Situation: The CEO of a software company has been presented with two opportunities by a large customer – international expansion to support their sales and creation of a data warehouse facility. The company has the option of pursuing either or both. The customer is not offering up-front cash to support either opportunity. Should they pursue either or both? How do you choose between opportunities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Keep pursuing both opportunities and establish a series of decision points which will yield either a Go or No-Go decision on each. The big question is to determine how either will support company growth.
The customer is interested in both opportunities so ask them for assistance such as: removing barriers, client referrals, or some form of cash or investment.
For either opportunity to succeed requires a high level of internal buy-in and support from the customer.
If the company can afford to be aggressive now, this is a great time to move.
Look carefully at the ROI on each opportunity under different scenarios.
Do background work with potential clients to validate each market opportunity.
Specifically to International Expansion
Buy-in from the customer’s head of international sales is essential – without this it will be difficult to establish a solid relationship with the international sales team. Lack of this support will be a No-Go sign.
Can the customer provide office space, access to their infrastructure, administrative support, assistance in gaining necessary licenses to do business, etc. during start-up?
Could this venture be undertaken through a joint venture with an established international company? This would save start-up costs and allow validation of the opportunity before risking the company’s investment.
Execution will require a large-scale effort – both time and money. Include both in the Go/No-Go calculation.
Specifically to the Data Warehouse Facility
A competitor’s right of first refusal on this business is a barrier. However, the opportunity may be viewed as too small for the competitor. Is it possible to buy rights from this competitor?
Ask the customer to transition their customers to your company and its product.
A company is looking at options to fund growth. These include selling a stake
in the company, bank financing, organic growth. or partnering with another
company. There are trade-offs to each option. How do you fund business growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
There is a question that should be answered before talking about funding: what is the vision for the business?
Think about building the business that the founders want to run. What size company feels comfortable from an operational perspective? What does it look like?
Does the company have the right people and infrastructure to support planned growth? Are current direct reports capable of taking on additional projects and monitoring both current facilities and additional sites?
As the company grows, can the bottom line be increased as fast as the top line?
Commit the 5-year plan to paper. Before deciding how the company will grow, determine the vision, the growth rate to support that vision, the organization required, and the strategic plan to get there.
The funding decision is an investment decision. What’s the return for a multi-million-dollar investment? What incremental revenue and earnings will it produce?
Estimate how much revenue the investment will generate in 5 years. At the current gross margin, what is the incremental gross margin per year.
Given this estimate, what is the projected EBITDA? Does the annual EBITDA represent a reasonable rate of return on the investment?
The investment ROI must be known – both from the company’s perspective and for any lender or partner who invests in the planned expansion.
How high do the company’s relationships extend in key client companies? Do client upper management realize how critical the company is to them?
If the answer is not high enough, develop these relationships. This could open new funding opportunities.
For example, if the CEO knows the right people at a key customer, let them know that the company may want to build a facility near them. The customer may be interested in partnering with the company to finance the facility.
A multi-million-dollar joint venture plant investment is a modest investment to a large customer if it gains them a strategic advantage.
Situation: A CEO is struggling to manage conflicting demands from a key foreign client. The client frequently changes targets and priorities; however, the performance contract with the client does not allow variations from plan. In addition, the CEO and client have different expectations concerning ROI. How do you manage conflicting demands from a client?
from the CEOs:
or access expertise from an individual who knows both cultures to coach you on
intercultural communications. This will help you to avoid inadvertent miscommunications
where your well-intended queries are negatively interpreted by the other party.
interpretation is an increasingly important factor for multi-national business
there elements of the client’s structure and the agreement with the client that
offer significant benefit, but which are underappreciated by company staff?
to funding or allowance on expenditures that allow the company to increase
staff to meet company demands?
that staff are aware of these benefits and how critical these can be to the
company’s, and their future growth and income.
with the client’s leadership to outline the conflicts that the company faces
meeting the client’s needs and demands. Explain to them how these conflicts are
compromising the company’s ability to meet their needs. Once the conflicts in
priorities are clearly expressed this may help the client to understand and
resolve the conflicting demands.
may involve a considerable personal risk and cost to the CEO. However, if the
effort is successful it will, in the long-term, benefit both companies.
Situation: An information services company wants to launch a new product in an existing market. Their current brands are well-recognized with excellent reputations. Should they tie the brand to the company name or current products? How do you brand a new product?
Advice from the CEOs:
Brand specifically for each product or market – just as consumer product companies brand the same product with unique names for each consumer or commercial market.
A brand name is not the company’s identity – Apple as a company has created separate brand identities for computers, iTunes, iPods and serves multiple markets.
Attend conventions and survey the target market and current providers. Network to meet people and ask questions about what is important to them and to their buying process.
Think about the marketing funnel. The first element is awareness.
What are the company and its current brands now known for?
Build a brand with value that leverages the reputation and expertise currently valued by customers.
Define the current and planned market segments and tie branding to them.
Who are they?
How do they do it?
How will the new product fit?
Look at ROI for each market and create a strategy for the optimum combination of speed and profitability of market entry.
Tying meaning to a name can be a mistake. When one CEO named her company and service around a specific capacity, she limited the way that it was perceived. She is now considering a complete rebranding to open new markets.
Hire expert consultants with experience in developing brands. While this is an investment at the outset, these individuals are better, cheaper, and faster than doing this yourself.
Monitor the consultants to assure that they are spending the company’s resources wisely and addressing the company’s needs.
Hire someone with a network to gather the data necessary to support the branding exercise, a project manager. Use more expensive resources to plan and manage the exercise, and less expensive resources to gather the data.
Situation: A growing technology company is faced with several opportunities. The CEO is too busy to devote the time to analyze each of these. In addition, the CEO wants to develop her staff so that they can take on more responsibility and mature into a full organization. How do you choose between opportunities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Everything starts with a strategic plan for the company. Either the CEO or an outside consultant should coordinate a strategic planning session to develop and rank the opportunities facing the company. The ranking exercise is best done as an open departmental or company-wide exercise so that everyone is involved in the process. This helps to build consensus and commitment to the opportunities developed.
Once the opportunities have been identified assign one to each of the employees that you want to develop. Each of the employees will be the champion for that opportunity.
Ask each champion to develop a business case and plan for their opportunity. This will include a development plan and ROI analysis. Allow each champion to access all company resources as they develop their plans. Set a deadline for all champions to complete their plans.
Once the plans have been completed, reconvene the group that participated in the strategic planning session and have the champions pitch their plans to the group. The group will provide feedback and suggestions for each plan. At the end of the session repeat the ranking exercise based on the new information developed and presented.
This will provide a wonderful training opportunity for the champions as well as valuable insight into their talents and potential for future development. In addition. Because the strategic planning sessions will be conducted as a company-wide exercise, they will act as team-building exercises and excite everyone about the potential facing the company.
Situation: A CEO is considering a new revenue model for his company. The existing model is profitable and stable, but not scalable. A new model, and perhaps additional locations may be needed to add scalability. How do you assess the risks of the model? What steps can be taken to reduce these risks. How to you evaluate a new revenue model?
Advice from the CEOs:
Project both the current and new models on a spreadsheet. What do profitability and return look like over time based on current trends?
Include assumptions about adding new customers within the model. Consider capacity constraints at the present location. Add start-up investment needed for the new model. Does overall profitability increase in the projections and will this adequately cover new customer acquisition costs?
Are performance standards for the current and new models different? Would it make sense to have different teams managing the models? What kind of experience will be required in the people who will build the new business? Account for personnel additions and start-up costs in the financial projections.
Critically evaluate the upfront financial exposure as new clients are signed up for the new model. Consider hybrid options which can be added to customer contracts. Examples include:
A variable flat fee model. Customers contracted under the new model will receive services up to X hours per month for the flat fee, with hours over this billed separately.
How do current time and materials rates compare with industry averages? If they are high, it is not necessary to quote existing rates to new model customers. Create a new rate schedule just for new model customers. Taking a lower rate under the flat fee model will not cover all costs and profit; however, it will at least partially cover utilization exposure and a higher rate for additional hours can make up the difference.
During the ramp up period of a new operating unit, client choice is critical. If, based on observations and responses in client questionnaires, heavy early work is anticipated, charge an initial set-up fee. Alternatively, ask for a deposit of 3-4 months to cover set-up exposure. If either at the end of the service contract or after a burn-in period some or all these funds have not been used, the client is refunded the unused deposit. This can both cover early exposure and make it easier to sign new customers for the new unit.
Draft contracts under the new model to include one-time fees in the case of certain events – e.g., a server crashes in the first 9 months of the contract, or an unplanned move within the first X months of the contract. These resemble the exceptions written into standard insurance policies. They can be explained as necessary because standard contract pricing is competitive and does not anticipate these events within the first X months of the contract. Most companies will bet against this risk. Those who do not may know something about their situation that they are not revealing. In the latter case you will be alerted to potential exposure.
Consider a variable declining rate for the new model. The contract price is X for the first year, and, assuming there are no hiccups, will be reduced by some percent in following years. This resembles auto insurance discounts for long term policy holders with good driver records.
Adding hybrid options may make it easier to sign new clients while covering cost exposure. The view of the CEOs is that most clients will underestimate their IT labor needs and will bet against their true level of risk. Provided that the new model delivers the same service that supports the company’s reputation, once clients experience the company’s service, they will be hooked.
An additional benefit to hybrid options may be faster client acquisition ramps within new satellite units and faster attainment of positive ROI.
Situation: A company is considering purchasing a line from another company to complement its existing product line. They would split commissions with the current owner, and gain an additional employee with knowledge of the products to be acquired. The purchase would add to the company’s offering, as well as rights to additional products. The CEO sees this as a low risk move. How do you evaluate an acquisition opportunity?
Advice from the CEOs:
In evaluating a commission split opportunity, will the commissions that you would receive exceed the cost of both the additional employee which you will add, plus the support that it will require to maintain the new business? Do the new commissions cover the anticipated costs, plus a reasonable profit?
Have you vetted the numbers to demonstrate that this purchase provides a suitable return on investment vs. other potential investments that you could make? Is the marginal revenue that you will receive greater than the marginal cost that you will bear? Is the ROI of the new line greater than your cost of capital? If not, what can you do to improve the return?
Looking at your current operations, do you have your existing shop in order? Have you calculated the metrics that will allow you to understand, where you’ve been, where you are, and which provide a clear vision of where you want to go? If not, the question is whether you are ready to take on another line.
The bottom line question is – how do you know that this acquisition is the best use of your funds?
Situation: A company is drafting a pitch for their next round of funding. They want to reach both current and a new set of investors and highlight the improvements that they’ve made since their last round of funding. How do you optimize a financing pitch?
Advice from the CEOs:
Work on a quick demo of the site. This is critical for a software company. The site must clearly and quickly show what differentiates you.
When you sit down with potential investors, start your pitch with a catchy statement, e.g., “We’ve all heard about ‘pay it forwards’. I want to talk to you about ‘Job-It Forward’.”
Start the presentation with an overview and a simple illustrative explanation so that the audience instantly gets what you are doing. For example, “we’re about generating social capital and here’s an example of how we do this.”
Be careful not to drown your audience in detail. Limit yourself to 3 bullets per page. Use graphics rather than words as much as possible. Most people can only absorb a limited amount of verbal information, but they remember pictures.
If you’ve already started talking to potential investors, what are your results? What feedback have you received to date? Analyze this and adjust your presentation and pitch accordingly.
Can you show a potential funder ROI? For example, if you give us $X, we will generate $Y in terms of return. You want to demonstrate IMPACT! Those who will support you want to see the advantage of investing in you vs. other options available to them.
Include a slide showing sources and uses of money spent to date. Show how you will use the money that you wish to raise.
Situation: A company’s clients are demanding increasingly faster response times, particularly in areas that historically have not been considered mission critical. Clients also want faster answers to technical questions. Is this a common occurrence, and would you adjust pricing in response? How do you handle demands for faster delivery?
Advice from the CEOs:
If clients are demanding faster delivery, it’s entirely reasonable to tier your rates for different levels of service and delivery. Create cost / ROI breakdowns for different options, and let your clients make a business decision about the level of responsiveness that they need.
When brining on new clients, do a worst case down time analysis for the prospect as part of your evaluation process, then provide price options and let the prospect evaluate what is important to them. This is similar to different price / deductible levels with health or car insurance.
You will need to educate your current client base on what you are doing for them, and when they are reaching the upper levels of service provision under their current contract.
When you provide remote service, communicate what you have done.
Email individualized update reports to client contacts.
When you meet clients face to face, have a printout of service provided and toot your own horn about your service and delivery.
Be aware of the needs of clients who have distributed locations across time zones. A two-hour response time on the West Coast at 8:00 in the morning, translates to a half day for an East Coast location because they can’t call you until 11:00am Eastern time.
Situation: A company’s major competitor is closing shop. When this happens the company will be the sole large local service provider. Municipal and many large projects require multiple bids. The CEO is concerned that out-of-area companies will underbid the company’s union scale operation. How do you maintain your position in a changing local market?
Advice from the CEOs:
If your municipality has union scale wage rules, find a way to monitor wage compliance of out-of-area operations. These companies may say that they pay union scale, but the municipalities and others won’t have the staff to monitor them. This will be up to you.
Talk to local elected authorities and impress upon them the importance of supporting local businesses. Remind them of wage compliance problems that localities have seen in the past. Suggest that they look at local content requirements to help keep business and business revenue funding in the local economy.
Emphasize the maintenance aspect of your jobs. If a local company both builds and later maintains the project, they will know the subtleties of the design and will be able to provide better and more cost-effecting ongoing maintenance.
Educate clients with monitoring, measurement and compliance checklists that highlight the benefits of using local contractors and maintenance service.
If the other company approaches you about buying his business focus on the ROI produced by the other company’s costs and profits, but under your pay-scale. If this looks promising, have a conversation with the owner and see what he wants. Prompt the owner to talk and listen carefully to what he has to say. If you don’t want to buy the full business, there are other options:
Hire his key employees on a $/hour plus commission basis on retained sales.
Purchase his customer list, or giving him something for any maintenance contracts that come over to you within a set time period.