Situation: A CEO has an option to purchase another company with whom they have a long and good relationship. A smooth transition will be important. The owner’s relationship with their customers is central to their success, as is his employees’ knowledge of their key accounts. How does the CEO assure that these relationships are retained? How do you construct a business acquisition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Based on the CEO’s responses to the Forum’s questions, the owner of the other company needs this deal more than the acquiring company needs him. This creates a strong bargaining position.
The owner of the business is the business and the key to a smooth transition post acquisition. Retaining his ongoing involvement – at least for a reasonable period – is essential to gaining maximum value from this acquisition.
The value of this business is its people: the owner’s relationships, and both the owner’s and his employees’ knowledge of their key accounts. His employees know the inner workings of their customers’ businesses. These are the relationships and the knowledge needed to assure that the acquisition is profitable post-close. Retention clauses and penalties must be part of the agreement.
If the owner wants 50% of the net income generated from his piece of the surviving company during a transition period, this is fair. However, the financial and operational details of the transition and his share of the income must be spelled out in the agreement and the agreement must assure that there is proper follow-through to qualify for the payments.
The income from the owner’s accounts must support his salary. However, even with this the owner will still cost the acquirer time and energy. Plan for this and budget for it in the agreement.
Situation: The CEO of a company has a problem. Quality control is an essential part of the company’s success, but ownership of quality control issues is proving difficult. When more than one department is involved, each blames the other for issues or deficiencies. Who owns quality control?
Advice from the CEOs:
At the end of the day the project owner must own this responsibility. This individual can delegate work but not accountability.
QC must be embedded within the company’s systems. In addition, someone has to walk in daily to ask what is wrong with this project? What can be done better? A skeptic.
Put a skeptic in the QC role – the job is to find what’s wrong, not what’s right – a tactical skeptic.
Skeptics are ideal for design reviews.
It isn’t necessary to hire someone for this role if there’s already a productive skeptic on staff.
This person needs to be vocal and will irritate some of the other staff. Coach staff to tolerate this, because the individual is performing an essential role.
It’s impossible to check everything. However, as issues are identified, everything can be documented.
As systems are reviewed, look for patterns of problems.
Develop solutions as problems are identified.
Log issues and solutions on a shared server to facilitate access by project managers.
Institute cross-functional design reviews – representatives from different functions offer different perspectives. Formalize design reviews in the early and start-up stages of projects.
Work on company culture – build anticipation of challenges into the culture.
Build a heuristic of the output of each program. Use this to make sure that inputs, filters and system checks will produce the desired output and the desired level of quality.
Ask: where is QC currently working within the company? Why is it working?
Operations and testers catch the errors.
The issue is distributing the knowledge gained. In complex systems nobody understands the full picture or the impact on the customer.
This becomes the responsibility of the project owner.
Situation: A company wants to up its game by focusing on service. They are evaluating different options to provide customized services to gain a sustainable differentiating advantage over their competition. How do you enhance your customer service model?
from the CEOs:
the gaming industry one CEO sees an effective model focusing on higher level customer
service. The top games have allowed user customization using generic
customization tools. This allows the provider of the tool kit to serve a larger
number of users using a single tool kit to provide a wide variety of gaming
example from the gaming industry focuses on middleware developers. These
developers create an interactive knowledge base for customer self-service. The
knowledge base is monitored by the host company, and misleading or potentially
harmful input is excluded. The benefit is that this enlists clients to provide
their input on customer service as well as product development.
CEO sees this as a useful way to drive down customer service costs by providing
more tools and fewer bodies to perform the customer service task. The model’s
objective is for the customer not to need personalized service, but to be able
to develop solutions on their own using a flexible took kit. The host company
gains additional advantage because their user agreement allows them to take the
best models used by clients to spark their own product development.
fourth CEO sees lasting value in developing close relationships with customers.
They have developed tools that allow the customer to solve simple customer
service tasks but require company assistance for the more sophisticated
solutions. The company, in exchange for this added expense, learns from the
Situation: A company has a number of key employees who are nearing retirement. These employees possess software skills and company knowledge which will be difficult to replace. How are you planning for baby boomer retirements, and what advice would you have for this company?
Advice from the CEOs:
Following the loss of investment value after the 2008 market crash, Baby Boomers may retire very differently from their parents. Many don’t have the savings to support themselves during retirement and may well work 10 years later than their parents did.
Brute economics will force Boomers to continue to work. However, Boomers may want to work their own hours and on their own terms as they age. The focus may switch to part-time jobs just to maintain cash flow.
One solution is to offer more flexible working arrangements that allow individuals to keep working but with more freedom to work as they wish.
To replace in-house talent, develop mentor and apprentice programs now to pass your knowledge base on to younger workers.
The Internet has significantly changed the picture. People considering retirement may relocate to less expensive regions but virtual employment or virtual office solutions can keep them working.
Rising health insurance costs and questions about the viability of Medicare under the Affordable Care Act are concerns for Baby Boomers. This is another factor that may keep them working.
Situation: A company’s sales process is currently ad hoc with a 20% close rate and an unpredictable pipeline. The CEO wants to develop an organized sales effort. How do you mature from an ad hoc to an organized sales effort?
Advice from the CEOs:
Use the same discipline that you use to develop and bring new products to market to develop and engineer an organized sales effort. Start with a clean slate. Develop a full business plan and process to support your sales. Set projections and milestones, assign responsibility and accountability, and hold regular meetings to monitor progress and adjust your tactics.
Utilize the company’s knowledge of the market and your customer base to better understand your sales efforts to date. For example:
Look at your sales history, and look at the cases where you have closed business. Are there commonalities or patterns among clients with whom you have won new business?
Similarly, look for patterns in situations where you did not close new business.
Look for a sweet spot which characterizes business deals that you’ve won. If you find that in past efforts there is a segment where your close rate is higher – perhaps among clients of a particular size or in a particular industry – hire a sales executive who has a history of success in this segment of the market. This will improve your close rate and provide a base from which you can expand your sales efforts in a planned and orderly way.
Determine your most important market differentiation – what makes you special – and validate this with current and past customers. Make sure that your differentiation is as important to clients as it is to you. If it isn’t find out why clients chose you rather and your competition.
Is your sales process reactive or proactive? Until you truly understand your market, it is reactive. Once you understand where your sales efforts are most effective, improve your knowledge of this segment of the market and focus both your sales and marketing efforts here to boost your results.
Situation: A company has just learned that a new, much larger competitor is moving into their market. They are concerned that this may severely impact their growth and even their existence. How do you respond to new competition in your market niche from a much larger new entrant, particularly if the new player comes in with a low pricing strategy to buy market share?
Advice from the CEOs:
Take a lesson from those who survive a move by Walmart into their territory:
Boutiques and high service specialty stores survive Walmart – especially those that focus on personal service. Walmart does not provide the level of service that you find in one of these stores and doesn’t know their customers as individuals. Boutiques may lose some price conscious customers, but these are not the customers that provide good margin to them.
Use your personal knowledge of the marketplace and your long term relationships to your advantage – including your reputation with existing customers when going after new customers.
You may remain more profitable than the larger company, especially on a per transaction basis, based on your knowledge of the territory or business niche. Walmart can’t tell you the best product to perform a home repair.
Focus on your strengths in the market, and don’t assume that all large companies are Walmarts. Walmart has a unique set of talents and a tightly controlled process. This may not translate to other markets – especially services which are very personal.
Research the reputation and business practices of the new entrant in their other territories. What are they known for, and what are their weaknesses? You may be able to learn this by networking with their current competitors and customers.
If you are a multi-generation family business, consider promoting your “old world skill” and established reputation and expertise.
Situation: An organization that provides an online network for senior financial executives has an immense amount of content on its web portal. To improve the user experience of their target audience, they want to simplify access to this knowledge. How do you simplify access to knowledge?
Advice from John Kogan:
We have a rich portal with an immense amount of content potentially valuable to senior corporate finance[K1] executives. We have many ways to access this content – perhaps too many. Our objective is to get the highest quality answers in front of the user with the least effort on their part. Google has done a very good job of pulling the best content to the top given a million possibilities to each query. If we can do this, we become the Google of finance and accounting!
Most people know what they want when they come to a site. We have started by creating a clean user experience to allow them that good “line of sight” to what they want.
Our objective is to help the user identify the right content with the smallest number of queries. From the user perspective, exposing the wrong content is a waste of time. We want to show them high quality, compelling content which directly addresses their need.
To develop quality content, you must have an open mind. It’s not about what we want to say, but understanding the user’s needs and addressing these. You have to be guided by the data to tell you what’s happening on the site and what the user wants to see, and then provide them relevant information.
Achieving this means that we must find people who are smarter than us in these areas and gain their input. In the end, your company is no better than the ideas that you can either dream up or gather from others. We constantly seek fresh perspectives from investors, advisors, users and potential users.
Finally, you must take action on the data you gather. Too many companies suffer from information paralysis. The solution is Vision plus Will plus Doing it!