Situation: A company has a crowd sourcing solution which is co-creational. You ask a question and get multiple answers. The company then uses technology to select the best answers. The challenge is developing a business model. What parameters are predictable and dependable? How do you develop a revenue model?
Advice from the CEOs:
Revenue is always, in the end, a matter of value received – both potential and actual.
High dollar per click comes from delivering better responses, particularly if you can demonstrate higher sales conversion rates.
High value responses are valuable. If you can deliver these consistently, consider charging a subscription instead of pay-per-click. Pay per click is fine for attracting first-time users, but move to subscription for ongoing access.
Limit your initial audience to crowd source participants who have knowledge and experience – like CXOs on LinkedIn. Create relevant communities.
In addition to best practice answers, provide an opportunity for participants to share failures – experiences from which they learned. Simply Hired created an early, and lasting audience by creating a companion site called Simply Fired when they started. Based on the responses to this site, they created a Top Five Reasons for getting fired, with inappropriate behavior and sexual harassment at the top. This exercise helped them to create a lasting presence.
Make your site clean and show clear steps to a revenue model for users. This will take time and you won’t see results immediately. Over time it will pay off for you.
Situation: Top managers of a company are all very experienced. All want to drive the company – but each in their own way. Overall objectives are not significantly different but the path forward varies considerably among the managers. Is this situation common? Should the CEO be doing things differently? How do you create management alignment?
Advice from the CEOs:
Strong differences among strong leaders are common. This is not necessarily a cause for concern or a problem. Rather, it means that you have a lot of options to help address opportunities or solve issues.
When you hire bright, talented people with good ideas, there will always be differences of opinion. This is healthy. You need this, particularly when sailing uncharted waters.
As CEO, sometimes you need a strong critic on your team to moderate your inclinations. Just because you are CEO doesn’t mean that you always have the answer. Rather, allowing the answer to come from the team strengthens the team as well as commitment to execution.
How do you leverage the strengths of this team to create the best future for your company?
First, assure that the broad roadmap is clear and that everyone agrees on this.
When addressing a choice, opportunity or challenge lay out the situation in broad terms. Allow all of the managers their say, and facilitate the discussion to identify commonalities and differences. Confirm the commonalities, and dig into the differences to understand the perspectives of each. Digging into differences can identify roadblocks as well as alternative options. Keep the discussion open instead of trying to drive toward a single, quick solution.
Summarize the options presented. If there are multiple alternatives, do a ranking exercise to see if one rises to the top. Be sure to credit the managers for their ideas and creative input.
In each situation there is a final decision maker. All must respect that after you’ve listened there will be a decision and that decision will be executed. Allow them to execute and focus on results.
Situation: Much of a company’s work is non-standard. Each customer’s solution is individualized. Finding the best solution in each case frequently requires a stretch. The CEO’s approach is to simplify the problem to its essential components and from this develop a unique solution. However, several of the staff responsible for developing solutions shy from this approach when confronted with a new challenge. How do you create a bias for action?
Advice from the CEOs:
Company culture is defined by the CEO. In this case you wish to establish a culture of innovation. This might be defined by the phrase “we don’t do simple things.” This means that you need innovators or creative people in the problem solving positions.
Consider breaking the roles apart. You need experienced and balanced but creative people to develop the unique solutions. People like yourself. On the other hand, you need methodical, reliable people to put the solutions into effect. These two roles usually require teams of different personalities. They don’t conflict, but are different.
Look at Landmark Worldwide as a resource for your staff. Landmark specializes in teaching people to expand their horizons. This doesn’t mean changing who they are, but facilitating their ability to team with others with different but complimentary talents to achieve original and effective results.
To help the team understand what you want to accomplish, bring in an organizational development consultant to help communicate your vision and assist with culture transformation.
It is important to recognize that these individuals are likely as uncomfortable with this situation as you are. This realization helps to craft a win-win solution that will strengthen the company.
Situation: A company has clients who are interested in projects for which the company’s partners already have partial designs. There is an opportunity to leverage these partial designs into development of full solutions for their clients. How should the company approach this in a way that satisfies their customers and is fair to their partners? How do you set up co-development partnerships?
Advice from the CEOs:
Given this opportunity it is no longer important who performed what part of the development. As long as your partners have quoted you what they believe to be a fair price for their development pieces, you are free to accept their price, complete development to your clients’ specifications, and sell the full solution to the client at market prices.
What you bring to the table is the opportunity to rapidly monetize the technology. This is something that your partners can’t do, so by filling this role you are acting in the interest of all parties.
What you charge for your work and the full solution depends on the potential value to the client. Time is money, and delivery now is worth a premium price to a client who needs your solution and wants to release their product as soon as possible.
This strategy is particularly applicable to early stage companies who need to release their initial products and start generating revenue.
Take a note from Bill Gates – sell the product for a good price and then buy or acquire the supply.
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 professional service company is intrigued by LEAN and Six-Sigma approaches to increasing production efficiency and reducing costs. Most of the examples that they see of LEAN and Six-Sigma in action are in production or manufacturing settings. Do LEAN or Six-Sigma programs apply to processes in a professional services environment?
Advice from the CEOs:
LEAN and Six-Sigma are heads-down approaches to process improvement. In a customized solution environment, standardization of processes has less pay-off. As an alternative, consider Agile Development and similar heads-up process solutions.
Agile Development is both a philosophy and a process. Steps to introducing Agile Development to a professional services environment include:
Identifying high risk areas of individual project plans,
Double resourcing high risk areas to increase the likelihood of fast, satisfactory solution outcomes,
Looking for collaborative synergies and scenarios,
Scheduling regular team meetings to enhance collaboration,
Working opportunistically rather than systematically to increase efficiency, and
Using project post-mortems to refine systems and processes.
One professional services company which has adopted Agile Development assigns Senior Engineers as outside consultants on projects. These individuals bring a more experienced perspective, and can identify more efficient ways to find solutions and produce a more cost effective and timely result.
Situation: A company wants to reduce their cost of engineering. They are considering outsource options, both domestic and overseas, as well as remote offices in lower cost regions domestically. How can you best reduce costs?
Advice from the CEOs:
An emphasis on cost may be misplaced. Consider instead of where you can offer the best value to your customers or clients. Focus on and compete in best part of your market – the place where you possess the strongest advantage; then worry about cost.
Outsource companies can be dangerous partners. Assume you only profit from the first job that you give them and that they may be your competitor the next time around.
We’ve learned from the last decade of experience in Asia that cost advantages are often temporary. Salaries for top talent in India and China now approach those in the US. This experience is likely to be repeated in Southeast Asia.
Focus on high dollar services and opportunities.
There are limitations to offshore talent – especially in complex, multi-step development projects. Keep high dollar projects in-house because they justify higher prices and margins.
When you outsource, negotiate retainer contracts with additional charges for work above and beyond the scope specified in the retainer.
What do you want to be? Consider your options:
Become a project management company and outsource development.
Be a development company and just look for cost effective sources of labor.
Start your own outsource company – a split-off staffed by your own employees – and feed them work.
Before you invest substantial time or money, do a test.
Situation: A company seeks the best way to introduce a novel health monitoring solution. The challenge is that people don’t want to change their routines. If you can creatively fit into existing routines with minimal behavior change this facilitates adoption. How have you introduced a new solution without asking for a change in behavior?
Advice from Kiran Kundargi:
As the population ages health care costs rise. A solution that can reduce healthcare costs while allowing more seniors to remain in their homes this can significantly reduce health care costs. The sticky part is making this solution a part of the elder’s and their family-caregiver’s daily routine.
Our solution is to seek the low hanging fruit – post-hospital discharge recovery at home. Seniors who have been discharged from the hospital following treatment or surgery often receive strict instructions to take their medication, adjust their diets and engage in regular exercise. This requires changes in the senior’s routine, and non-compliance is a leading cause of readmission.
Effective October 2012, Medicare will stop paying hospitals for readmissions that it deems avoidable. This forces hospitals to take a more active role in follow-up care following discharge. Our online health monitoring service, Nclaves, provides a low cost solution.
Nclaves facilitates communication between the elder and his or her children and grandchildren using Internet and hand-held technology. This enables family to help their senior comply with post-hospital instructions.
We approach this opportunity in four phases.
We start by using the Internet. We have made our solution easy for physicians and hospitals to find. Internet activity is supplemented with presentations to monthly meetings in hospitals. By acting as an information resource on the change in Medicare regulations, we can introduce our solution to those who will suggest it to patients. Early adopters will enable us to build case studies demonstrating both technical viability of our solution, benefit provided to patients, and impact on readmission rates and cost of care.
Next, we will approach large employers. Employers understand that increases in hospital costs will adversely affect the cost of insurance benefits for their employees. We want them to include Nclaves as part of their employee health and wellness programs.
The third step is insurance companies. These companies have the leverage to specify and suggest options to both patients and providers.
Our final step is broad market acceptance. Once both payers and providers are on-board, we will be ready to work through alliances, the Internet and broader public relations and advertising campaigns to build market acceptance.
Situation: Even with a better mousetrap, an early stage tech company can’t afford a large sales force to cold call enterprise prospects. How do you build an affordable, scalable sales model – one which lets you quickly identify potential customers, and sell to them with a predictable rate of success?
Advice from Scott Dietzen:
From our experience, there are three steps to the process:
Form and quickly test hypotheses about your early adopters, and be prepared to iterate. “Friends and family” customers typically provide this test bed;
Look for ways for candidate customers could self qualify, and then strive to make that easily repeatable; and
Once have honed your messaging, leverage PR, viral marketing, social media, and other inexpensive means get your value proposition in front of more customers.
The chain of events between hypothesis, private experimentation and public launch is crucial:
Before launch, you want to have many confidential conversations about your value proposition with early prospects, and hopefully get many customers to privately try out your product. What do they love about the product? What changes will make it even more valuable? Listen and learn. At Pure Storage, we spent a year and a half in customer testing before we came out of stealth.
Most companies work too hard on the product and too little on the go to market plan. It’s better to do these in tandem. At Pure Storage we thought our messaging would skew toward performance, but learned that the fact that we saved customers 10X on their power and space budgets was equally important to them.
By having referencable customers in place before launch, you are better able to declare and defend first mover status and their validation is crucial to a successful launch.
A great way to accelerate growth on a start-up budget is to let customers self qualify for free:
At WebLogic, we offered developers a free download evaluation version of our software. A developer could choose to use WebLogic for free, and then go to their manager only after they had a WebLogic solution up and running. This made it far easier for management to make a buy decision, and took off so fast that it was hard for our sales force to keep up with the inbound license key requests!
At Pure Storage, we give away a software tool that storage administrators can point at an existing storage workload. The tool allows them to evaluate the savings from our data reduction algorithms, and hence how much their companies could save in cost and power by converting from mechanical disk storage to Pure solid-state flash. Enabling the customer to generate their own ROI story is an easier, more economical path to winning a happy customer, and the end user insider becomes a hero for delivering value to his/her organization.
Key Words: Technology, Solution, Model, Sales, Marketing, Customer, Identification, Hypothesis, Early Adopter, Social Media, Scalability, Pre-launch, Stealth
Situation: A company has a long relationship with its initial client, which provides the company with key intellectual property. This client handles all marketing, sales and distribution for the company’s principal products, but only accesses 20% of the market. The client is concerned about having its image associated with expansion into markets that the company wishes to pursue. How do you structure a deal that enables you to access the broader market without offending the client?
Advice from the CEOs:
The issues for the client are public relations and liability. They don’t want to be associated with certain segments of the larger market as it may compromise customer perceptions of their core business. Further, they want to be indemnified should they face damages from your forays into the larger market. It is important that you address their concerns.
Sit down with the key client. Pose a problem that will generate the solution that you seek and let them solve it on their own. Then seek an agreement with the client on carve-outs within the larger target market with which they are agreeable.
Build an external company with different branding to approach the larger market, without jeopardizing the relationship with the key client. If ownership and management of the two entities are the same be aware that this is a thin veil.
You may increase opportunity for success if you build your own successor product – one tailored for the larger market – while your key client is paying you for current business. Once the product is built, ask the client whether they want to be involved and if so, on what terms. This enhances your bargaining position and reduces your downside risk.
Expand your offering, where current products are part of a larger offering. You have two alternatives: go there anyway, or go there with the client. If the client decides that they don’t like what’s happening and opens the market this could be ideal for you.