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 company sells specialized components to a large manufacturer. The manufacturer is building a new product and, for this product, is requiring that all suppliers be approved suppliers. The company sells other products to this manufacturer and is in process of becoming an approved supplier, but the manufacturer wants to start using the company’s components for their new product now. As a work-around, they have asked the company to teach someone else their IP until they are approved. Would you share your IP with another company? How important is it to protect your IP?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a creative request from a large company to a smaller supplier. Absent a legal requirement that suppliers must be approved – not the case here – they are simply trying a bureaucratic ploy to get you to release your IP. Your component is necessary to them and they can’t get an equivalent component from anyone else. If they want your component for their new product, and want to release the new product on their internal timeline, insist on a waiver for the new policy until you have become an approved supplier.
Stand on principal. This is your IP and it is proprietary. If another supplier, a potential competitor, has the IP to do what you do, you don’t need to train them. If they need your IP to make the components you need to protect it.
Ask the manufacturer to put you on the fast track to approval supplier status. This is faster than teaching someone else your process.
Escalate this within the customer company until you find an audience.
Bottom Line – don’t give away your secret sauce. This request is unreasonable. Unless, of course, the other company is willing to give you satisfactory compensation for your IP.
Situation: A company has a new set of employees coming up to speed, but this is happening slowly. The work environment is semi-skilled, with learning curves for new office employees and apprentices. How do you get new employees up to speed?
Advice from the CEOs:
Provide a competitive level of compensation to journeymen and higher level office employees. Make these levels of skill to which office employees and apprentices aspire.
Develop a mentor program. Provide chits (company currency) to both the mentor and the mentee for learning each new processes. Make awarding these chits a big deal. For example, the mentor and mentee collect their chits from the CEO who then takes them down to the treasurer to collect on the chits.
As appropriate, create a team learning environment. Game theory has demonstrated that both basic and more advanced skills can be successfully taught in a team game environment where there is both competition and rewards for attainment.
Set up a system where successful training is demonstrated bench performance.
Establish Operator 1, 2 and 3 levels to qualify for graduated levels of jobs or responsibilities. This creates a career track and an incentive to go for the next level. Celebrate employees as they move from level to level.
Company celebrations are important. Celebrate birthdays, tenure anniversaries, skill level attainment, career track attainment, and so on at monthly meetings or events.
Hire slow/fire fast. Give new employees a fair shake, but if their mentor doesn’t see promise in them, let them go.
Situation: A company wants to keep both customers and employees up to date on what is happening within the company. This includes announcements of new products, services and initiatives, changes in personnel policy and benefits, and other information important to both customers and employees. The CEO is considering a company newsletter. How do you keep customers and employees updated and what benefits do you accrue from the effort?
Advice from the CEOs:
Customers and employees are two different audiences and require different communications. Externally focused company newsletters are a value-add from a marketing perspective and enhance the image of the company in the eyes of clients and prospects. Internal company newsletters are valuable to reinforce vision, understanding of company policy, and inter-departmental alignment.
Both efforts are justified from a time and expense standpoint, and perhaps deserve even more focus.
Within the companies represented around the table, frequency of both internal and external newsletters varies from semi-annual to monthly publications.
Both print and online newsletters have value. Employees respond positively to both. Print media make it easier for them to share important updates in benefits and excitement about company developments with their families. Online media can be updated more frequently and inexpensively, and the HR department can track the number of views to measure impact.
Emailed external newsletters are valuable because they enable you to measure ROI from the effort by building in tracking mechanisms and correlating web page hits to business development and revenue.
Situation: A company has goals and objectives in place for the whole company. The challenge is that they need to focus top managers on effective processes and not just on their team’s objectives. In particular they want to increase focus on cross-functional processes. How do you focus managers on process?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start by identifying all critical processes. Once this is done, build an in-house system to track these.
Make contingency decisions dependent upon sticking with the processes.
Consistent follow-through is essential – talk through the blocks as they arise.
Don’t become a slave to your own system. Stay flexible and allow appropriate non-prescriptive behavior/solutions where it makes sense. This helps to feed creativity in the organization.
Be an advocate/cheerleader for the new culture. Employees need ongoing encouragement as they shift focus to the new regime.
Build an underlying culture to support your processes. This takes time and persistence.
If you are growing, as you hire new people, select new employees who fit the new culture. This helps to create lead models for the rest of the group.
By definition, growth means increasing infrastructure, which in turn means more restrictions and rules. Keep it fun. For example, create a wine penalty for missing deadlines.
If you’re late on your deliverable you have to contribute a good bottle of wine, with your name and the month that you were late on a tag attached to the bottle.
Contributed bottles of wine are shared at the company Christmas or holiday party.