Situation: The key to a career development company’s growth, historically, is leveraging relationships with insiders in potential client companies who know the needs of their own companies. The key benefits to these people are access to good people, no recruiting fees and feeling good about the experience. What is the marketing message to this group? How do you market to company insiders?
Advice from the CEOs:
Ask them. You already have a number of company insiders who work with you. Develop a detailed survey to query what they see as the key benefits of working with your company, and which of these benefits are most important to them.
Consider a broad quantitative survey that you can administer via the web.
Complement this with a smaller in-depth interview survey to understand qualitatively how they benefit from their relationship with your company and the service that you provide.
Your equity is the experience that these people enjoy when they work with you – this is your leverage.
Your pitch is emotionally oriented. Stick with this. Saving recruiting fees will not be as important given your focus and the company insiders that you are likely to attract.
Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.
Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.
Situation: A company produces a high performance product which is priced modestly higher than competing products. They are finding customers resistant to cost increases, even when they acknowledge the advantages of the higher cost product. The company needs to develop a new way to position their product. How do you introduce a product to new customers?
Advice from the CEOs:
Don’t compete directly with existing technology. Position yourself distinctly, as a new solution to address unmet needs.
Sell your solution “for those times when you need to save time.” Once they start to use your product, they will find it simpler and easier to use than the old product and will convert themselves to your product.
Use the pitch: Book an extra client today because this will save you this much time. This plays to customers’ incremental revenue opportunities to justify the cost.
At conventions, conduct contests among attendees – try our product versus your old product. Those who can use it fastest, or below a set time have their business card placed in a jar for an iPad drawing several times a day.
Sell a lower priced “starter” kit – or provide a free sample with easy to follow directions. Once the customer is sold on the product’s advantages they will be less resistant to the modest cost increase.
Focus on specialty functions within larger target clients – the functions that will benefit the most from your product’s advantages.
Situation: A company exchanged a small percent of their stock for a Series A unsecured note 4.5 years ago. The company has not undergone an IPO because of the recession and if the note is not repaid in 5 years, the holder has the right to call the line. If the company can’t repay the line, the holder gains governance rights. Revenue declined during the recession and while it is on the upswing, the company doesn’t have the cash to repay the note. What are the best alternatives for the company to unwind this redemption clause?
Advice from the CEOs:
Raising money to repay the debt will be problematic because of the current liability. Investors want their investment to fund growth and returns, not to simply repay debt.
Assuming that your revenue rebound is sustainable can you prioritize resources to accumulate cash to repay the note? Jack Stack, in The Great Game of Business describes how he was able to rally his company’s employees to pay off a seemingly impossible debt load in one year to save his company,
If raising the cash to pay the note is impossible, you have 5 options:
Convert the note to long-term debt that you can service.
Convert the note to equity at a lower evaluation and take some dilution.
Renew and push out the note, with a sweetener.
A combination of the above.
File Chapter 11 if you can’t produce or raise the funds.
Have your options in place at least 2-3 months before the note is due. This gives you time to talk to and bargain with the note holder.
Start a PR campaign with the note holder.
Look for leading and lagging indicators that show your progress.
Build a story that lends credibility to your forecasts of future success.
Pitch that you are a good long-term investment, and now is the prime time to trade the note for equity.
Prep the holder, and build this story gradually over time.