Situation: A CEO wants to fund future growth through better management of cash flow. Cash flow has been positive for several years, and the company uses a bank line to fund receivables. How to you manage cash flow to fund growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Since the company is cash flow positive, go to the bank with the assistance of a connected Board member and ask for better terms on your line. This will reduce financing expense.
What are the company’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO = accounts receivable (AR) divided by average daily revenue)? Reducing this will have an immediate positive impact on cash flow.
Normal up-front payment is 20%. With 35% gross margins and 20% up-front, the company is funding profits through the bank line. The adjusted gross margin (GM) is the company’s Operating GM less the cost of the bank line.
Solutions: Reduce DSO by offering a 1% discount for payment in 15 days and increase up front retainers from 20% to 50%. This takes time but is doable by working with customers.
Some customers have seen AR slip from 30 to 45 days. Offering a 1% discount for payment in 15 days is an inexpensive way to decrease AR and increase cash flow.
What is the most immediate need?
The company has positive cash flow, marquee accounts and proof of concept.
What is needed is additional referenceability. Can reference accounts come from exiting marquee accounts? What would this take? Can the Board help to identify and develop additional reference accounts?
The company is resource limited in sales. At this point people are needed. How can this be done without extending current resources?
Shift resources from other departments to sales to boost sales efforts. Another CEO did this very successfully and generated a substantial pick-up in revenue growth.
Increase the incentive for service people to come up with new revenue opportunities. Consider teaming them with the salespeople to generate opportunities.
Consider independent rep firms. Ask key customers who they respect among the independent rep firms.
Develop a joint venture or strategic partnership to feed sales – a situation where this is a strong win-win for both parties.
Leverage the Board to create opportunities. Another CEO has a Board objective of 3 new accounts per year. This comes from 10 leads/connections per year (2 per Board member). Board members who can’t produce leads are turned over.
Situation: A web-based software solution company wants to expand their customer base. They have several large clients, and want to expand their presence both geographically and to additional sectors. How do you position the offering to appeal to a larger audience? How do you expand your customer base?
Advice from the CEOs:
In customer presentations, talk about out-tasking versus out-sourcing. This is less threatening to the customer’s existing IT and analyst infrastructure. It allows you to focus on your strength and to build a pitch that augments the customer’s current capabilities.
Is there a trade-off between customer depth and breadth of adoption?
Test doing both on a limited scale. Go deeper in four accounts, and simultaneously focus on one application that you can rapidly sell to 20 accounts.
This exercise will help you to find the right balance.
Look at customers with whom you have had early success. Those customers are proof cases. Look for similar prospects who will respect the experience of the early adopters.
Take a current client who has had success with your applications. Go to similar state and regional companies who will respect the first company’s experience. This will help you to create a national presence in a sector or industry.
Build strategic alliance partnerships.
For example, take a potential customer that wants to be an application service provider.
Look for other companies serving that customer who could benefit from an alliance with your company. Build an alliance to offer bundled services to the potential customer.
If you do not have someone in this important business development role, you need it.
The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals is a great place to start strategic alliances.
Work more deeply with your current clients. Offer additional applications, subscriptions and offer combinations of services.
Situation: A company is planning for growth and is considering several business opportunities. None are fully baked, but broadly speaking the CEO is interested in a list of pros and cons that will help her team to evaluate the opportunities before them. What questions should the management team be asking? How do you evaluate business opportunities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Which of the opportunities do you find exciting? Which opportunities ignite your passion? Which opportunities would be exciting to pursue on a daily basis? Use this to create your first cut.
When you meet with your team, prompt discussion by asking: why do you come to work each day? What drives you now?
Now look at each of the opportunities that you are considering. Which opportunities best reflect your answers?
Rank the opportunities in terms of probability of success. For each, do a SWOT analysis – how does each address your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? How could each make the company stronger or address potential threats that you foresee?
Which opportunity provides the best segue to your long-term strategic opportunities over the next 2-3 or 3-5 years?
On a personal basis, how important is power and authority to you? What about the personal and work time that is available to you? What is your role, as CEO, in each opportunity? For each opportunity, does this role reflect your personal priorities? Finally, what is your ideal opportunity, in personal terms?
Once you have evaluated all of your opportunities – including your personal ideal opportunity – perform a weighted scoring of the opportunities to test your assumptions. Among the opportunities available, which is closest in score to your ideal opportunity?
Situation: A CEO is building a new company. She has a small, highly qualified team, and much of the work is hands-on. In addition, there is fund raising to support the venture. The CEO also makes time for exercise and keeping in shape. With all of this on her plate she is getting overwhelmed. How do you focus on priorities in an early stage company? How do you make time for priorities?
Advice from the CEOs:
Maintain your exercise and health – this makes everything else easier.
Decide on your strategic platform. This creates a larger conceptual framework and helps to clarify priorities.
Identify the gating items. Focus effort here and spend scarce resources strategically to push your goal.
Within your gating items, identify the factors that make you scalable. Focus most of your effort here.
Create a weekly focus.
Lay out your to-do list in a Covey quadrant – most and least important vs. urgent and not urgent. Review this weekly to eliminate or delegate less important priorities.
Operational issues are usually symptoms – identify the causes and fix them.
Daily, list what you’ve done. Look back every 1-2 weeks and assess how you spent your time. Eliminate time wasters.
Don’t let you passion be undermined by the drudgery.
As an early stage company, you have to react – understand and appreciate that some aspects of early stage company life will not be very strategic.
Fix things rather than adding people and complexity. This compliments Fisher’s Stages of Growth recommendations for a company of under 11 people.
Situation: A company is planning to pitch a Blue Ocean service to a major prospect. The service has a proven track record with industry leaders and is not being offered by other vendors. How do you pitch a Blue Ocean service?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by listening to the client’s current situation. Here are some opening questions:
How did you get here? Just the 2-3 minute version. As a follow-up question, ask what their past performance has been.
What is your most important competitive strategic advantage? Follow-up: what is your future competitive advantage – the same or different?
If everything goes right, where do you see things in 2-3 years?
What obstacles, roadblocks and constraints will keep you from getting there?
Include graphics in your presentation on both the prospect’s current situation and how your proposal differentially impacts their ability to reach their future objectives.
In your presentation, highlight your ability to offer a very competitive overall cost proposal based on your ability to outsource work to lower cost subsidiaries or partners.
Emphasize your track record providing the proposed service to industry leaders.
Be sure that your overall proposal looks sound and responsive to the prospect’s need as you understand it. It will be important to understand whether the individual with whom you are meeting next has the same perspective. Try to determine this before your next meeting.
Adding an additional vendor within your proposed framework doesn’t upset the apple cart. It probably benefits everyone as long as it benefits the prospect.
Note: The term Blue Ocean Strategy comes from a book published in 2005 and written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-directors of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The authors argue that companies can succeed not by battling competitors, but rather by creating ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.
Situation: A small company uses a sales plan, but not a marketing plan. The CEO wants to know about marketing plans, and how they are different from sales plans. Most importantly, if a company has both, how do you coordinate sales and marketing plans?
Advice from the CEOs:
Sales and Marketing Plans are two aspects of the annual planning and revenue forecasting process. The difference between the two is focus – strategy versus implementation.
The Marketing Plan is strategic. It defines and quantifies the market that the company addresses, and also what markets the company does not address. It identifies the key attributes of the company’s market and products or services, and sets the broad direction as well as the high level objectives for the planning period – usually one year. It also covers both current products and product additions or extensions. The focus of the Marketing Plan is one-to-many.
In contrast, the Sales Plan is focuses on execution of the Marketing Plan. Ideally, the sales team takes the Marketing Plan and sets individual and team sales objectives that will meet the revenue objectives set in the Marketing Plan. The focus of the Sales Plan one-to-one – what each sales representative, and each division of the sales team (unit, district, region, country, and so forth) commits to sell during the coming year.
To coordinate the Marketing and Sales Plans, it is best to draft the Marketing Plan before asking the sales team to draft their Sales Plan. It helps the two teams to coordinate their projections for the coming year and allows the sales team to project sales based on changes to the product mix included in the Marketing Plan.