Situation: The CEO of a specialty service company is curious about whether they have the right internal focus to drive their business. Their internal focus statement is to the most competitive, most responsive company in their market with high profit per job. One school of thought calls this focus the Main Thing driving the company. Does your company have the right Main Thing or focus?
Advice from the CEOs:
Look at the tie between your Main Thing and your financials.
Determine an appropriate measure of efficiency – for example, billable hours per field worker per day.
Look at cost per field worker versus efficiency.
Ask what will generate the profit to grow to the level that the company has established as the revenue target.
If you can boost the gross margin on services, this provides far more benefit than merely cutting expenses.
Look for market niches that support higher prices without a parallel rise in either expense or risk exposure.
Do leadership and staff have the right skills and talents to support growth objectives? What can be done to enhance skills and talents?
Consider the following – By increasing efficiency and margins from 16% to 20% on $10 million of job revenue, the company can increase the operating margin by $400,000. If certain staff cannot work within a more efficient structure, you may want to move them to jobs that are less critical to the business. Having the right staff in the right seats is critically important to bottom line results.
Look at the company’s customer selection criteria. Using the 80/20 rule – 20% of customers generate 80% of revenue and/or profits. How do you improve customer selection?
Rank all customers on measures of profitability of their business, payment time, and most importantly future business potential. Focus on customers with the highest scores, and “fire” low scoring customers.
Focus on cash flow: Look at early pay options or discounts to speed payment from large customers.
Incorporate a schedule of values in all contracts as an addendum to prompt earlier payment.
In proposals, include a payment schedule and finance the receivables through a factoring company – particularly in the case of slower paying or less desirable customers.
Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?
Advice from the CEOs:
This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.
Situation: A company is interested in partnering with a larger company to market a suite of services. They have identified two good candidates. They haven’t worked with partners in the past and are curious about how other companies work with marketing partners. How do you evaluate marketing partners?
Advice from the CEOs:
The danger of working with a single marketing partner is that all of your eggs are in one basket. Your success in this relationship will depend upon the success of the marketing partner. This, in turn, will depend on the amount of attention that they pay to marketing your services, and on how actively their sales department sells your services. The danger to you is loss of control over the marketing and sales process.
Another company had a similar situation several years ago. At that time, the advice of the CEOs was to not select an exclusive partner, but instead to work with two different marketing partners, even though they are competitors. The company followed this advice, and it has worked like a charm.
Start with a position that you want a non-exclusive relationship. If a potential partner insists on exclusivity then ask for fixed guarantees of business and fixed minimums.
Other companies around the table work in partnership with competing companies all of the time. All of the partners value the services that these companies provide, and the relationships are harmonious.
If a possible partner insists on an exclusive relationship, another alternative is to split territories and supplement your agreements with most favored nation clauses.
Going back to the original question, provided that the terms offered by the marketing partner/partners are favorable, you won’t really know how they will perform until you establish a relationship and monitor it over time. Exit clauses and conditions will be an important part of any marketing agreement.
Situation: A company was challenged by a client to design a product to demonstrate the capabilities of the client’s processor. The result was a wonderful success, and has received very positive press. The client does not care about the product, only about their processor. How does the company test the appeal and potential marketability of the new product?
Advice from the CEOs:
Go to a local arcade, for example one operated by Golfland USA or a multiplex theater. Show them your product and ask whether you can test it for appeal with their customers. This will enable you to measure coin-drop numbers and generate demand and market appeal data. With these data you can assess the value of either selling or licensing the product. The objective is to see whether the product generates sustainable demand, or whether it is just a short-lived curiosity.
The big issue with a product like this is very simple – is it addictive?
If your initial tests show that the product generates sustained interest and revenue it is similar to a console game. There are a number of avenues to pursue, including:
Early exclusives use agreements with casino or theater chains – it will have value if it helps them to drive traffic to their venues.
Novelty markets – corporate events, etc.
Evaluate a lease model for target venues.
Consider selling the product to air table companies as a demo unit.
Situation: A private company creates a liquidity event every 3-5 years: selling pieces of the company, product-based spin-offs, or potentially the whole company. Most frequently, engineering efforts spin off opportunities for new product-based companies. How do you measure company or business valuation with the objective of maximizing shareholder value and liquidity?
Advice from the CEOs:
Look at a model to create productized service offerings that are replicable and predictable. This can create a stream of spin-offs to generate ongoing liquidity events. Jack Stack’s company, Springfield Remanufacturing has done this very effectively over the past two decades. He describes his methods in The Great Game of Business.
Regarding selling the whole company, the most important measure is strong company performance in recent quarters. Focus on internal metrics as well as revenue and profitability performance. Put together a solid 3 to 4 quarters of profitability with an upward trend to increase appeal to potential acquirers. The current market requires both a longer history of profitable performance and more data points of performance than was required in the previous decades.
To compliment internal measures develop a relationship with a business broker who can help you assess the value of either product or company spin-offs. A broker can determine the current value of the opportunity as well as a timeline and critical actions to enhance opportunity value.
Consider a roll-up of your company and one or more of your business partners.
Look for similar or compatible financial structures and complimentary capabilities.
A roll-up can broaden your range of products and services. As a bigger entity you have more options, and can enhance your ability either to generate spin-offs or become a more interesting acquisition candidate.
The downside is the time that it takes to complete the roll-up if you feel you have a short window of opportunity.
Situation: A company has done a number of things to build company morale. Participation is variable depending on the activity. The CEO wants to build a system to measure employee morale. What metrics do you use to measure changes in your culture over time?
Advice from the CEOs:
The Gallup Organization has focused on this issue perhaps more than any other organization in the world. They find that regularly conducting surveys allows you to measure and improve your culture over time. Their surveys focus on 12 questions that they have found most critical to employee morale within a company.
Do I know what is expected of me at work?
Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
Is there someone at work who is interested in and encourages my development?
At work, do my opinions seem to count?
Does the mission/purpose of my company inspire me make me feel that my job is important?
Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
Do I have a best friend or mentor at work?
In the last six months, has anyone at work given me a review or talked to me about my performance/progress?
This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
Notice that not one of these has to do with compensation or benefits. Rather they focus on employee perception of how they are managed, whether they have to do the tools to do their job, and feeling that others at work care about them.
Another measure to watch is employee retention – particularly of your best employees.