Situation: The CEO of a service company sees that 20% of their business is serving large corporate customers. These accounts have proven to be more profitable than smaller clients. Their objective is to increase the large corporate client base from 20% to 60% of their business. How do you expand your large client base?
Advice from the CEOs:
Emphasize the differences and unique talents of the firm in comparison with the competition. Trust in the company’s abilities and act like a big-league firm.
Top shelf prices for services are not an issue for large clients; in fact, they expect quality firms to have high prices. Find the “clinch” price – where the client says, “you’re expensive, but because of your special talents you’re the firm that we will choose.” Compliment this with the firm’s ability to utilize lower cost outsourced services to offer an appealing overall cost of services. Clients will pay a premium for top shelf when they need it but will like the fact that routine needs can be met within their budgets.
Use the lessons from Blue Ocean Strategy to create advantages for the company’s services that existing firms don’t or can’t offer because of their structures and cultures.
Highlight the company’s high-touch culture, with great personal service. This provides a welcomed relief from the typical client experience with service firms.
Create buzz around the company’s leadership. Focus on speaking opportunities. Enhance the references to the company’s leadership on the company web site, including a listing of upcoming speaking engagements that are open to potential clients or individuals interested in the company’s expertise.
During speaking engagements to local groups on topics of high interest, build an educational library of edited flash content that hits the high points of the talks – not the full talk, but the most important 2-3 minutes on a given topic.
Add a library of these short videos on the company website.
By charging premium prices for select services, while sourcing research and expertise from personnel in lower cost geographies, the company will generate additional profit. Allocate some of these profits to community outreach to further enhance the company’s reputation and buzz. Be the firm that gives back.
A company has a good accounting system, but the CEO is concerned that they are
not making the best use of metrics to drive the business. He senses a lack of
shared understanding of key metrics and goals. He senses the appearance of
financial disarray, despite his clear grasp of the business. Do you have
control of the numbers?
from the CEOs:
A good accounting system may be in place, but if it is not being used to drive the business and monitor the achievement of milestones then the company is not gaining the best advantage from it.
If there is a sense of financial disarray, this suggests that the company lacks financial metrics. Employees and managers may be doing their jobs, but without financial metrics it is difficult to tell how well they are doing their jobs.
Start with basic metrics:
Where are sales coming from?
What is the profitability of sales by customer segment and product line?
What is the company’s profitability?
What are the profitability trends of the company and key segments of the business?
Once a company is tracking these metrics, it is easier to focus managers and employees on products, product development, operations, sales and marketing issues that are most essential to the company’s success.
The company needs the equivalent of a CFO. This means a financial person, not an accountant. An individual who knows how to look at the numbers. A CFO will help the company to
See the strategic trends in the business,
Uncover the best opportunities for growth, and
Understand the greatest potential threats to growth of the business.
Situation: A small tech company’s Board of Directors is made up primarily of founders and advisors. The CEO wants to know how other companies structure their Boards. Concerns include increasing accountability of management, obtaining an objective view of company operations so to counteract group-think, and accessing opportunities for strategic alignment. How do you structure a small company Board?
Advice from the CEOs:
In a small company, the fewer the number of board members and owners, the better. There are two considerations: control of the destiny of the company and complexity of the transaction in case of an investment or buy-out opportunity.
It is important to differentiate major from minor shareholders, including incentive-based owners.
What are the advantages of a Board of Directors?
Sounding Board – a group that can help management evaluate product and market opportunities.
Accountability – Board meetings provide an opportunity to assure that leadership and management are focusing on the best opportunities for the company.
Exit – knowledge of the industry, ties and introductions to potential acquirers.
Given new Federal regulations, the proper role of a Board has changed. Key responsibilities of Boards include:
Oversight of Corporate Governance.
Fiduciary Responsibility – to the shareholders.
Work with local or regional experts on Board role and structure. Experts can provide introductions to potential Board members that fit the company’s needs.
Good Board members will want Directors and Officers Insurance coverage.
Consider developing an Advisory Board, to compliment a stronger Boards of Directors.
Look at the key talents that the company is missing internally.
Ask friends, business partners and associates who they know who can add these talents.
Before kicking off a formal Advisory Board, start with informal discussions. Consider a facilitated dinner to share ideas.
One company has eight outside advisors who each receive 1/8 of a percent of the shares of the company for three years of service. The share offer required for service may be a function of the eventual forecasted exit value of the company.
Special thanks to the late Bill Rusher for his insight and contribution to this discussion.
Situation: A company finds that new opportunities are coming in more slowly than they had planned. They have work now, but no confidence that this will continue long term. This is frustrating because they are in the middle of a transition in their business model. How do you create clarity about the future?
Advice from the CEOs:
There is a lot of uncertainty in the business world. Low oil prices are depressing investment in the energy sector. Global political and economic uncertainty are not conducive to bold expansion plans. This uncertainty may last for some time. Companies have to adapt.
A mapping solution is a used by some companies use to create clarity between alternatives:
Start with box representing where you are now.
Draw boxes representing each of the alternatives that you are considering.
Map the paths that will get from where you are now to each alternative. Draw them out, including what you have to accomplish and what resources you have or must acquire to get to each.
Do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) for each alternative.
This will help you to think through each of the options and identify the benefits and pitfalls of each.
This is a great exercise to do with your management team, as others will add their own perspective and insights.
Tools: use Post-it notes – either easel pads or larger (5” x 8”) Post-it notes. Put these on the wall, and start sketching out your ideas with boxes and paths. Revisit the charts for at least a few minutes a day for the next 3-5 days. You will be amazed at both the number of new options you generate and how the obvious options rise to the top.
This is much easier and more productive than it may sound. Don’t fear the process.
Situation: Market swings in recent weeks have shaken up some people. A CEO is curious about how other companies are seeing this as well as how the see their companies doing in the current economy. How are you responding to market instability?
Advice from the CEOs:
Business turned back up two years ago, and we are working on major sales opportunities.
We reduced executive expenses.
We are sharing a bookkeeper with another business to reduce salaries.
In April we increased staff to respond to strong first quarter demand; however since April revenue is flat to declining.
Let a few people go, may have to do more of this.
The current economy benefits our industry because our service thrives in an uncertain economy. We have not yet had to make adjustments.
We continue to see a big shift from direct hire and full-time to temp and part-time employees – this is working in our favor. Weaker competitors have closed shop.
Business is going well. Most customers have cash. The major decision that we face is how much to grow. We’ve seen some project cancellations, but not enough to hurt.
What concerns you about the future?
Availability of credit lines.
Varies by bank and your relationship with the bank.
Securing additional or increased lines may be difficult.
Anticipating a raise in rates by the Fed, lines may carry a higher interest rate.
The trickle-down effect from consumer spending continues to be weak. We are looking for opportunities less sensitive to swings in consumer spending.
Receivables are being pushed out.
What are you doing about this?
Proactively having employee meetings and being straight with employees about how the company is doing.