Situation: A company is facing the expiration of the principal patent for its main product. There are subsidiary patents which still have life. Currently, there are no competing products, but several companies understand the technology. How do you plan for patent expiration?
Advice from the CEOs:
Think of this as a two-step process:
Step 1 – Step back and look at what the company has:
Patents – including the claims that have been awarded on all company patents.
Facilities – capable of manufacturing current products, but also additional products, perhaps with a minimum of additional equipment.
People – competent staff running manufacturing operations, and tight office operations.
Step 2 – Loot at where the company could go and evaluate the markets where the existing technology is applicable:
Work with outside, imaginative people who can take a fresh look at the options.
Looks carefully at the claims in all the company’s patents.
What do they cover?
Is there an opportunity to extend current claims through process patents?
Caveat: a company can file for a process patent on anything that has been for sale on the market for less than a year. However, if they have been selling a product covered by this application for more than a year, they cannot.
Look at other markets – companies that could license the company’s technology, or with whom the company could partner to provide new consumer-oriented products:
Is there inexpensive, affordable equipment that would enable the company to produce additional products in the current location?
Think outside the box: what business is the company in? Think more broadly than the current market about where high value opportunities exist. These can be low to medium volume, high price/margin or high-volume lower price/margin.
Patents are not the only protection – trade secrets also work. 3M’s primary IP strategy, particularly on their adhesives, etc. is through trade secret – both for low and high-volume products.
“Product” patent extensions have limited utility. They are easy to design around. “Process” patents have more utility. These can be licensed at low cost per application in high volume applications and provide a nice royalty reserve stream.
Situation: The CEO of a new company is struggling to generate sales momentum. Part of the issue is adequately productizing their current offer. A second issue is building a good sales team and sales momentum within the team. How do you productize an offer?
Advice from the CEOs:
The issue may be that the company is regarding its product and the sales process too narrowly. Look at the sales process in new and different way.
Role play the current sales-to-close process. Have salespeople document what they do. Look for a product concept that appears from this exercise.
Try different models to determine what works best at the company’s current stage of growth.
Position the company’s ability to deliver outcomes. Make it risk free if nothing is produced. “Here’s our package – it costs nothing if we don’t produce results as promised.”
Consider specializing in services that enhance other companies’ sales – a need that is always present.
Look at the car dealership model – lower level salespeople qualify prospects and bring the qualified prospects to more experienced colleagues for the close.
How is the company currently positioned – as a generalist or a specialist? Potential clients more often look for a specialist to help them solve specific needs.
Conduct local surveys to help define prospects’ and clients’ top needs.
Start developing and advertising specialty areas. Add to the list of specialties as the company expands.
To build the sales team look at younger salespeople currently with competitors. If these individuals have been recruited right out of school, they will often look for other opportunities after a year or two.
Target good salespeople who are currently employed. Tell them that the company is interested in getting to know their business and look for salespeople who are good at selling themselves as well as their offering.
Situation: The CEO of a service company continually finds the company short of cash. They have just hired a new accountant, but it will take time for this individual to understand the financial situation and to generate recommendations to improve cash flow. How do you keep a company afloat short-term?
Advice from the CEOs:
Point #1: This isn’t just a question of controlling costs; the company needs to build the infrastructure to succeed.
If there isn’t someone on the team in a position of authority, who the CEO can trust completely, hire this person. The CEO can’t control all risks.
While the company has shrunk over the last two years, it is still a substantial company and needs professional management. To grow effectively, professionals are required in key leadership positions. If necessary, hire experienced outside talent
Look for teachable moments as challenges arrive. The CEO, instead of solving a problem, should work with employees and mentor them through discovering and implementing solutions.
How to communicate this to current staff?
Put the story together. Be able to make a clear statement to them, including the current situation and future possibilities for which the company must prepare.
Generate charts and metrics to support key points.
Use senior staff as the mouthpieces to present the story to the rest of the organization. Once they are onboard, have them help craft the message. Don’t underestimate the CEO’s authority. This is business, not a popularity contest.
Let others make mistakes – it is part of the learning process – no matter how critical the situation.
Point #2 – Return to the company’s roots.
The faster everyone accepts that a focused approach is the only way to survive, the faster the company will turn around. Reestablishing company presence in key markets with a new model that speaks to their desires makes a lot of sense.
Be very clear as to what flat-rate service pricing covers. Include this in the signed customer agreement. Don’t allow costs to creep up or it will kill the profitability of flat rate jobs.
Create an infrastructure nimble enough to adapt as market conditions change. Identify what really works and focus on this.
A company is losing billings because individual billings are getting lost in
their process flow. Requests for enhancements come from clients to Project
Managers. Project Managers take on development of the enhancements but are
sometimes too busy to keep track and don’t report their work to the billing
department. How do you improve quote to collections flow?
from the CEOs:
appears that two processes are missing:
formal trigger mechanism to assure that a PO is in place BEFORE Project
Managers undertake enhancement work, and
are incentivized to assure that the client is billed and revenue collected for
the work performed.
the process and do not allow Project Mangers to initiate any work until a work
request is logged in the billing system and a PO is received from the customer to
cover the expense.
a process to track customer requests, estimate development and transmission to
billing, forwarding of estimates by billing to the customer with a request for a
PO, and upon receipt of PO authorization by billing to initiate work.
can all be tracked and managed by most accounting software packages.
Facilitate tracking of
actual expense vs. estimate;
Tracking of requests
for which no POs are received, for client follow-up; and
Tracking of enhancement
requests to guide future product development.
Account Managers to track and manage the process.
an Account Manager receives a commission for enhancement work they will have an
incentive to keep track of all ongoing work, both for timely delivery and to
assure that the customer invoiced for the work.
paid to the Account Mangers will be a small percent of the extra revenue collected.
improve process management, schedule regular meetings to review all enhancement
and other work being done for clients. Review and assure that all work has
accompanying POs, that the work is being completed on a timely basis and in
line with original estimates, and that the company is invoicing and being paid
for the work. Empower Account Managers to organize and conduct these meetings. Their
incentive will be the commissions they will collect on payment for the work.
upgrades and a certain number of enhancements into the product price.
enables to company to increase prices and to collect prepayment for
enhancements and upgrades that may or may not be requested.
the process outlined above to track enhancements which are credited against the
prepaid accounts, and to assure that enhancements above the prepaid limit are
Situation: A technology-based company has a very successful product in a niche market. The team has been brainstorming about additional markets into which the product could be introduced. The only experience that the CEO and team members have is with the existing market. While other markets are appealing, they lack the experience and contacts to penetrate new market opportunities. How do you introduce a product into a new market?
Advice from the CEOs:
Hire someone, either an employee or a consultant, who intimately knows and can introduce you to the new market. If you have more than one good candidate consider hiring them both.
Start with clients that you already serve in your current market but who also serve the new market. This can provide quick wins and proof of concept. Overlap is important because you will have a shorter sales cycle with these clients.
Another company moved from on-site consulting to turn-key services. They found the purchase process to be completely different. Originally, they were unprepared for this, so the transition took longer than it might have.
Talk to existing customers and learn about their companies’ purchasing processes to organize your fact gathering and strategy.
Read case studies of other companies’ experience moving a single platform between markets.
Another company moved from niche photography – holiday photos – to photos for Fortune 500 companies. This was the same expertise, but the market and decision processes were different.
Key to the successful move was understanding the people in Fortune 500s who were making the buy decision and the structure of their decision process. The CEO of this company registered for conventions attended by client prospects. This provided a quick way to meet and learn about key people and their decision processes.
Situation: A CEO feels like he is on a roller coaster ride with unpredictable revenue and processes month to month. His ideal outcome will be to be able to go on vacation for 4-6 weeks, and have the business running better when he returns than when he left. Have you managed to achieve this? How do you create consistency in a business?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make your managers live up to their titles.
Insist that they go to each other to solve problems first, instead of always asking you.
When they ask a question, answer how to solve it – but don’t give them the solution.
Require them to present solutions rather than problems.
Be willing to spend money on their solutions.
Answer all questions with questions.
Ask them for their recommendation.
Keep asking until they come up with the answer.
You should not be doing jobs or tasks that are really your employees’ responsibilities.
When you start to delegate, it hurts for a while but it will work itself out.
What has been the impact on other companies when they’ve made these changes?
Businesses have become more diversified.
CEOs are focused strategically vs. tactically.
Businesses are more successful and profitable.
CEOs enjoy coming to work again.
How do you work with younger workers, millennials?
Allow flexibility – where appropriate – on hours and how they do their jobs.
Responsibility will vary by pay level – with the understanding that higher pay equals more responsibility and most likely longer hours.
Situation: A company is a professional organization with exempt employees who sometimes work extra time. Some employees are fine working 50-60 hours per week, others are not. The latter want comp time in exchange for the extra hours worked. What are appropriate policies for comp time?
Advice from the CEOs:
When weekend duty is called for based on company needs, one company swaps dates to give the affected employees time off during the week. On the other hand, if they need extra hours to get their normal job done, this is part of the job and does not merit comp time; particularly if other employees manage similar work during regular hours.
What about on call duty? If this is a regular part of the job, particularly if it is not frequent, it’s just part of the job. However, you may want to consider a spot bonus for special duty.
Do not allow employees to accrue unlimited personal time off – PTO. Start limiting what you allow them to rollover and give them time to use it or lose it.
Look at the individual, what is happening and their work processes. Help them to save time if their processes need to be improved.
People sometimes feel that they are “entitled” with no justification. Rate your employees A, B and C. Inform them of their rating, and the reasons for it during their regular reviews. In a tight job market C’s either upgrade their performance to B or A, or they become candidates for replacement.
Situation: A company wants to add additional apps to its current service. One possible source is a website that aggregates and publicizes relevant information. The CEO is concerned about whether these data can be used by the company and whether using these data will expose the company to legal action. What are your obligations for use of data?
Advice from the CEOs:
Under fair use you can use data processed from other sources and resell this. The key term is “processed.” This means that you must add some of your own value to the data. You cannot just republish data through your site as though you had collected and analyzed it yourself.
You cannot copy and repost a copyrighted article. Text is copyrighted, but extracted facts are not. If you want to use text from a copyrighted source, you must get permission from the author or publisher. You can quote a source by providing appropriate references.
You can include a link to a relevant site without taking copyrighted information.
If the data that you wish to use from another site contains information that includes personally identifiable data – data that would allow a third party to identify personal information about an individual and misuse that personal data to the detriment of the individual – then a distinct set of regulations apply. If you even suspect that this could be the case, seek legal counsel on your obligations.
When you are using the Internet, your audience is international. The rules for use of data derived from other sources differ by country or region. Consult your lawyer for general guidelines that will allow you to use data from other sources.
Situation: A company’s current directors are all insiders. The CEO wants to bring in an outside director for greater perspective, someone who can help the company grow to the next level. What should they look for? How do you recruit an outside director?
Advice from the CEOs:
Look for an individual at a company in a similar market segment that is the revenue size that you want to be and which is selling to the same customers that you do. You want their sales process to be similar in type and complexity of sale but non-competitive with your company.
This can be an inactive founder or past employee who has been in GM role with P&L responsibility.
Write a list of the needs that you want this person to fulfill. Use this to evaluate prospective candidates.
Is it OK to hire a stranger?
Before you speak with a candidate, research their background and reputation.
You want someone who can provide information and a perspective that you don’t have now. During the selection process you will get to know the person.
Consider a high level individual from a company that has been a top customer. This individual can help you understand how you are viewed in the market, and how you can enhance your positioning and competitiveness.
Have lunch with a local recruiter who regularly recruits directors for companies. Get their perspective on how to select an outside director and what to look for in a candidate.
Situation: A company has grown to five times the size that that were when they hired their last Vice President of Sales & Marketing, and are looking for a new VP of Sales & Marketing. What is your advice as they embark on this search? How do you recruit a VP of Sales & Marketing?
Advice from the CEOs:
Think coach as opposed to star player. You are a much larger company, and at this phase of growth you need an individual with good marketing skills combined with sales management skills. You need a brand builder.
Recently, another CEO went through a similar process. His mistake was hiring a person with deep domain experience, when what they really needed was a person with process/methodology experience in complex sales. In your case, consider an individual from a larger company in your industry, or an allied industry. Somebody with knowledge of similar technical sales processes to your company with similar complexity and similar lead flows.
Skip head hunters. Based on your knowledge of good companies in your industry use LinkedIn to find who’s who. You can look at three pools of candidates – those that you can hire away from these companies, those who have worked there but are out of work, and early retirees who have found that they now need to go back to work.
Research current salary ranges in your industry and plan to be competitive, both base and bonus target.
As this individual will be a doer-manager make bonus qualification a combination of personal quota and team performance (overall new sales growth vs. existing projects).
While another CEO agrees that you don’t need a head hunter, find someone who can organize the process – review resumes, perform screening interviews, schedule higher level interviews, follow-ups, etc. – and who will work on an hourly basis.
Have a job application and be sure to ask for the following:
Copies of last W-2s.
State on the application: falsehood is grounds for immediate termination.
Do or outsource formal background checks including verification of education and degrees.
Personally call references for your finalists. Ask these references who else knows this person and speak to them, as well.