Situation: A CEO wants to fund future growth through better management of cash flow. Cash flow has been positive for several years, and the company uses a bank line to fund receivables. How to you manage cash flow to fund growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Since the company is cash flow positive, go to the bank with the assistance of a connected Board member and ask for better terms on your line. This will reduce financing expense.
What are the company’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO = accounts receivable (AR) divided by average daily revenue)? Reducing this will have an immediate positive impact on cash flow.
Normal up-front payment is 20%. With 35% gross margins and 20% up-front, the company is funding profits through the bank line. The adjusted gross margin (GM) is the company’s Operating GM less the cost of the bank line.
Solutions: Reduce DSO by offering a 1% discount for payment in 15 days and increase up front retainers from 20% to 50%. This takes time but is doable by working with customers.
Some customers have seen AR slip from 30 to 45 days. Offering a 1% discount for payment in 15 days is an inexpensive way to decrease AR and increase cash flow.
What is the most immediate need?
The company has positive cash flow, marquee accounts and proof of concept.
What is needed is additional referenceability. Can reference accounts come from exiting marquee accounts? What would this take? Can the Board help to identify and develop additional reference accounts?
The company is resource limited in sales. At this point people are needed. How can this be done without extending current resources?
Shift resources from other departments to sales to boost sales efforts. Another CEO did this very successfully and generated a substantial pick-up in revenue growth.
Increase the incentive for service people to come up with new revenue opportunities. Consider teaming them with the salespeople to generate opportunities.
Consider independent rep firms. Ask key customers who they respect among the independent rep firms.
Develop a joint venture or strategic partnership to feed sales – a situation where this is a strong win-win for both parties.
Leverage the Board to create opportunities. Another CEO has a Board objective of 3 new accounts per year. This comes from 10 leads/connections per year (2 per Board member). Board members who can’t produce leads are turned over.
Situation: A CEO is faced with three strategic options that the company could pursue. He seeks guidance on how the company should evaluate the three options. What signs should they be watching for in their marketplace? Are there steps that they should take while completing their evaluation? How do you decide between strategic options?
Advice from the CEOs:
Go with what sells! Listen to the market, and your key customers. Make sure that you have ears out there that will give you early signals.
Until there is a clear indication from the market place as to which is the stronger strategy, keep your options open. A hybrid strategy – maintaining your current strategy while evaluating the strongest strategic option – will allow you to do this and continue to drive revenue from your existing base while the market determines dominance among the new platforms.
Look at the cash flow from your current strategy and each of the new options that you are considering.
What difference is there in upfront payments versus ongoing residuals?
Look closely at your cash flow needs compared to the timing of receipts from each option.
Are there ways that you can strengthen your cash flow depending upon which strategy you select? How will you bridge the gap between current and future cash flows from each strategic option?
Consider hiring a full-time manager in business development.
This will help you to learn more about your customers and what they will buy.
Select someone who has relationships with the key people in your target markets, and who knows what the insiders are doing at important existing or target customers.
Select someone who can give you access to new opportunities and help steer your strategic development.
Consider a long-term strategic partnership with a leader in your market.
Situation: A web-based software solution company wants to expand their customer base. They have several large clients, and want to expand their presence both geographically and to additional sectors. How do you position the offering to appeal to a larger audience? How do you expand your customer base?
Advice from the CEOs:
In customer presentations, talk about out-tasking versus out-sourcing. This is less threatening to the customer’s existing IT and analyst infrastructure. It allows you to focus on your strength and to build a pitch that augments the customer’s current capabilities.
Is there a trade-off between customer depth and breadth of adoption?
Test doing both on a limited scale. Go deeper in four accounts, and simultaneously focus on one application that you can rapidly sell to 20 accounts.
This exercise will help you to find the right balance.
Look at customers with whom you have had early success. Those customers are proof cases. Look for similar prospects who will respect the experience of the early adopters.
Take a current client who has had success with your applications. Go to similar state and regional companies who will respect the first company’s experience. This will help you to create a national presence in a sector or industry.
Build strategic alliance partnerships.
For example, take a potential customer that wants to be an application service provider.
Look for other companies serving that customer who could benefit from an alliance with your company. Build an alliance to offer bundled services to the potential customer.
If you do not have someone in this important business development role, you need it.
The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals is a great place to start strategic alliances.
Work more deeply with your current clients. Offer additional applications, subscriptions and offer combinations of services.
Situation: A company has determined that market shifts off-shore have neutralized their strategy for the past two years. They need to find new markets that offer growth potential. How do you find and evaluate new markets?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a classic competitive strategy challenge any time a company wants to expand within or beyond its core business. Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School is a top expert on competitive strategy. You can find talks that he has given on TED Talks and elsewhere on the Internet that can help guide your efforts.
Do a SWOT analysis. First, figure out your vision and analyze the strengths that you possess that will fulfill that vision. At the same time analyze your weaknesses to provide a counterpoint on what should not attempt to do. Then consider both threats and opportunities. Have these analyses in place before you expend major effort responding to or developing new opportunities. There are more opportunities out there that will end up as dead ends than there are profitable opportunities.
Don’t discount the expertise that you have developed over the years in your specialty. This is the area of your greatest profits both now and historically. It is likely to remain so in the future.
If you need additional resources to meet existing or new client demand – particularly if these involve activities that are less profitable to you – explore partnerships to access this expertise instead of trying to do everything yourself.
Situation: A company’s customer base is experiencing market softness and uncertainty. Customers are tightening budgets and delaying purchase decisions. How do you boost sales in an uncertain environment?
Advice from the CEOs:
Offer incentives to prompt customers to buy now instead of waiting. Two potential options:
A limited time discount – Sign by <date> and save X%.
Pre-announce a price increase. Follow this with a promotion – buy now, before the price increase.
If you are selling a service, package your service options in smaller chunks while pricing them so as not to erode your margins.
Consider 30 day trials for $X, or discounted pricing for large or committed long term purchase contracts.
Examine your sales process. Are your sales people speaking to the right people? Try to move the sales process up a level if this gets you to the decision maker.
If some of your sales people are significantly outperforming others, give them incentives to share their sales techniques with other members of the sales team.
If the issue is sales productivity, leverage someone else’s sales team through a partnership. The partner incurs the sales cost while you focus on implementation.
Look for opportunities where a partner can sell your product on top of theirs to boost value of the overall offering and increase their own top line.
Situation: A company has been approached by another company with complimentary technology concerning a partnership. The other company is young and rapidly growing, though at this time they are much smaller. The two companies are already collaborating on a project. There have been hints that this could develop into a merger. Under these circumstances, what’s the best way to develop a partnership?
Advice from the CEOs:
It’s always best to date and get to know the other party before exploring a deeper relationship. You are already collaborating with this company, so just continue on this path as you get to know them. See how the relationship and value of the partnership develops before exploring options that could result in loss of ownership and control.
Partnerships and moves beyond partnership are really about culture and values. Cultural fit is a huge question that is too often ignored when companies discuss partnerships and mergers. This requires more investigation than you’ve done to date. Wait until real challenges develop, and see how the two companies respond. Do they collaborate effectively to develop a solution or does the relationship become contentious. This will tell you whether a deeper relationship is worth exploring.
To be successful, relationships have to offer a win-win value that surpasses the cost of collaboration. There is always a cost to collaborating with another company if only in time and effort put into the relationship. Find a way to measure this cost so that you can compare it to the value received. The other company should be doing the same.
If you could buy the other company right now would you?
If you can’t tell the value of the company based on the information that you have, why would you consider a deeper relationship at this time?
Interview with Sai Gundavelli, CEO, Solix Technologies
Situation: A company has top talent and a better technology solution. However their large competitors continue to compete by discrediting them – “nobody was every fired for choosing IBM!” How do you compete effectively against large incumbents?
Advice from Sai Gundavelli:
Invest in your product.
Work to attain best-of-breed status in your industry with a constant focus on and investment in building a great technology. Solix’s constant goal is to be the technology leader in information lifecycle management and Data Privacy.
Be organic and focus on integration, smooth operation and scalability. Build your system from the ground up. An organically designed solution where the pieces work seamlessly offers higher and more efficient performance.
Invest in alliances.
Solix continually invests in our partnerships, including our OEM relationship with Oracle Financial Services, and we have more such partnerships in the works that will help us expand our presence in the market. Partnerships increase your presence and visibility as you scale your own organization.
Focus your efforts.
We at Solix are 100% focused on our product, whereas our large competitors are juggling multiple priorities, like a juggler trying to keep a large number of balls in the air. While we are smaller, this allows us to more effectively focus our efforts without lots of conflicting priorities. We focus exclusively on information life cycle management and Data Privacy.
Have others talk about you.
Solix’s answer to our competition is let our customers speak for us. We have many happy customers such as Honeywell, Duke Energy, American Tires, who are happy to participate in joint webinars and customer case studies. We work closely with them on the latest developments and direction and use their feedback to guide future product direction.
Interview with John Hollar, President & CEO, Computer History Museum
Situation: Traditional media for reaching audiences – television, newspapers – have broken down. Audiences are atomized and increasingly “what you want when you want it.” How do you aggregate an audience in this environment?
Develop partnerships that align with you both in terms of audience and purpose.
We just finished a $20 million expansion. With 1.5 million technology workers in Silicon Valley, how do we spread the word?
We work with corporations in the tech sector, corporate alumni groups, tech retailers, convention centers, hotel concierges, and schools.
Our new campaign – Silicon Valley Starts Here – encourages Silicon Valley visitors to start their Silicon Valley journey with us.
School field trips are booked through the end of the year. Local foundations support transportation costs.
Leverage the digital world to expand your presence.
Everything physically present in the museum is also available digitally to a global audience.
We use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to generate viral networking.
Live events are captured in HD and broadcast through our YouTube channel to 2 million viewers.
We update our Facebook page and tweet daily. Facebook is fun and playful with “Today in Computer History” and Friday YouTube films.
Tweets include a quiz – “Who Am I?” – of famous figures in computer history with prizes.
What are the implications for companies and institutions?
We must embrace the notion of living in parallel worlds – having both a physical presence and a broader digital presence.
Expert knowledge is here, but we must be able to access an increasingly digital audience that is global.
Digital capabilities can’t just be bolted on to an old structure. This must be a marriage that connects our knowledge and expertise organically to our audience, their needs, and the knowledge and expertise that is happening in the world.
Situation: A company has an opportunity to form a marketing partnership with another firm. The primary potential benefit to the company from this partnership is gaining access to new customers. On the other hand, partnerships may bring complications. What is your experience with marketing partnerships, both positive and negative?
Advice from the CEOs:
Marketing partnerships can certainly work, provided that both parties see benefit to the relationship, and both are committed to make it work.
Be sure to clearly define boundaries with the partner.
If either company can perform a particular service, whose customers are who’s?
Is there alignment throughout the partner’s organization regarding the partnership? Or are their conflicting priorities within different branches of that organization? Test the waters ahead of time and assess how these will potentially impact the partnership.
There are potential pitfalls:
What is the in-house/outsource attitude of the partner? If there are strong voices for in-house production or service provision, these will not be supportive of the partnership.
Watch the quality of the partnership over time.
Successful partnerships are based as much on friendly cordial relations as on business priorities. Are your business cultures and ethics compatible?
Who is the champion for the partnership on the other side? What will happen if the champion leaves? Is there a back up champion?
Build an exit strategy into the partnership that will allow you to leave gracefully and mitigate financial or good will consequences if the partnership sours.
Situation: A rapidly growing company is expanding both in its primary market and into new verticals. A number of companies are interested in strategic partnerships. How do you select the right partner in the right space?
At the end of the day it’s about a connection with the partner which extends across both organizations.
Look for cultural synergy with the other company. Do your and their managers and employees “click” or are they oil and water? This is a gut assessment.
Is the quality of people in both companies complimentary? Is there similar drive for quality and attention to detail?
Will technical integration be smooth? Are systems complimentary? At a minimum are there the right skills on both sides so that this won’t hinder the project.
Are sales and marketing approaches compatible? Will teams be able to work together? What about other departments?
You need to have strategic commitment across both organizations.
Partnerships don’t work if there is only alignment at the top. Executives can’t shove a new opportunity down the throats of those who report to them. There must be excitement about the opportunity across both sides of the partnership.
There must be complimentary competencies, capabilities and commitment.
Is there a clear understanding of the goals and objectives succeed?
Reward structures and incentives must be aligned down through the two parties. Conflicts will lead to struggles.
There must be a strategic alignment between the two organizations so that both see the partnership as complementing their broader strategic plans.
There must be a fundamental strategic win-win. The venture must be seen by each party as core to their business, plans and results. If this isn’t present, the collaboration can be drowned when a better opportunity that comes along.
Look for some gauge that the partnership is as important to the other party as it is to you. What other partners do they have? Is the size of the opportunity enough so that you are assured of their ongoing attention?