Tag Archives: Structure

How Do You Expand Your Large Client Base? Six Strategies

Situation: The CEO of a service company sees that 20% of their business is serving large corporate customers. These accounts have proven to be more profitable than smaller clients. Their objective is to increase the large corporate client base from 20% to 60% of their business. How do you expand your large client base?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Emphasize the differences and unique talents of the firm in comparison with the competition. Trust in the company’s abilities and act like a big-league firm.
  • Top shelf prices for services are not an issue for large clients; in fact, they expect quality firms to have high prices. Find the “clinch” price – where the client says, “you’re expensive, but because of your special talents you’re the firm that we will choose.” Compliment this with the firm’s ability to utilize lower cost outsourced services to offer an appealing overall cost of services. Clients will pay a premium for top shelf when they need it but will like the fact that routine needs can be met within their budgets.
  • Use the lessons from Blue Ocean Strategy to create advantages for the company’s services that existing firms don’t or can’t offer because of their structures and cultures.
  • Highlight the company’s high-touch culture, with great personal service. This provides a welcomed relief from the typical client experience with service firms.
  • Create buzz around the company’s leadership. Focus on speaking opportunities. Enhance the references to the company’s leadership on the company web site, including a listing of upcoming speaking engagements that are open to potential clients or individuals interested in the company’s expertise.
    • During speaking engagements to local groups on topics of high interest, build an educational library of edited flash content that hits the high points of the talks – not the full talk, but the most important 2-3 minutes on a given topic.
    • Add a library of these short videos on the company website.
  • By charging premium prices for select services, while sourcing research and expertise from personnel in lower cost geographies, the company will generate additional profit. Allocate some of these profits to community outreach to further enhance the company’s reputation and buzz. Be the firm that gives back.

How Do You Create an Effective Staff Back-up System? Three Recommendations

Situation: A CEO has a staffing issue. The company has four product areas but only three strong leads. There are no back-ups for these leads. The CEO feels that the company can’t afford full-time back-ups and is concerned that the presence of back-ups may threaten the leads. How do you create an effective staff back-up system?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two problems, not one.
    • The leads may not be great managers and may not even like managerial responsibility.
    • The company has one administrator with support from the leads.
    • The company’s vulnerability is having an effective lead leave and taking their key core team members with them. This would create a significant hole in the company’s offering.
    • Change the structure – put manager administrators at top and let the leads do what they love to do. Fit the jobs of the leads to their skills and talents.
  • Hire the best #2s that can be found to back up the effective leads. Replace the less effective lead with a new lead.
    • Replace current team members who aren’t as good with new staff. This will provide the funding for the new people.
    • Then separate managers from architects in terms of role. This does not mean a change of compensation, or necessarily even titles. It means aligning roles with talents. It will also mean that individuals will be happier in their roles and will be less likely to leave.
    • Don’t do this all at once, but in gradual stages to avoid panic and allow individuals the time to adapt to their new roles. Act as a coach adjusting the whole team to a new playbook.
  • Consider adjusting the compensation structure to retain the key leads.

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.

Must a Family Business Always be “Family”? Five Suggestions

Situation: The CEO of a business that has been in place for several generations is frustrated by the challenges of working with family members. Relatives are involved in top positions, but frequently place personal concerns above the priorities of the business. This leads to tense situations where other family members, not in the business, will intervene to support their close relatives without appreciating the conditions facing the business. Must a family business always be “family”?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • For the business to thrive, you must match skills and talent to available positions – not just the “best” family member fit for the position.
  • Understanding that it is difficult for one family member to communicate negative news to another family member, consider hiring a consultant or HR company to evaluate and be the go-between in determining best family fit, or family/non-family choices for open positions.
  • If the company involved unionized employees, and some family member employees are union members, this may complicate your choices. Seek outside non-union counsel to help you evaluate situations and navigate solutions.
  • Hire a professional facilitator to assist in running company planning meetings which involve family members. A facilitator can approach the situation from a neutral standpoint, and does not carry the personal history of brother-sister or close relationships within the company. Choose an individual with experience with family-owned companies who can build a company vision that goes beyond personal relationships and concerns. This individual can also help navigate the operational situations facing the company.
  • Look at both your organization and ownership structure versus applicable regulations and licensing requirements. This may present new alternatives for you to consider.

How Do You Create HR Using Outside Resources? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company started small with everyone wearing many hats including the person in charge of HR. They wish to create a more formal HR structure with professional advice, but don’t yet want to hire a full-time HR professional. How do you create HR using outside resources?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • One company outsources their full HR function. Services include:
    • Putting records in order and maintaining them.
    • Developing different hiring packages for different levels of employees.
    • Recruiting.
    • Keeping the company and employees updated on compliance regulations.
    • Coordinating on-boarding and training.
  • There are several national HR and personnel outsourcing companies that can help. Examples include Paychex and ADT. There are also a large number of local providers. Network with your business peers or check out your local Chamber of Commerce to learn who these providers are.
  • What about training?
    • Outsourced HR professionals can organize training for formal certifications and some aspects of job skills training.
    • Training in company culture should be done by company leadership. Outsourced HR can organize schedules for this. The key point is that company leadership is the face of the company and the foundation of company culture. This can’t be effectively outsourced.
    • In some cases, training can be done via video. Outsourced HR can help to plan and coordinate creation of the videos, and can then schedule video training for new employees.
  • Have your in-house person join an HR roundtable to embellish their own training.

How Do You Establish Accountability for Results? Four Ideas

Situation: A CEO has difficulty gaining realistic projections from sales – projections for which they will be accountable. For example, the VP of Sales promises X but delivers Y – a result substantially below X. What methods have you have used to get realistic assessments and commitments from sales executives? How do you establish accountability for results?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Shift the issue from their accountability to your own accountability to the company.
    • In order to ship to the projected sales targets, we will need to scale up production to X level, hire Y personnel, and invest in Z inventory. If we miss the target by 20% here’s the impact on our financial performance for the next period. Are we comfortable, as a company, with this exposure, or should we adjust our plan to reduce the exposure.
    • This makes it easier for the sales executive, for the good of the company, to reduce the projection if they are not confident that they will make it.
  • Do you need to examine your commission structure as well as bonuses for sales executives? Consider scaling commissions to make sure that the sales team hits their targets. Make them hungry by offering lower commissions for lower targets, but increasing total commissions for meeting and exceeding targets.
    • Have the sales team project their sales. If the projected level meets company objectives and they meet them they make X%. However, if they fall short they make successively smaller fractions of X% depending upon how much they fall short.
  • Currently, the ratio between new and repeat sales is 20% / 80%.
    • To focus the sales team on new sales, reduce commissions on repeat sales, and increase commissions on new or increased sales and/or accounts.
  • Good sales people are competitive and often respond to pride. Give them in incentive – hit the sales target and get trip to Las Vegas with your spouse or guest.

How Much Should You Pay a Salesperson? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company hired an experienced individual to sell for them as a consultant. The individual initially asked to be paid on an hourly basis. Results have come with surprising speed. Now the consultant is asking for a commission on sales. How much should you pay a salesperson?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Tailor the commission structure to company objectives. For example, if the objective is to reward new business development, and to retain the individual, try something like:
    • Offer 10% commission on Year 1 sales.
    • If both the customer and the consultant are still with the company in Year 3, the consultant gets a 5% bonus on Year 2 and 3 sales.
    • Repeat this for successive years.
  • If the interest is a long-term relationship, determine the nature of the sales services where the consultant excels.
    • What is the individual’s focus?
      • Hunter/Gatherer
      • Contact manager
      • Relationship manager
    • Have a highly qualified sales expert do a telephone interview of the consultant and offer their assessment of the individual’s talents.
  • One successful sales model includes one measure to retain the job, and another to calculate commissions:
    • Set a dollar quota for sales performance – if the individual does not hit at least 85% of quota, they lose their job.
    • However, calculate commissions based on the gross profit that their sales generate.
    • This properly balances the focus between revenue and gross profit generation. To succeed, the individual must pay attention to both measures.
  • If the individual wants a substantial commission, then don’t pay a substantial base. Instead pay a draw against commissions to allow them to support themselves between sales.
  • Pay on receipt of payment, not on receipt of orders.

How Do You Hold High Performers Accountable? Five Guidelines

Situation: A company has a key employee who is a high performer; however the company has not developed a good accountability structure to direct this person. The CEO wants to add additional accountability to cover everyone, both current employees and new people as they are hired. The system should be fair and apply to all. How do you hold high performers accountable?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • High performing employees are essential assets to a company. They thrive on meeting and exceeding expectations. However they need to recognize and accept accountability for the inevitable mistakes or misjudgments that will occur.
  • Lay out the challenge, and ask your high performing employee, and this individual’s manager, to help design the system for monitoring accountability around results.
  • Within position descriptions, include not only the role and expectations within the description, but also expected progressions for development. These should be objective, measurable and based on specific skills or capabilities within the development progression. Gather input from current employees as you create position descriptions, so that they reflect the experience of employees rather than idealized generalities.
  • Set your expectations for new employees appropriately. Expect perhaps 60% of optimal performance early on. As new employees gain understanding of the company and their roles, coach and expect them to increase their performance over time. Provide training to assist their development.
  • James Fischer, in Navigating the Growth Curve, argues that expectations, for the CEO, management and employees, change as a company grows from start-up to a large firm. If a company is small, it doesn’t want the same structure or processes required to operate a 250 person company. Too much structure stifles creativity and growth if applied to small, nimble companies. Institute a level of structure appropriate to the size and stage of the company.

How Does a Founder Hire His Replacement? Four Thoughts

Situation: A founder CEO, after many years building a business, has lost the passion that he had early on. He needs to hire someone to succeed him, assuring the ongoing growth and value of the company while minimizing ongoing personal involvement. How does a founder hire his (or her) replacement?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • When a founder has lost the passion to continue running a business it is time to move on. Passion is critical to meet the day-to-day demands of a business.
  • Before you start looking, decide whether you will continue to have a role in the business, and what that role will be. Will you remain Chairman of the Board and give up the CEO role? If so, are you ready to let go of the CEO role so that the right person can take it on? Typical company structures for Chairman/Top Manager roles are:
    • Chairman focuses on growth strategy, select PR and critical relationships.
    • CEO/COO/GM handles operational planning and day-to-day management.
  • The candidate that you seek will have the following profile:
    • Good energy, loves the business, but not ready for the risk of building a company.
    • When the right person has run the business for you for a few years that person may become your exit strategy.
  • Go to your next trade show with the mindset to find the right person. Many of the best candidates will be on the trade show floor – now working for someone else, but inwardly looking for their next opportunity.
    • Spread the news ahead of time that you’re looking. See who seeks you out.

How Do You Replace a Sales Manager? Four Suggestions

Situation: A company’s Sales Manager is likely to retire in the next two years, but has no strict timeline. This individual is the chief rain-maker and has been for many years. The subject of replacing this individual has been sensitive when mentioned in the past. How do you replace a Sales Manager and how do you manage the transition?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Have a frank conversation with the current Sales Manager. For the company to thrive it is necessary to start selecting and training an individual to take his place when he retires. Have him help develop the recruitment and transition plan. Also involve your Customer Service Manager.

o    Hire a person like the current Sales Manager and allow for up to two years for the new individual to get up to speed.

o    Find someone who is currently associated with one of your key customers and who has contacts.

o    Adjust your compensation scheme to focus on growth and customer diversification with enhanced commissions for bringing in these accounts.

  • To ease the transition, start to build a different customer relations structure – one where the CEO has more engagement with key customers.
  • An alternative to replacing the Sales Manager is to create a different organizational structure. For example, hire a COO who will eventually take over business development as well. Think longer term about to how you want the management structure to grow. Build your future vision of the company into this process.
  • You can’t wait – start now!