Tag Archives: Product

What is the Best Way to Roll out a Business Opportunity? Six Suggestions

Situation: A CEO is reviewing options for introducing a new offering. The target customers are small companies or projects within larger companies. The offering includes both an initial product and follow-on services. Education or training will be a component of the offering. What is the best way to roll out a business opportunity?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • It is best to position the offering as a straightforward proposition at launch and develop proof of concept. This will provide experience and an income stream to fund more complex offerings based on the initial model.
    • It will also provide insight on how to sell the product and service in different markets – manufacturing, service, and software.
    • Leverage this experience to pursue more complex models.
  • Build a portfolio of case studies before pitching to paying companies.
    • Use companies with whom relationships already exist as the proving base. These will become references for new clients.
    • Develop data to show actual cost savings from the use of the product and services.
  • Establish a relationship with an existing company for which the offering is complimentary and cross-offer products and services on an ad hoc basis.
    • Trial the product and service with one of their clients in return for a royalty or share of the profit.
    • Ask that company to make the introduction.
  • Target start-ups – offer an initial package for a low price. Offer the product to start-ups for free and get them hooked as long-term customers.
  • What would be needed to roll the offering through growth equity firms or venture capitalists?
    • This will require some proof that the offering increases the ROI to growth equity and VC portfolio companies and funds.
    • Note that the portfolio companies of growth equity firms are larger and farther up the growth curve
  • In current economy the key message to prospects may be that the offering will help them to “right size” their company.
    • Take a closer look at the offering and determine whether it is configured appropriately for the current environment.

How Do You Plan for Patent Expiration? Six Suggestions

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.

How Do You Respond to a Price Increase from a Supplier? Six Points

Situation: A small company has a parts supplier for product that they sell to their most important customer. That customer’s specs are “copy exact” on components for existing products; also, their new products are usually based on existing components. The supplier significantly raised prices on the parts supplied to the company. How you respond to a price increase from a supplier?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This is an extremely sensitive situation. One solution is to not to rock the boat. The reality is that the company needs the parts, and it will take a lot of effort to replace them with parts from an alternate vendor. Just continue the relationship. Quit worrying about it and milk it for as long as it lasts.
  • Find out what caused the supplier to raise prices. The supplier needs to understand that to preserve the company’s margins they may have to raise prices to the final customer. This may threaten both the company’s and the supplier’s business with the customer.
  • Make sure that the supplier understands the company’s costs: office, salaries, equipment, maintenance, and local regulations that are unfriendly to business and difficult to deal with. Ask them to reconsider or reduce the price increase.
  • Assure that the supplier understands the value that the company provides and the importance of this collaboration to the business and profits and bottom lines of both companies. Leverage this value to get the price that the company needs.
  • Renegotiate the relationship to assure that supplier can’t go around go around the company and sell directly to the final customer.
  • Start building relationships with alternate suppliers.

How Do You Boost Your Sales and Marketing? Four Points

Situation: A CEO’s company has built an admirable suite of products. The next step in company growth is to create a more structured marketing pipeline. They have experienced salespeople, but these people have come to the end of their rolodexes. A new approach is needed. How do you boost your sales and marketing?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Create a profile of the ideal customer. This is the customer who can create the greatest leverage using the company’s suite of product. Aim for the top management of this customer.
  • Incentivize the sales reps to target high value accounts. To create targeting incentives, graduate the commission base.
    • Set initial commission based on the size of the customer.
    • Differentiate commission by product – pay the highest commission for highest gross profit products or the company’s highest priority products.
  • Salespeople need to be able to close sales by themselves.
    • Currently, salespeople are acting as lead generators and are counting on the CEO to close the sale.
    • Create a different set of expectations, including thresholds to limit the CEO’s direct involvement in the sales process – for example, limit CEO involvement to accounts with a revenue value over $500K.
    • Train the salespeople to communicate the value proposition for initial conversations as they qualify a new client. Create a set of resources to assist them along the way.
  • Is it a good idea to pay ongoing commissions forever?
    • Another CEO used to do this but has moved to X% for the first period/project and X/2% on follow-on-periods/projects. This keeps them hungry for new customers who will pay the higher commissions.
    • Don’t create a perpetual annuity – the way insurance brokers are paid. Reduce commissions on existing accounts so that they decline over time – keep salespeople focused on bringing in new accounts to maintain their income levels.
    • Decide on an acceptable level of total compensation for salespeople. Plan the commission structure to allow them to reach this level, but they have to keep selling to maintain this level. Keep them hungry.

How Do You Best Exploit a New Opportunity? Three Observations

Situation: A service company has developed the capacity to produce and sell a product. The CEO is considering two options for this new opportunity: create a separate entity for the new business or run the businesses in parallel under the current umbrella. How do you best exploit a new opportunity?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Option 1: Create separate entity for the new business while the existing business continues in parallel.
    • How big is the potential win? The current company competes successfully for about 10% of the market. The new capability would allow the company to potentially compete for 100% of a larger market.
    • How different are the two opportunities? The current business requires specialized talent – it is a low volume, high margin business. The new opportunity is the reverse – high potential volume but lower margin. It is a more generic market with fewer specialized needs.
    • The separate entity option provides the most flexibility. The current model already functions well. A spin-off provides an additional option without losing what already exists.
    • Bring in another individual to develop and run the new entity. It’s a different game and requires a different focus. However, it will be a great opportunity for the right person.
    • The spin-off model will be more sustainable under separate management than under the current company.
  • Option 2: Operate both businesses under a single entity.
    • This option looks like a double compromise – it alters both the company’s current strengths and the fundamental business model.
  • A long-term alternative is to look for a financial acquisition for the current company. It produces good net margins, has good cash flow, a and spins off cash. This can be valuable to a financial buyer.

How Do You Choose Between Strategic Options? Four Points

Situation: The founding CEO of a technology company is considering options for the future. The company is doing well, with two options for future development either within or outside the company. How do you choose between strategic options?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Domain expertise is less important than business experience, P&L experience, and fund-raising success. A diversified background and successful experience as a CEO are as important as specialty industry experience.
    • Continue to pursue all options for the time being. See how the new opportunities mature before making final choices, and either split time between the options or assign good managers to oversee each.
    • Ownership agreements should be based on cash investment of the parties – not time and effort.
  • Option #1 – Focus on the primary company.
    • A challenge is that most of the Board members just see the numbers, not the dynamics of day-to-day operations. They don’t know the CEO’s contribution.
    • Assure that the Board understands the CEO’s contribution and is rewarding the CEO appropriately.
  • Option #2 – Focus on New Opportunity #1.
    • Is this option more like a product or a company?
    • Consider this option as a product incubator rather than a single product company – producing and spinning off a series of ideas for development.
    • This can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.
  • Option #3 – Focus on New Opportunity #2.
    • Software development can be self-funding. Compared with manufacturing, software is inexpensive to develop and requires little investment to scale and sell once the code is written.
    • The trick is to rigorously focus on market opportunity while minimizing cost.
    • Watch staffing commitments. Use scarce resources to lock up irreplaceable capabilities. Hire or offer equity only for significant contributions such as IP development. For labor, use consultants, independent contract arrangements, or look for what can be outsourced.
    • Like Option #2 this can be done either within the primary company or as an outside effort.

How Do You Manage a Business Transition? Five Thoughts

Situation: A company is moving from sole focus on servicing a market to a split focus including developing and marketing their own products. This is a significant transition for the team. What is the best way to organize this effort? How do you manage a business transition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • While the company’s financials are great for their market, cashflow may be insufficient to fully fund a development company.
    • Internal development of new products can create conflicts if it creates competition for resources between internal and external projects.
    • To avoid this, create an independent company or entity – in a separate location. Seek outside funding whether bank, angel or partner financing. The independent entity can then buy resources from the primary entity at competitive rates.
  • Several years ago, another CEO utilized the strategy just described. The important lessons were:
    • Assure that venture is properly resourced.
    • Assure that there is a balance between proven structure and creative application development.
    • Utilize best resources available at same rates that key customers pay.
    • Offer free guidance but not free services – peer reviews are key.
  • A third CEO had an opportunity to open a new business using the spin-off model.
    • They allowed infrastructure sharing – with proper compensation and incentives (equity ownership).
    • Ultimately both entities were successful.
    • Lesson: Properly implemented, this model works.
  • There are four aspects to the challenge.
    • Product concept
    • Talent for execution
    • Financing
    • Distribution
    • The business plan for the new venture must address all four.
  • Building internally (vs. externally) creates natural conflict. Workers will tolerate change in direction from clients better than they do from insiders.

How Do You Enhance Your Customer Service Model? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company wants to up its game by focusing on service. They are evaluating different options to provide customized services to gain a sustainable differentiating advantage over their competition. How do you enhance your customer service model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the gaming industry one CEO sees an effective model focusing on higher level customer service. The top games have allowed user customization using generic customization tools. This allows the provider of the tool kit to serve a larger number of users using a single tool kit to provide a wide variety of gaming options.
  • Another example from the gaming industry focuses on middleware developers. These developers create an interactive knowledge base for customer self-service. The knowledge base is monitored by the host company, and misleading or potentially harmful input is excluded. The benefit is that this enlists clients to provide their input on customer service as well as product development.
  • Another CEO sees this as a useful way to drive down customer service costs by providing more tools and fewer bodies to perform the customer service task. The model’s objective is for the customer not to need personalized service, but to be able to develop solutions on their own using a flexible took kit. The host company gains additional advantage because their user agreement allows them to take the best models used by clients to spark their own product development.
  • A fourth CEO sees lasting value in developing close relationships with customers. They have developed tools that allow the customer to solve simple customer service tasks but require company assistance for the more sophisticated solutions. The company, in exchange for this added expense, learns from the customer interactions.

How Do You Manage for Profitability? Five Suggestions

Situation: A company has multiple locations from which it both sells products and provides services. One location has been in place for several years and produces good revenue but consistently fails to be profitable. The CEO has met with the managers in charge of this location and has set broad objectives to demonstrate a trend toward profitability. However, she is concerned that these objectives won’t be met. How do you manage for profitability?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To be effective objectives must be specific, measurable, and timebound. In addition, there must be clear consequences for failing to meet objectives.
  • If a business is not covering its own costs, there are three alternatives: increase prices, reduce costs, or both.
    • Calculate the revenue impact of a 1% cross-the-board price increase at the location or across the company. Is this enough to cover the loss? What about a 2% increase? What is required to produce profitability?
  • Historically, have the location managers been responsible for business results? If not, does it make sense to continue with these managers and to expect different behavior or results?
    • While the managers may be well-intentioned, do they possess the necessary business skills? Would training or education assist?
    • Once objectives are set and incentives are changed to make the managers’ pay dependent on profitability, the CEO may be surprised at their ability to comprehend and tackle the situation – with the CEO’s oversight.
  • How do you change pay and incentives without sending a negative message?
    • A person who is paid hourly has the incentive to maximize hours worked, not productivity during hours worked. If the manager is shifted to salary at the same level he receives now or lower, with the potential to more than make up the difference through regular incentive bonuses, it becomes easier to direct him to make efficient use of his time.
  • How do you change the roles and focus of the managers?
    • The customer development manager is the only one who can impact revenue – by bringing in more business. Bonuses are based on both new business acquired and total revenue received.
    • The operations manager cannot contribute to revenue within his current responsibilities but can look for places where the cost of operations can be reduced. Bonuses are based on cost savings achieved.

How Do You Balance Core and New Businesses? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company has built a solid core business and wants to expand its product portfolio by adding new business. Core functions can serve both existing and new business, reducing overhead on individual businesses. What pitfalls must the company avoid? How do you balance core and new businesses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • New business activity cannot impact core business. The core business is the company’s bread and butter. It is important to make this clear to both employees and clients and to structure the handling of new business opportunities accordingly.
  • From a staffing standpoint, new business opportunities cannot impact marketing, service and operations staff supporting the core business. New business development activity and operations cannot result in a pull from their focus on the core business. This separation may be facilitated by placing the staff supporting new business in separate facilities, or in an area separate from the staff supporting core business.
  • In the case of support functions that will serve both existing and new business, recruit and hire staff to support the new business to assure that both existing and new business receive proper support.
  • Hire a new person, one with experience and contacts, to develop the new business opportunities. Look for a sales person who can bring in significant new business. This will pay for the individual quickly.
  • How does leadership communicate these changes to staff?
    • Meet with key managers to identify potential concerns. These may include impact on company culture and client focus. Use the responses gathered to develop a communication plan to allay employee concerns.
    • As new business opportunities are added, it will be necessary to bring in new, experienced personnel. Previously, the company brought in experienced personnel to build the current business. Be open and up-front about this and explain that as the company grows there will be new opportunities for existing employees.
    • The company’s objective is to improve the quality of the organization and to raise the boat for all. Current owners and managers will automatically benefit from the efforts of new people to expand the business.
    • Building new business opportunities as separate businesses diversifies the company and reduces the risk of overdependence on existing clients and key vendor relationships. This enhances the job security of current employees.