A company is revising sales forecasts for 2016 and seeks the advice of others. A combination of low energy prices and shaky financial markets sparked by the Chinese decline has left many questioning whether they should revise their plans to account for an economic contraction. How is the economy impacting your sales plan?
Advice from the CEOs:
Niche Software Company – we are coming off of a good year. Our industry has seen low impact so far. Going forward we are cautiously optimistic. A couple of clients have delayed projects but didn’t cancel.
Services Company – hiring has been frozen. Adjustments to staff count have already been made. Clients are asking us to contact them again early in the second quarter. Opportunities exist in the health care area.
Hardware Company – we are running scared. We have cut business and personnel expenses to assure survival. A large customer just announced new plant construction earlier this week – this may help to turn things around. We are assuming this will be mean a longer term rather than a short-term opportunity.
Niche Software Company – cutting personal/business expenses. Long term things look favorable, but we have to survive the short term. Attendance at a large trade show this month was a little above last year but we don’t know whether this will yield a significant increase in sales.
Trades – Projects with big bank backing are on hold. We see large scale bidding wars for projects. Where there used to be 3-5 bids there are now 15 or more. Looking for consolidation of competition – especially union–based shops.
Situation: A CEO asks: How do you help people appreciate the difference between where they want to be verses where you need them to be? How do you help them understand the realities of career and financial potential that have been set for your company? What do you do to help your employees understand what has to happen before they get to the next step? How do you set appropriate expectations?
Advice from the CEOs:
The current labor market has yielded a different employment environment compared with 20 years ago. Many new hires are either:
Young – without long term expectations or perspective;
Possess an entitlement mentality;
More seasoned and possibly looking toward retirement; or
Have personality challenges.
This is just current reality and will last until the next contraction.
If you have a clear policy on compensation and promotion you are way ahead of the game because you can communicate this clearly at onset of employment. If you don’t have this, create it and make sure that it is communicated consistently to new employees and during all employee reviews.
Once you have established and communicated a clear policy on compensation and promotion the question becomes, on an individual basis, whether an employee “gets it” or not. If they don’t, perhaps your company is not for them.
Is there value to stock options as a bonus?
If you are a public company, they have value because stock options are tradable within legal guidelines.
If you are a private company it’s a different matter. Other than as an emotional boost, without a liquidity event the stock has no value except for possible periodic distributions against shares held.
Situation: A professional services company has developed a new trial offer to promote their services to prospective clients. The offer includes a discount for an initial evaluation accompanied by a discount on services should the client choose to proceed with recommended solutions. They seek guidance on whether this is an effective approach. How do you craft and effective trial offer?
Advice from the CEOs:
The suggested approach is similar to what others offer to new prospects, but only goes half way. A discounted offer only works if you’ve convinced the prospective client that first, they need your services, and second, that there will be a positive financial impact to their bottom line if they agree to your trail offer. You need to add recommendations that will demonstrate a significant short term financial benefit.
Target your message. Give the prospect a reason to spend scarce dollars now.
Offer to apply all or some of the initial fee to future expenses if they contract you to solve problems that you identify in your initial review.
An example of a more targeted offer would be as follows – we will audit your accounts receivable as well as any debts that you’ve written off last in the last 2-3 years. Based on this audit, our past experience has been that you can boost short-term collectibles from these accounts by 30%. An offer like this demonstrates an immediate impact on cash flow.
Do you feel comfortable offering a guarantee? You will save the client $X over a guaranteed period or the service will be free.
Situation: From time to time companies face crisis situations. A company, planning ahead, wants to establish a culture that can deal with crises effectively. What are the most important elements that should be part of this culture?
Advice from the CEOs:
Everything starts with a brutally honest SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) of your company and operations. Identify where you are Strong, where you are Viable, where Urgent Care is Necessary, and where you have No Reason to Be. Based on this assessment, cut your losses – for example, eliminate exposure to the No Reason to Be activities and efforts – and focus resources on your strengths and what is necessary to assure your future.
Support all efforts or activities that you will keep or pursue with a Bottoms-Up Financial Analysis. This will include a P&L, Balance Sheet, Cash Flow Analysis, assumptions, variables, and best, most likely and worst case scenarios. This Financial Analysis is an essential part of facing up to the Brutal Facts of your business and environment. From this exercise you will gain clarity on where to focus first.
The greater the potential crisis, the more frequent this exercise must be.
When dealing with creditors, remember their priorities: honesty, eventual payment, fair treatment and long-term customers. Present them with a credible plan, don’t make commitments you can’t keep, keep all commitments that you make, keep in touch monthly, and pay what you can. The development of trust makes it possible to negotiate incredible terms.
Special thanks to Tom Spanier of Spanier & Associates for his contribution to this discussion.