Tag Archives: Service

How Do You Manage Residual Commissions? Three Thoughts

Situation: A CEO is renegotiating the company’s agreement with a sales person. The sales person wants a declining residual commission on sales from past customers, regardless of who is servicing the account. A consultant who knows the industry advises the CEO to focus on new sales. What are the implications of each choice? How do you manage residual commissions?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two types of salespeople: Hunters and Farmers.
    • Hunters focus on new business and generally get paid first year, then in later years only on sales that come specifically through their efforts.
    • Farmers focus on ongoing relationships with existing customers and are the service people for those customers. If they are paid commissions, they get paid on the ongoing sales that result directly from their efforts.
  • It is rare to find a salesperson who can manage both of these roles well, so companies often divide responsibilities, and any commissions paid, according to responsibility.
  • Decide what behavior you want from your sales person and pay for this – make the distinction between hunting and farming. Then ask the sales person which they want to be. If they say “both,” challenge this and let them know that they need to make a choice.

How Do You Find Your Sweet Spot? Seven Suggestions

Situation: A company’s sales are bumpy. The CEO thinks that this may be due to a mismatch between products that they offer and their customers’ needs. They currently use online surveys to capture customer needs and input. How do you determine customer needs? How do you find your sweet spot?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The most important first step for a smaller and growing company is to clearly identify the customer niche that they serve. This must be a niche where the company can out-serve their competition.
  • There are two types of niches to consider:
    • A product/service niche focused on a specific set of products and services – one where you can offer a differential advantage over your competition and become known for this, or
    • A customer niche – a specific set of customers that you dedicate yourself to serve in a way that provides a differential advantage.
  • An example of the product model is an individual who started an e-commerce site for lacrosse equipment – products not commonly stocked in sports stores. They offered a wide range of lacrosse products, built an online community, shared articles, etc. and became THE place for lacrosse players to get their equipment.
  • An example of the customer niche model is to focus on a population and build a concierge or member-only service. The niche here is the buying group. This can be employees of specific companies or government workers as examples. Costco grew using this model.
  • For an early-stage company, survival is about single pointed focus on that niche where you can provide better products/services or better serve your customers than anyone else. As you grow you can diversify based on the reputation and loyalty that you gained early on.
  • Look at competitors – how are they gathering customer preference information?
  • Look at your passion – is it products or people? Choose a niche that fits your passion.

How Do You Optimize Your Business Model? Six Points

Situation:  A company is in the process of shifting their business model to better address customer needs. They have three different models under consideration. Management is split between these models, but must arrive at a consensus. How do you optimize your business model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Right now, you are considering three different potential models:
    • Tools – your old model
    • Data – produced by your old model
    • Service – your new model
    • These are different models with different prospects.
  • The money makers in marketing focus on data, not tools. Data is information, and this is what is valuable to clients. If you want to focus on the data component of your offering.
  • Currently, you are scraping data from social media and matching this to your client’s database on a real-time basis. There’s a model and value here because you are enhancing your client’s current database by making it more useful and actionable to them.
  • You have tools to enable and add value to existing client databases by allowing them to better segment their database. Again, there is value here.
  • Your core IP is the ability to correlate diverse data sources. Have you protected this IP? If not, this needs to be a top priority.
  • How much information that you scrape from social media sources can you share without violating privacy? This is something to think about because people are becoming increasingly sensitive about companies collecting their private information.

What are Your Obligations for Use of Data? Five Perspectives

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.

How Do You Deal with Cut-throat Competition? Seven Thoughts

Situation:  A company serves a market with a lot of new small entrants. Clients purchase from these other companies as well as the CEO’s company. They are continuing to call and network with their client base to retain clients and build new customers. What else should they be doing? How do you deal with cut-throat competition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Make a list of those clients who are no longer purchasing from you or referring new clients. Go talk to them. Ask why they are no longer purchasing from you or referring new clients. This may open new options. You may find something new or unexpected that you can offer.
  • Work with an outside service to follow up with on clients lost and won. The key question for them to ask clients is why. Learn from the responses what is most important about the clients’ purchase and referral decisions.
  • Consider a new service. A health/happiness outcome would be a nice value-add: a quarterly report back to referral sources on how happy the clients that they referred are. The last question on the survey should be – Would you work with our firm again? Why or why not?
  • Consider using an outside source to gather the data for these surveys. To get more valuable responses, don’t just ask about your company, but also several of your top competitors; this will produce a richer set of responses.
  • There are two ways to compete: either you are low cost or have established a unique value proposition. Whatever this is, sustainability of your critical point of differentiation is essential.
  • Health care legislation is now in flux. Whatever the outcome, it will have an impact on your market. Become an expert resource on the implications of various outcomes.
  • Look at social media resources – feed valuable information to your audience via blog.

What’s the Next Version of Our Business Solution? Four Ideas

Situation: A company that provides personnel services wants to adjust their business model to make it more appealing to employers. They are unique in that they focus on social issues, rather than purely on business services. From the perspective of a hiring Manager, what would you want to see? What’s the next version of our business solution?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The idea of a social issues-based brand is unique. To some employers this may have appeal.
  • Your obvious differentiator is the tie between existing communities and social networking. Emphasize this.
  • As an employer, the focus is on finding quality employees for the right price. This will always take precedence over other factors for most businesses. In fact, over-emphasis on social issue-based hiring could subject an employer to discrimination issues. It also will not appeal to everyone. How can you address quality employee for the right price through your service? Here are some things to consider:
    • The employers’ challenge is finding good candidates. How do you solve this problem?
    • Employers have specific needs to fill. Help them by identifying and screening candidates so that it makes their job easier.
    • The question for the employer is whether your helper audience can crowd source the screening function. Screening is the challenge of the employer. Solve this and I as an employer want to talk to you!
    • Within your model, instead of asking for monetary contributions from your helper audience ask them to donate time to screen candidates. Not being a recruiter is a plus.
  • Pitch your new ideas to your company insiders – see what they say.

How Do You Manage Cash Flow Gaps? Nine Suggestions

Situation: A company has a significant monthly payroll, and business is growing. Accounts payable collections are 90-120 days. Their challenge is to finance the gap. They have tried, but can’t get their bank to provide financing. An SBA loan will help. How do you manage cash flow gaps?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Look for private non-bank financing.
    • Your AR is safe, low risk, and from reputable companies.
    • Non-bank financing offers better rates than banks, with access to cash from the lender on reasonable notice.
  • Investigate Lendingclub.com. They offer business loans up to $300K at 5.9%. Lendingclub.com operates by spreading the risk over thousands of investors.
  • Talk to lots of banks – not just those with whom who’ve worked in the past. Given your cash flow needs and good credit history, if you offer to shift all of your business to another bank you may get a more positive response. Once you have talked to other banks, let your current bank know your plans. They may become more responsive.
  • Change your service policy so that you give your best service to customers who pay you fastest. Once the purchasers at companies with whom you work learn about this, they will pressure their AP people to speed their payments to you.
  • Put more focus more on services which pay up front.
  • Going forward switch as much business as possible to ACH payments.
  • Offer customers early pay discounts – 1% net 10 or ½ of the Lendingclub.com rate to your biggest clients.
  • Befriend lower level employees in client companies. Particularly those with whom you have regular business contact.
    • They can tell you how to get to the top of the AP pile.
    • Let them teach you their company’s practices.
  • Plan finances going forward so that you can finance the gap yourself.

Category: Finance, Operations

Key Words: Payroll, Financing, Accounts, Payable, Bank, Lendingclub, Non-Bank, Service, ACH, Payment, Early, Pay, Discount

How Do You Evaluate Marketing Partners? Six Observations

Situation: A company is interested in partnering with a larger company to market a suite of services. They have identified two good candidates. They haven’t worked with partners in the past and are curious about how other companies work with marketing partners. How do you evaluate marketing partners?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The danger of working with a single marketing partner is that all of your eggs are in one basket. Your success in this relationship will depend upon the success of the marketing partner. This, in turn, will depend on the amount of attention that they pay to marketing your services, and on how actively their sales department sells your services. The danger to you is loss of control over the marketing and sales process.
  • Another company had a similar situation several years ago. At that time, the advice of the CEOs was to not select an exclusive partner, but instead to work with two different marketing partners, even though they are competitors. The company followed this advice, and it has worked like a charm.
  • Start with a position that you want a non-exclusive relationship. If a potential partner insists on exclusivity then ask for fixed guarantees of business and fixed minimums.
  • Other companies around the table work in partnership with competing companies all of the time. All of the partners value the services that these companies provide, and the relationships are harmonious.
  • If a possible partner insists on an exclusive relationship, another alternative is to split territories and supplement your agreements with most favored nation clauses.
  • Going back to the original question, provided that the terms offered by the marketing partner/partners are favorable, you won’t really know how they will perform until you establish a relationship and monitor it over time. Exit clauses and conditions will be an important part of any marketing agreement.

Do You Launch a New Brand or a New Company? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company is launching a new service – using existing technologies to address a new market. The CEO is curious as to whether it makes more sense to create a separate firm or corporation, a division within the current structure, or a new brand to take advantage of this opportunity? Do you launch a new brand or a new company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Because you are utilizing an existing process in a new market, don’t create the additional conflict or complexity that you might by splitting this into a separate entity just yet. Utilize the collaborative talent within the company to create a new brand rather than a new division or corporation.
  • Adding the additional overhead, accounting and other complexities of a separate entity is overkill – start it as a division or a brand.
  • Use this as an opportunity to grow your overall company brand. Create a series of icons to represent the company’s various capabilities. The icons will also help you to describe the range of capabilities of the company to prospective clients.
  • The market which you are addressing is early stage. By developing this new market as a new capability of your current well-respected brand, you have the opportunity to become the category leader.
  • When another CEO created new capabilities as extensions of existing technology he followed the following route:
    • Create a sub-brand as you develop and start to develop the new capability;
    • If it is successful and grows, develop it into a division;
    • If the capability grows to the point that you attract and decide to take outside funding to accelerate growth, create a separate company so that you don’t give away ownership of the parent company.
  • Think “effective vs. efficiency.” Start with efficiency. Add effectiveness (dedicated people) as opportunity proves itself out.

How Do You Address a Customer-Supplier End Run? Three Ideas

Situation: A company’s top customer has approached one of the company’s suppliers with a request that the supplier sell directly to them rather than through the company. The supplier normally does not sell directly to OEMs, and has neither the sales force nor the customer service capacity to work with these companies. Nevertheless, following the customer’s request, the supplier has asked the company’s CEO for a meeting. How should the CEO plan for this meeting? How do you address a customer-supplier end run?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • You need well-placed advocates both within the customer company and your supplier company. These advocates can help you to better understand what is behind the customers approach to your supplier, and what the true issues are. You will also better understand how the supplier is reacting to this request.
  • Talk to the boss of the purchasing manager who initiated this and let him know how this will impact your ability to supply other critical parts for their operation.
    • Ask for fast track approval as a preferred supplier.
    • Try to cut this off before the supplier representative arrives for your meeting.
  • You know from your history with this customer that you have had to make frequent delivery adjustments to meet their needs. Further, as a value add you make modifications to the parts supplied to meet the customer’s engineering specs. This level of flexibility is not part of your supplier’s business model. When you meet with the supplier, paint a picture of the downside of working directly with this customer to convince them that they don’t want to take this business direct.