Situation: A company’s goal is to replace an old, established market with new technology and, by owning the technology, to reinvent the industry. Given this aggressive goal, there is a temptation to go into volume production before establishing the cost advantages to make the technology profitable. The challenge is to establish disciplined, stable, qualified, scalable and profitable manufacturing. To accomplish this, the company must decide between alternatives as they cultivate new customers. How do you optimize your pipeline?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two sides of the market:
Mega-markets dominated by large corporations which have long lead-times and potentially huge payoffs; however, these markets present long payoff delays for the company.
Smaller, quicker markets with limited volume but which will offer rapid PO acquisition and proof of concept.
The question is how much effort to devote to which market.
Look for early customers who are cast in your own light – disruptors who can help to catapult you into the marketplace
The trade-offs are strategic vs. tactical opportunities.
The immediate tactical need is to generate cash to show that you can. This is the steak.
The strategic need is to seed a foothold in a mega opportunity – to show the potential to revolutionize the market. This is the sizzle.
Identify a killer app that will gain tactical advantage and cash and help prompt maturation of a strategic opportunity.
Another CEO shared experience landing a large client.
They used a short, low cost pilot project to prove the concept to skeptical client staff. The client was surprised and delighted by the success of the pilot project. The pilot project was then articulated into larger projects.
Over time the company used incremental steps to gain a broad presence within the large company.
Focus business development on selling killer apps.
Find low hanging fruit for quick proof of salability and to show a revenue ramp.
Small design wins exercise the machine.
Is it possible to conserve cash to raise the impact of early wins to the bottom line?
Are all current staff during the next 12 months?
Early on, the game is business development – gaining key contracts and agreements with lead customers. Sales follows, with focus on the larger market. This may be 6 months to 2 years out. How many people are needed to focus on business development?
Situation: A company is developing new forecasting metrics for both sales and revenue. The immediate future does not look robust, and they are concerned about mid-term future revenue. Ideally they want to extend a 3 month forecast window out to 6 months. What is an effective methodology for forecasting revenue out 6 months? How do you forecast sales and revenue?
Advice from the CEOs:
Get your team together and gather impressions on the direction of business through the end of year. How many see sales going up, staying the same or declining through the end of the year. Discuss the rationale behind each member’s estimate so that you fully understand their thinking and what metrics each sees as important to their forecast. Work to make the estimates and metrics as rigorous as possible.
Based on the metrics discussed, develop an algorithm that you can monitor on a monthly or quarterly basis, depending upon your needs.
As you develop your algorithm, test it against past sales forecasts and history. Can it accurately plot past performance based on the metrics that you had at the time. If not, what needs to be adjusted or better understood.
Do you ask clients for forecasts of their purchase needs and do you track the accuracy of their forecasts? Weigh their responses by the quality of their past predictions.
As an alternative to trying to predict demand, assemble your resources to fit the needs of your market and customers and arrange your resources for flexibility.
Look at industry resources. How far out do experts in your industry claim to be able to forecast demand and sales or purchases? How reliable are these forecasts? What can you learn from this exercise that will improve your own forecasts?
Situation: A company is investigating off-shoring to lower costs. Trends are confusing with some companies returning operations to local production and others continuing to offshore. In addition, options include partnering with an existing company with expertise, or developing off-shore resources themselves. Does it still make sense to off-shore?
Advice from the CEOs:
Instead of looking at broad trends, narrow your focus to what other companies in your industry or closely related industries are doing. You can get this from industry publications and trade associations, as well as from other companies with whom you have personal relationships. This will help to clarify trends that potentially impact you.
Consider whether there are complimentary objectives that will influence your decision. For example, do you want to expand your market presence abroad and would off-shoring operations help you accomplish this?
Look at other US locations – for example the Midwest. Midwestern moms working from home provide high quality customer service for Southwest Airlines. Part- or flex-timers may be less expensive than full-timers.
Make this move in steps. Consider breaking up your needs into distinct components and outsourcing each component from a different provider or vendor. This will help to preserve your “secret sauce” and corporate IP resources from those who might want to steal it if they saw the whole picture.
Good off-shore functions utilize as little management as possible. Distinct tasks are easier to off-shore than complex processes.
Look at scalability issues – based on your own past experience.
Tie the resources that you need to what is readily available in different geographies.
Situation: When an early stage company was founded, the CEO made vague promises of stock ownership to new employees. Some original employees have asked whether and when they will receive ownership. Should the CEO offer stock ownership, and what is the message to employees?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first question concerns company policy on ownership. For example, what do the founding owners think about expanding the ownership pool? It is important for the founders to have this discussion and agree on official company policy on ownership. This can then be communicated consistently to employees.
Investigate practices for similar companies in your industry. If you find that there is a size at which companies typically start to diversify ownership, then have a conversation among the owners as to what your company will do. You don’t have to follow the pack, but you may risk turnover if your policy is significantly different from the industry norm.
Employee stock ownership is a double edged sword. Employee shares only receive a true value in a liquidity event – sale of the company or an IPO. Absent a liquidity event, employee stock ownership can complicate corporate decisions, and there’s also the question of the value of an employee’s stock if the employee leaves.
If you decide not to expand ownership, what’s the best way to update earlier promises of ownership?
Tell the story: stock ownership was one option that we considered. We looked at industry practice, and here’s what we found. We determined that at our size there are few advantages to broad employee ownership, and several potential disadvantages to additional owners including tax consequences. Therefore, we decided that we could achieve our objective more effectively through our profit sharing plan.
Situation: A company has historically given Christmas bonuses at the rate of 10-20% of salary in a good year. The CEO is concerned that employees may stay until their bonus is received, and then leave for another job. What are your plans for 2011 bonuses?
Advice from the CEOs:
First, what is your objective in granting bonuses? Which among the following are you trying to achieve?
Acknowledgement of effort.
Effort above and beyond the norm.
Once you determine your goal, design a structure that will effect this goal.
What practices are typical for your industry – your competitors, vendors and clients?
Background research on industry practices provides a basis for your own practice. You can then evaluate whether varying from industry practice can give you an advantage.
Company performance should be a factor in determining bonus payment. So should performance against individual employee goals and objectives.
How much discretion should be given to managers for setting bonuses for their direct reports?
Talk to your managers and get their input on how they would handle bonus evaluation.
A number of companies give managers a pool guideline, and have them produce a spreadsheet of recommended bonus distribution for executive review and approval.
Individuals should not decide their own bonuses. Bonuses for all employees/managers should be decided by their direct supervisors.
Should the CEO be concerned if an employee takes their bonus and then leaves?
If an employee has earned their bonus, then you are granting them an earned reward. Their departure likely has much less to do with whether or not they receive a bonus than other factors.
Human resource research consistently demonstrates that compensation is at the bottom of the ladder of reasons that workers remain or leave – particularly workers who exercise critical thinking and judgment in their jobs.