunities while staying focused on existing operations. How do you stay focused on core operations while building new opportunities?
Advice from Sally Solis-Cohen:
First and foremost, understand your own limitations. Know what you can do, what you can’t, and delegate what you can’t do. This means choosing the right people to whom you can delegate important initiatives. As a start-up you have few people to whom you can delegate. Make sure that they see the opportunity as you do and have the skill and personality sets to handle their responsibilities. The choices that you make in selecting your core team will be critical to your success.
Make sure that your team talks back to you – your need their perspective and feedback, especially when their perspective differs from your own. Listen openly to their ideas. At the same time listen to your customers; they will keep you focused on your business and marketing plans. Focus more on listening, thinking and doing than speaking.
Have a very clear set of priorities and a to-do list. Focus on your A priorities. Delegate the rest. When you’re growing it doesn’t double your work, it quadruples it with travel and extra distractions.
Stay focused on your core value proposition. Keep reminding yourself why you started the business. Observe the validation that you receive from your customers and users. Live your value proposition.
If you are talking to nay-sayers, you’re talking to the wrong people. Surround yourself with positive people who are heading in the same direction that you are and who can present alternate points of view in a positive tone.
Interview with E.J. Dieterle, President & CEO, YES Partners, Inc.
Situation: As corporate wallets start loosening up, companies are looking at market expansion opportunities. International expansion is one alternative. In the past this was done largely by sending Expats. In more recent years there has been a trend toward hiring locally. How do you find the right talent locally?
Everything starts with the basics – a good job description.
Finding people is easier these days with social networks like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, hi5, Spoke and Plaxo. However, finding the right people remains a challenge.
Invest time and effort to research your target market.
Which country is a market or has the most likely prospective clients?
What is your competitive advantage there?
For a hiring company without an existing presence in the local market it is also a challenge to convince good local candidates that yours is the right company to join. It is important to understand the local business culture and values, and also to offer career-paths to qualified candidates.
Don’t assume the need for multiple offices as you start. You can start with a highly mobile person working from home who knows the local language(s), customs, and who already has contacts in your target market.
It is often assumed that it takes one year or more for an Expat to be efficient locally, and that hiring locally often accelerates first years’ startup-time. However, the local person has to understand and “fit” into the corporate/head office culture.
Working with an international executive search firm to find qualified local talent with the right fit to your business and needs can greatly improve your odds of success.