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.
Situation: A company will be losing a client in the near future. However, the client is still buying from the company as sole source supplier while they develop alternate suppliers. Should the company raise prices, and if so by how much? Is it timely to raise prices?
Advice from the CEOs:
A factor in this decision will be your history of raising prices in the past. If you have increased prices to keep pace with inflation and your costs, look at the frequency and magnitude of these increases. Provided that the increase that you are considering is not out of line with past practice, it should not come as a surprise to your client. If you have not raises prices in the past, be prepared for push-back.
However you decide, be sure to maintain the relationship. You have a long relationship with this client and you never know what their future needs will be. As to the amount of the price increase, if they are reducing the volume of their purchases, you can raise your prices by 10-20% based on the loss of volume to cover your overhead.
Be prepared with logical arguments to explain the price increase to the client.
If your discussions with the client’s representative have become tense, it may be better to have someone else within your company lead this discussion. It’s OK to tie the emotional component – having to lay-off employees, etc, – into your story.
If you have an advocate within the client company, involve them in the discussion and give your advocate the ammunition that they need to support your case.
Adjust your staff and costs to fit the new reality.
Situation: A company wants to keep both customers and employees up to date on what is happening within the company. This includes announcements of new products, services and initiatives, changes in personnel policy and benefits, and other information important to both customers and employees. The CEO is considering a company newsletter. How do you keep customers and employees updated and what benefits do you accrue from the effort?
Advice from the CEOs:
Customers and employees are two different audiences and require different communications. Externally focused company newsletters are a value-add from a marketing perspective and enhance the image of the company in the eyes of clients and prospects. Internal company newsletters are valuable to reinforce vision, understanding of company policy, and inter-departmental alignment.
Both efforts are justified from a time and expense standpoint, and perhaps deserve even more focus.
Within the companies represented around the table, frequency of both internal and external newsletters varies from semi-annual to monthly publications.
Both print and online newsletters have value. Employees respond positively to both. Print media make it easier for them to share important updates in benefits and excitement about company developments with their families. Online media can be updated more frequently and inexpensively, and the HR department can track the number of views to measure impact.
Emailed external newsletters are valuable because they enable you to measure ROI from the effort by building in tracking mechanisms and correlating web page hits to business development and revenue.
Situation: A company is encouraged by signs of a strengthening economy. They want to encourage their staff to prepare for growth and new opportunities. The CEO is curious about what other companies are doing to prepare their staff so that they emerge from the recession stronger than they were in 2008. How do you emerge from the recession stronger than you were before it began?
Advice from the CEOs:
One company is organizing company meetings at each site to outline their high level plans so that all managers know the plan and vision:
o General company direction
o Market and opportunity
o The plan – where they are, what they’re going to do by when
Another company conducts a general employee meeting every two months. At the last meeting:
o They cancelled the 20th day off without pay – and celebrated!
o They compared revenue growth now versus last year, focusing on the positive upside and company’s potential.
o They explained why they are now recruiting, and reinforced their business model.
o They had kept up marketing and sales during recession and these are now paying off.
Another is reinforcing the belief that they will stay lean and mean.
Another is Increasing update communication frequency and assuring that managers are updating their teams. This maintains the soft reasons for people to stay onboard, and to stay excited.
What not to do: do NOT allow cuts that were made to survive destroy the long-term workable business model.
Situation: A CEO is evaluating her company’s employee review process and seeks input on alternative practices from other companies. What are best practices for employee reviews in terms of frequency, format and structure?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company A conducts annual reviews. They ask for written input from the employee, peers, and manager. The review is a sit-down meeting between the employee and manager.
Company B conducts formal annual reviews, with informal 6 month reviews. The annual review evaluates the employee’s performance on 15 key variables, and is prepared by the manager. The review is a sit-down meeting between the employee and manager
Company C does not conduct reviews. They have tried several formats over the life of the company, but found none satisfactory. Instead the company continually monitors key metrics on a green, yellow, red scale. As soon as yellow appears on a metric for an employee, the supervisor meets with the employee to discuss the situation and to formulate corrective action. The result is that reds do not occur.
Company D conducts annual reviews on the employment anniversary. They request written input from both the employee, and manager. The employee, manager and President meet over lunch, off-site. The objective is to communicate plus and minus points, taking a long-term approach in a conversational setting.
Company E conducts annual reviews, with quarterly self-evaluations. Both reviews and evaluations include a key question: “what can management do for me to improve my performance?” The review is a sit down meeting between employee and manager. Results of reviews are tied to quarterly profit sharing.
All companies agreed that, generally, in evaluating the options, the most important questions to ask are:
Why are we doing reviews?
What is the objective?
The answers to these questions help to evaluate review options.