Growth through Mergers and Acquisitions

Companies seek growth through mergers and acquisitions to satisfy one or more of the following – adding a related product or service; expanding geographic reach; purchasing assets, i.e. real estate, patent, brand; and/or, acquiring clients.  There is also the promise of cost reductions through consolidation of back-office and front-office services.  The justification for two companies coming together to either expand or further strengthen a competitive position is logical and easy to support from a financial perspective.  More than likely if an increase in shareholder value can be demonstrated, based on a proforma, the entities will proceed.

Very soon after a decision to merge or acquire is made, a press release is issued which identifies the combination benefits.  “We look forward to working with Cerberus to maintain and grow GMAC’s traditional strong performance and contribution to the GM family,” said GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner.  “This agreement is another important milestone in the turnaround of General Motors. It creates a stronger GMAC while preserving the mutually beneficial relationship between GM and GMAC. At the same time, it provides significant liquidity to support our North American turnaround plan, finance future GM growth initiatives, strengthen our balance sheet and fund other corporate priorities.” (Ally Financial Inc.  Press Release: 2006)

But regardless of how good the merger or acquisition looks on paper, there is a large body of research that shows that mergers and acquisitions add no value, for a majority of the transactions.  In my career I have been exposed to seven entity combinations.  In two instances, the entity I was associated with was acquired; in three situations we were the acquirer; in one situation my entity assumed a majority interest in another entity; and finally one situation where a majority interest was taken in the entity where I was associated (quote above).

The successful execution of this type of growth initiative rests on the details of how the process is managed.  If you choose to acquire or agree to be acquired, consider the following three topics –

Business Integration

Systems – Integration of systems must be addressed upfront to ensure clients of each heritage entity can communicate with the new entity, in a seamless fashion, securely.  This initiative is extremely important during this period where cybercrime and hacking are ubiquitous.  Allowing systems from legacy companies to communicate via workarounds is not a secure approach.

Policy & Procedures – While these guidelines may have common features from company to company, they are custom to each organization.  More than likely your P&P does not match the P&P of the entity that you are acquiring.  You will find that one set is more restrictive than the other.  The question you will have to deal with – “Which policies should be the policies of the new organization?”

Costs – A primary reason to merge or acquire is the perception that cost efficiency can be obtained either from economies of scale, usage of excess capacity, co-location, supplier discounts…

The integration topic has a direct link to time, i.e. how fast you can integrate to secure systems, ensure consistent policies and procedures and cut costs.  Moving too quickly can cause needless disruption to the business; while moving too slowly just delays the benefit of the acquisition.

Employees

Attrition – The combination of two entities immediately creates redundancy.  Employee loss will be high. Some of this loss will be welcomed, but other will not.  You may find that you prefer Manager #1 over Manager #2, but Manager #1 resigns.  Regardless of the amount of analysis and preparation, management has the least control over the individual preferences and decisions of employees.  This point is apparent when you consider the following citation – “Yahoo has naturally lost some of its acquired talent. At least 16, or roughly one-fifth, of the more than 70 startup founders and startup CEOs who joined Yahoo through an acquisition during Ms. Mayer’s tenure have left the company.”  “Yahoo’s Other Challenge: Retaining Acquired Talent.”  Wall Street Journal Online.  Wall Street Journal, 1 May 2015.

Reporting – In my first merger experience, my company was acquired by a company of equal size but stronger economically. A colleague at the time explained to me that when two companies come together, the acquiring company assumes the management responsibility of all roles.  In essence, I would fall under that manager and be performing the role of the person that reported to me.  Every individual in the company that was acquired must be ready to do the job of their direct report.  This explanation was true for all combinations.  At times I had the higher role, as I was with the acquiring entity; while in other situations the reverse was true.

Clients

Attrition – Client loss will be high, more commonly from those clients that were associated with the brand that no longer exists.  This set of clients, do not feel they have any relationship with the new entity.  Consider short-term pricing discounts to persuade clients to consider keeping their business with the new entity.

Sales Management – If you sell a product or service in a geography and you acquire an entity in the same market, you will need to wrestle with the question of who owns the customer, i.e. territory management.  This situation occurs commonly when clients represent national accounts.

Sales Compensation – Similar to Policies and Procedures – While these compensation structures may have common features from company to company, they are custom to each organization.  More than likely your compensation plan does not match the compensation plan of the entity that you are acquiring.  You will find that one set is richer than the other.  The question you will have to deal with – “Which compensation structure should be the structure of the new organization?”

In summary, when an entity wishes to add a product or service or expand geographic reach or purchase assets or purchase clients, the acquisitions approach is considered preferable by many, as it is faster.   Just remember that the economics of the new entity will not be the economics of the addition of each heritage company.  A merger or acquisition takes careful planning to be effective.  There will be upfront costs required for integration and client incentives.  It will require flawless execution to come anywhere close to the proforma goals established at the outset.  There are too many unknowns, internally and externally, to be positive of the outcome.

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Pricing Strategy – Tips and Caveats for Discount Pricing

Discounts have their place, but more often than not, they are used incorrectly. Prior to offering a discount, controllers involved with establishing pricing strategy need to take the following steps:

Understand your business economics. If you have a 15 percent profit margin and for a period of time you are willing to give up a third of the margin to offer a discount, that may be a correct business decision. However, if you have a 15 percent margin, and for a period of time you give up an amount equal to 150 percent of the margin to offer a discount, that approach will hurt your business.

Establish the discount duration. Discounts should have a finite life. If they continue into perpetuity, you are just resetting price with the word “discount.” A discount is simply a marketing tool—a program that is planned, fielded, and completed. At a certain point, once the program ends, it is important to calculate the return on marketing investment received to understand whether the expense was worthwhile.

Understand the client’s needs. Some clients are driven by the word “discount.” In this situation, you should find the price that allows you to achieve your required returns, and increase the price of the product/service by the discount you will be giving. Billing and applying the discount will result in the attainment of your profit requirements. This approach is quite common in all businesses.

Different Types of Discounts

There are three types of discounts that work, as they benefit each party in the transaction. These are:

Discount to try your product or service. For a service, this includes discount pricing while the service provider gains the required knowledge to provide the client with the maximum service possible. During the early days of a relationship, a client should not be asked to pay full price, while you learn their business. For products, a discount provides an incentive for consumers to try your product vs. staying with their usual selection.

Discounts provided to clients based on their purchase volume, i.e., relationship pricing. The philosophy behind this type of discount is as follows: “If I can count on you to purchase 10 units of my product or service, I will charge you full price. But as you purchase more, I can take advantage of economies of scales, which I can pass down to you.”

Discounts provided for early payments. To incentivize early payment, it is common to offer a benefit (discount) to consumers.  Receipt of your money sooner rather than later is worth the customary 2 to 3% in discount.  But if your profit margins are already razor thin simply raise the price by the discount amount.  Billing and applying the discount will result in the attainment of your profit requirements.

Whichever type of discount is used, the greatest responsibility of the manufacturer/service provider is to communicate the discount terms and when they will expire. In fact, over-communicate these items. If you implement a discount to benefit the client but the discount goes away prior to when the customer was expecting it to go away, the relationship will be disrupted.  The discount expense will be a waste.

Avoid Three Common Discounting Errors

Controllers also need to be aware of the following three common errors when offering discount pricing:

Offering a discount to customers to entice them to pay their late bills. The message you relay here is, “Do not pay on time and I will reduce your price.”

Offering a discount to match the competitor’s price. This approach assumes your economics are the same as those of your competitor. That assumption is often very wrong. For example the competitor may be giving up a piece of their margin, while you may be giving up your entire margin.

Offering a discount on one product or set and losing money, expecting to make it up in other products/services. In some situations, one product is heavily discounted while other products are premium priced. The goal is to lose money on a few items in order to entice the client to also buy others, while making a higher margin on those other products/services. However, this approach will always backfire when you work with clients who understand the market price. They will understand where to focus their purchasing, i.e. only on the lower priced products.

The Bottom Line

A business will not thrive when it competes on price. Ensure that your value proposition is strong. Customers should seek out your company because the value you provide exceeds the cost of doing business with you.

When considering discounts as part of pricing strategy, controllers would be wise to take the following steps:

– Always calculate the projected cost of the discount to the company, prior to implementing.

– Consider a key performance indicator that measures discount usage and report on it.

– Ensure that discounted sales are booked separately from non-discounted sales, so discount usage is clearly quantifiable.

I wrote this post for the Institute of Finance Management “Controller’s Report Member Briefing.”  It was published in the May 2015 edition.

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Who Owns the Customer, i.e. the Company or the Sales Agent?

This question was less important when the job market was in decline.  But as the economy recovers, business owners and senior managers will be faced with this question, more and more.

Depending on who you ask, there are two popular, but contradicting opinions.  If you ask the owner/CEO of the entity – “The customer belongs to the company.  They come to us because of our quality products/services.  The Sales Agent has been properly compensated for procuring the customer on our behalf.”

However, If you ask the Sales Agent – “The customer belongs to me.  They were sourced by my efforts and we have a relationship.  They transact business with the entity because of me.”

In fact, it is not uncommon for a Sales Agent to maintain a separate and personal file of their interaction with the client/customer.  When they leave your entity and seek employment from your competitor, they may say, “I produced $XXX in revenues for my last company, and I can do the same for you.  I maintain a book of business that will more than likely follow me, if I move to your company.”

There is a legal answer to this question, which I was reminded of, when I left an entity after fourteen years, even though not in a Sales capacity.  Not more than 30 days after my departure from one entity to a competitor, I received a letter from the President of my former employer.  Excerpts of the note are as follows -“In view of your departure from XYZ, this letter is to remind you of your obligations to XYZ, and under the law, both during and after your employment with XYZ…it is your obligation to handle XYZ trade secrets, confidential or proprietary information to which you had access during your employment at XYZ, whether in your memory or in writing, or in any other form, with the strictest confidence and in a manner consistent with XYZ’s policy, both during and subsequent to your employment…you may not misappropriate or use for the benefit of anyone other than XYZ any confidential or proprietary information relating to XYZ’s business.”

So what can you do?

As a first step, make sure your compensation agreements and employee agreements include language that clearly states the client belongs to the company and the legal obligation of the employee.  This agreement should be reviewed and approved by a qualified Labor Attorney.

But even after this measure, you may find that the client leaves you and follows the Sales Agent.  This situation may occur not because of what the Sales Agent did, but more because of what you did not do.  The companies that lock in the client and foster brand loyalty have developed a communication link with the client.  If you do not reach out and establish this link to your brand, the only connection the client has to the company is the Sales Agent.  More than likely, if the Sales Agent leaves, so will the client.

Popular approaches companies use to reach out to the client and maintain contact include offering post purchase support or discounts on future purchases or advertising related products/services.

At every possible opportunity your entity should advertise the brand and state the value proposition.   Regardless of the product/service, every business runs the risk that what they offer becomes a commodity in clients’ minds, i.e. belief that every competitor offers identical product/service.  If all products/services are the same, why not just work with the individual Sales Agent, wherever they go?

But your value proposition is your differentiator.  Customers/clients will seek you out and be less sensitive to price if they understand the benefit of working with you vs. other vendors.  How do you differentiate yourself from the pack?

It is a valuable exercise to identify and document what makes you different.  The results of this activity should become the basis of all marketing materials, i.e. your value proposition.

An example of a value proposition that I have used includes the following commitments.  XYZ Entity –

  • Offers superior product or service;
  • Makes an effort to understand your specific needs and has many ways of doing things so you can find the one that meets your needs;
  • Takes responsibility to get things done;
  • Is knowledgeable about the product/service you seek;
  • Tells you what you need to know in the way you understand;
  • Offers a complete array of the product/service you seek, to make your life easier.

The only way to maintain a client is to develop a relationship between the client and the company, through consistent messaging that differentiates yourself from the pack of competitors.

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Competing on Price is Unsustainable

Pricing is a critical task that all businesses manage.  However, there are many different ways to approach the pricing requirement.   In simple terms, price = cost of inputs (or raw materials) + profit margin.  Costs include personnel expenses + non-personnel expenses (IT, accounting, compliance, insurance, Infrastructure…); while margin is dependent on your profit and return on investment requirements.  Companies run into problems when they disregard the math, and do not understand the returns they require.

An incorrect approach could jeopardize your business and have dire consequences.    Several popular strategies include –

The low price option in the market – This strategy requires your material costs to be substantially lower than competitors in the market, on an ongoing basis.  Your business processes must be very efficient.  Inefficiencies cause waste, which have a cost and add no value.  A short-term dislocation in costs will make this approach damaging to your business.  The goal in business should never be to become the low cost provider; but to become the most profitable provider.

Discounting – This strategy is used by companies in an attempt to garner new business from competitors by offering a discounted introductory price.  The goal is to provide an incentive to the client, to make a change and try your product/service.  However, once you provide a discount, it is very hard to remove it.  You will risk your clients moving to another competitor when your discount ends, as they will not appreciate an increase in costs.  Consider the approach of mobile phone companies and cable TV providers.  Each provides a discount for new customers to migrate to their service, if the customer agrees to stay with the provider for a certain amount of time.  But once the Agreement term expires, customer attrition is high.  The only time this approach will work is when the cost of converting to a new provider is high.   Customers will change providers unless the penalty for changing is greater than the cost of staying.

Selling certain products/services at a price below costs – For this strategy, a subset of your products/services is sold at a very low price, while other products/services are premium priced.  The assumption is that your clients will come for the low priced products/services; and additionally purchase other items which have a higher price.  But problems will occur if your projections are far off the actual results.  A situation was reported in the Wall Street Journal where Staples Inc. offered the State of NY (government agency) a promise to offer some items for one penny in exchange for the state’s office supply business.  “Staples delivered penny items with a list-price value of $22.3 million in the contract’s first few months, for which it was paid $9,300…”  (07.23.2014 – WSJ “When Staples Offers Items for a Penny, New York Buys Kleenex by the Pound”)

Relationship pricing – With this strategy, businesses offer an across the board price reduction to win large contracts.  The base price is reduced only for this client.  But, I have seen profitable relationships become unprofitable when this approach is not monitored and modified continually.  This approach will work in the first year once prices are set.  However, if you have agreed upon a very low margin and the period between dates of re-setting prices is long, a relationship can quickly become unprofitable.  For example, if you provide a fixed fee to your clients, you are assuming risk associated with price increases, which you will need to absorb until the fee is adjusted.

“…in general, corporations that hire real-estate companies to operate their facilities have been leaning harder on costs and are moving toward fixed-price contracts; under a fixed-price contract, the real-estate company must deliver its facilities management services within the price of its bid or absorb any cost overruns.”  (04.14.2014 – WSJ “Cushman & Wakefield Scores a Big One: Citigroup Contract”)

The solution to competing on price is to compete based on value, i.e. a value proposition.  In a world where most products/services are offered by multiple providers, clients need a reason to trust you with their business.  “The reason I use XYZ Inc., for my needs is that I am assured that they will provide me with –expert sales support that is knowledgeable and committed to providing a high level of customer service; a full menu of products/services that allow for one-stop shopping; a great brand reputation and presence in the market; and, they have the ability to deliver on promises, i.e. follow-through.

Customers/clients will be less sensitive to price if they understand the benefit of working with you, i.e. understand the value proposition you offer.  Additionally, satisfied customers will generate repeat business and be a source of recommendations for new business.

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Why are so many companies announcing a Turnaround?

So far in 2014, turnarounds have been discussed domestically at Radio Shack, Yahoo, Best Buy, Lowe’s and JCPenney, to name a few.  Internationally, word of turnarounds have been reported at Sony, HTC, Carrefour…   So what has caused this trend?

Simply stated, when business is good, it is very easy to overlook inefficiency and waste.  But the macroeconomic weakness that is affecting the US is resulting in sales declines; while at the same time costs continue to rise. As a result, profits decline.  A business may find itself in need of turnaround assistance based on unforeseen external factors, i.e. a natural disaster, competition, new regulation, new taxation assessed federally or at the local level.  While internally, rapid unplanned growth can be very disruptive, if the focus turned away from profitability.  This growth may have been attributed to organic growth or a merger or acquisition.

The most detailed and transparent turnaround discussed is the turnaround at Hewlett Packard –

Meg Whitman joined HP as the President and Chief Executive Officer in September 2011.  After a year of assessing the HP situation, Ms. Whitman announced a Turnaround.  At a Security Analyst Meeting (10/03/2012), Ms. Whitman attributed the need for a turnaround to several factors, including a change in the IT industry; constant change in executive leadership of the company; decentralized marketing; integration of acquired companies; misalignment of compensation and accountability; lack of metrics and scorecards to manage the business; lack of a cost containment focus; product gaps; and ineffective sales management.  The turnaround which began in 2012 is expected to take hold by 2016.

The solution to counter this situation is a redesign, i.e. a focus on stream-lining processes and cost containment.  Interestingly, the method to redesign a business is the implementation of standard business management “best practices.”  But to fully implement a turnaround, innovation and growth will be required.  Customers’ needs must be placed at the center of your decision making and a focus on business development will be required.

Start by assessing and understanding the amount of change required and develop approaches that will minimize the potential for disruption.

Superior management and flawless execution will be required.  Each member of the management team should understand their responsibility and be committed to work together as a team to redesign to turnaround the underperforming business.  A commitment to financial discipline and a returns based capital allocation strategy is required.

Going forward, managing the business should be accomplished from a data based perspective.  Any decision regarding the use of funds and or the changing of strategies needs to be quantified.  Opinions should be the basis for investigation, but data should be the reason for actions.  An executive needs to be able to read financial and production numbers; as well as understand the significance of combining the data sets to grow.  If you do not understand the drivers of revenues and expenses, or the significance of production data, any decision will be a best guess on how to proceed.

If you understand the current situation with respect to the market, competitors, customers and employees, you will be better able to develop detailed strategies that allow you to minimize weakness, maximize opportunities, and mitigate threats.

Managing cash flow is critical.  The optimal approach is to employ conservative and sound financial and accounting policies; maintain a strong working capital position; and implement accurate and responsible reporting that looks at variances to established plans.

In a turnaround situation, a “best practice” is to document and review policies and procedures; to stream-line and remove inefficiencies; discontinue manual tasks through automation; and, enhance security through segregation of duties.  The outcome will naturally be cost savings.  Circumventing established policies and procedures exposes the firm to errors, unnecessary risks and costs associated with wasted time.

If you are in a business turnaround situation, it is very easy to think the proper decision is to slash the marketing budget to cut expenses.  But, it is during these tough times that marketing and sales are the most important.  As expenses keep increasing, revenues at the very least must keep pace, or profits suffer.  Annually, new customers must be sourced.

The role of your marketing department is to collaborate on strategic campaigns and point of sale initiatives; while fostering a consistent and standard sales approach across all corporate communications and marketing efforts.

The redesign steps are as follows –

  • Communicate the need to redesign to senior managers and the board of directors, to gain concurrence;
  • Select a respected executive with the authority to cross department lines to lead the project.  This individual will be the champion of the project and facilitate the integration of change;
  • Perform a key assessment of the organization to prioritize the trouble spots;
  • Set strategy and establish a cash flow plan for the next 12 months, based on the current situation;
  • Communicate the strategy companywide, as well as the intentions to redesign companywide processes, to gain employee understanding and involvement in the process;
  • Optimize support functions; and,
  • Emphasize business development to grow.

Communicate with the Board of Directors, throughout the process.

The speed at which the process can be completed will be based on the amount of redesign required and the commitment of your management and staff to make required changes.

 

In 2014, Regis published Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.  To read chapter one of the manuscript, click Here.  Recommendations so far have been positive.  To order your copy, click

Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

The Supplier Marketing Program

There are multiple ways companies market themselves.  Each form is associated with a certain level of investment and return, within a certain timeframe.  One of the most effective approaches is “quid pro quo” marketing, i.e. marketing your products or services to your suppliers/vendors.  This approach can work as a business-to-business strategy, or a business-to-consumer strategy, or both.

As a business, you pay for multiple services from your chosen vendors, i.e. software, hardware, banking, accounting, stationary, mail delivery, office cleaning…  Does your business offer any products or services that may be purchased by these vendors or the employees of these vendors?  I worked with a company that implemented this type of Supplier Marketing Program.  The program was highly successful and easily adaptable to any business.

So how do you get started?  The implementation of any Marketing program has two main pieces, both of which are required to be successful, i.e. analytical review and marketing execution.  In situations where your Marketing department does not have the knowledge and experience to perform the financial analysis that justifies the marketing investment, that responsibility should fall on the office of the CFO.

Prior to undertaking this strategy, a Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) should be calculated.  The formula is as follows – (Gross Profit-Marketing Investment)/Marketing Investment.

Analytical Review – Estimating Gross Profit

Identify the Opportunity – Develop a table of all company relationships. Include the supplier name; contract type; purpose; pricing; term; termination requirement.  Customers should be rank ordered, i.e. highest likelihood to use the product or service you offer.  Your focus should be on the best opportunity based on your relationship type; the location of the supplier and the employee count.

Quantify the Potential – Following is the standard opportunity waterfall, which changes based on factors specific to your business –

Category Factor Opportunity 1 Opportunity 2 Opportunity 3
Total Employees (Leads) 100% 100,000 250,000 500,000
Employees that are Consumers of Product/Service 50% 50,000 125,000 250,000
Current Shoppers 25% 12,500 31,250 62,500
Capture Rate 5% 625 1,563 3,125
  • Total Employees (Leads) – total number of the employees, of your suppliers, as a group.
  • Employee Consumers – employees that would use the product or service you offer.
  • Current Shoppers – consumers that are in the market today for your product or service.
  • Capture Rate – consumers that are willing to purchase from you today.

An additional category that can be added is frequency of purchase based on your business model, i.e. tax services are needed annually, mobile phone every two years, home purchase every seven years.

Marketing Execution – Estimating Marketing Investment

The marketing process has three distinct steps –

Relationship Development – Contact the gatekeeper of the Supplier account.  Present product or service benefits.  Focus on value to the company and employee retention.

Endorsement – Develop marketing plan in conjunction with the gatekeeper.  Determine how you will reach out to the employee base and the way you will reach them.  Leave behind the appropriate marketing materials.

Account Management – Execute the marketing plan.  Activities may include desk drops, attending sales meetings/events, lunch-in-learns, etc.  Maintain ongoing contact with the employee base.  Add value by offering personal touch services.  Market directly to consumers whenever possible.

At this stage you have all of the factors needed to create a ROMI.  Use this information going forward and review the actual results to plan results, to understand if this program is a success and should be continued.

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Business

There are many reasons why an organization may require business turnaround assistance.  Rarely is it due to a single factor.  A business may find itself in need of assistance based on unforeseen external factors, i.e. a natural disaster, competition, new regulation, new taxation assessed federally or at the local level.

Internal reasons for turnaround assistance may be attributed to a period of high growth.  Rapid unplanned growth can be very disruptive, if the focus turns away from profitability.  It is not uncommon for any or a combination of the following situations to occur – customer service declines, as well as customer satisfaction; company reacts to the sudden increase in business and creates processes that are inefficient; contracts are signed quickly, increasing the potential for error; employee overhead rises through increased overtime or additional headcount; and cash outlays jump to manage the increased business.

Years later you stop and look at the business and discover things are inefficient and costly.  An Accounting colleague once advised that often times he is asked to look at an established business to help them correct a low profitability issue.   He reflected on the fact that, “Most of the time when a business comes to me for help, it is already too late.”  You need to understand when a problem exists.

The clearest sign that turnaround assistance is required is after a steady erosion of your business economics.  Profitability continues to decline because –

  • Revenue increases year-over-year are anemic due to continual price pressure in a mature industry;

  • Marketing efforts are not organized and occur sporadically, i.e. the volume of new business, only serves to replace terminating relationships;

  • Employment and administrative expenses increase; and,

  • Competition is fierce.

But even after pointing out the data that shows a sustained economic decline, do not be surprised to hear management colleagues provide the following excuses –

  • The company’s economic issues are attributed to only one department or product.  Just fix that area;

  • There are quick fixes that can solve all our problems;

  • A problem does not exist.  We are just experiencing a rough patch that will self-correct;

  • Recent short-term revenue increases signify that a problem no longer exists; and,

  • We can solve the issues through expense reductions only.

The solution to counter an underperforming small or medium-sized business is a redesign.  Interestingly, the method to redesign a business is the implementation of standard business management “best practices.”

Following are six areas, that when optimized will increase the probability of success for your organization –

Management

Understand the economic drivers of your business; and study the production results of your efforts.  Make a commitment to financial discipline and prudent growth.

It is important that the entire management team of the organization is in agreement that a business redesign is necessary.  I have seen situations where one manager recognizes an issue, while another does not.  To be successful, you will need complete support from all managers.

There will be times when hard decisions will need to be made.  Complete commitment to the process is required.  If during the course of the redesign, things improve for a short period; do not stop implementing the corrective measures.  Trust your analysis.  Improved returns may not mean the problems are solved.

Diagnose the Depth of the Issues

The first step is to critically look at your establishment to understand the state of your business management practices.  As a result of this review you will be able to develop a list of areas that need adjustment.  Some improvements may require only a slight modification to your current processes; while other improvements may represent a large change to your approach.  Once the issues are identified, you will need to prioritize the adjustments to your business model.

Develop an Appropriate Strategy

Understand the market and survey internally and externally, i.e. competitors, customers and employees.  Develop detailed strategies that allow you to minimize weakness, maximize opportunities, and mitigate threats.  Communicate the strategies throughout the organization.

There are many strategies that a company could adopt.  However, if you are in a turnaround situation, your business energies and the corresponding strategies should be focused on efficiency and growth – become the low cost provider; differentiate your product or service in the market; be the value provider; and, adopt a customer centric approach.

Plan and Actively Manage Cash Flow

Cash Flow can be considered the barometer of the financial health of any organization.  An effective cash flow policy includes ongoing financial management.  In a perfect world, your monthly revenues cover your monthly expenses and leave a surplus, i.e. a profit that increases cash reserves.  But the perfect world is a theoretical place.

Success requires planning and a constant review of how your actual results compare to your plans.  Through this approach, you will be better able to make small adjustments to help you reach your financial goals.

Communicate the overall plan company-wide.  Involve employees and managers in the company redesign.  Set a plan and establish metrics.  Monthly distribute a one page document to the employees in the organization that clearly tells how the organization is doing compared to the metrics established during the planning process, i.e. a Scorecard.

A redesign to turnaround a business cannot be completed behind the scenes.  Progress sharing with your employees is very important.

Optimize Support Functions

Most processes work best when there is consistency.  Variations in activities and manual processes create a higher probability of error and expose the organization to unnecessary risks and time wasting.

Out of the ordinary tasks should be the exceptions.  Not the rule.

The task of documenting policies and procedures makes you critically look at processes and identify how things may be accomplished more efficiently.  A natural outcome in the short-run will be a reduction in costs.

Optimize Business Development

Marketing is a service that supports the sales efforts of the organization, by providing tools to foster lead generation, customer retention and relationship development/management.  This area should ensure the business is efficient, effective, and provides top tier product/service delivery capabilities. The focus should be to maximize profitability and increase customer satisfaction while maintaining appropriate risk controls.

Regardless if your organization has an extensive marketing group or not, there are a few staples critical to a successful approach to generating new business: create clear and concise brand positioning; produce targeted promotional materials which may include a selection of brochures, ads, flyers, and e-newsletters; build an on-line presence that may include a social media component; measure and track business results; and, manage the organization’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Implementing adjustments to these six areas may represent a change in the way you have been conducting business to date.  New ideas cause disruption.  Closely monitor process change results and adjust, as required.  It is the commitment of your managers and dedication of your employees that will be required to ensure flawless execution and success.

You will benefit from an immediate savings through cost containment, once business operations are optimized.  But a complete turnaround requires successful marketing and sales.  A complete turnaround requires both revenue enhancements, as well as cost containment.

I have found that small or medium-sized businesses may incorporate some of the concepts, but rarely all of the concepts.  However each large Fortune 100 company I worked with incorporated every one of the concepts.  These are proven methods of success.

The blog you just reviewed is chapter one of a book that I published.  This book is a little different as it is experience based vs. academic based, i.e. what has worked in my career.  The book discusses each solution in the context of how it was observed in business.  I wanted a tool that a business owner could pick-up and use with practical recommendations, that can be applied across industries.

If you wish to read more, the complete book is available here –

Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

 

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Is it time to Plan for Growth?

A sample of recent survey results published, showed that finance professionals will be looking in the near future, to stimulate company growth, after years of focusing on cost containment, reducing debt and risk management.

– “79 percent said they would, in part, reinvest in their businesses and/or fund acquisitions using their cash holdings.”  (Accenture 2013 CFO Survey)

– “80 percent of CFOs plan to spend liquid cash on hand on investment in operations and growth initiatives, further emphasizing the importance of operations to many companies’ overall business strategies, as well as the CFO’s involvement in the execution of those plans.”  (Korn/Ferry 2013 CFO Pulse Survey)

-“ CFOs say their top uses of cash will be investments in organic and inorganic growth – well ahead of alternatives like funding operational improvement efforts and holding cash as a risk hedge.”  (Deloitte 2Q13 CFO Signals ™ What North America’s top finance executives are thinking – and doing)

Statistics support the notion that since the “Great Recession,” capital expenditures have not yet recovered.  According to the US Census Bureau’s Annual Capital Expenditures Survey, from 2008 to 2009, capital expenditures declined 20.63%.  For the following two years, increases have been minimal, 1.38% from 2009 to 2010 and 10.84% from 2010 to 2011.  While this survey is not all inclusive, it serves as a good proxy of activity for all companies and may point to pent up demand by businesses to invest in profit generation activities.

From a purely finance perspective, when investing capital to achieve growth, only commit capital to those projects that exceed the firm’s cost of capital.  But the piece that is very difficult to quantify is related to the disruption generated that accompanies a change to the organization.

Broadly, growth comes from increasing the current products and services offered.  The difference comes in to play in how that goal is achieved and executed –

-Expansion of current capacity (least disruptive), to drive down the cost of production and increase sales capacity.  In this situation, current policies and procedures and risk mitigation measures, need not change.  Profit growth is essentially related to driving down expenses through productivity increases.  The effects of changes in this area may be realized within twelve months.

-Expansion of a related product or service (minimally disruptive), that compliments your current offering.  This approach may require the addition of headcount that are experts in the new product or service.  Current policies and procedures and risk mitigation measures, may need to be enhanced.  This approach may lead to incremental profitability increases.  The effects of changes in this area may be realized within twenty-four to thirty-six months.

-Merger/Acquisition (most disruptive) associated with the integration of the current organization with the acquired organization.  This approach may lead to a sharp increase in profits, if done correctly.  In addition to increasing capacity, this approach will serve to remove/eliminate a competitor.  The effects of changes in this area may be realized within sixty months.

Prior to the implementation, perform a rigorous review and analysis – set a plan, manage the investment approach, validate assumptions, and modify if necessary.  Timing required and profitability gained will be directly related to the ability to Execute on the established plan to achieve the projected financial results.

Every business should constantly consider options to grow or risk losing market share to a competitor that has invested in growth.

How will your organization grow in the next 24 months?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Mid-Year Look-Back and a Look-Forward

July is a perfect month to look back at the full-year plan established in January and re-forecast the balance of the year.  While a “best practice” for any business is to monitor success monthly, at reaching targets established at the beginning of the year (Communicating and Monitoring Success at Reaching Strategic Goals http://cfotips.com/?p=26); there is additional value in reviewing your full-year plan to understand if you are reaching your goals?

Look Back

Items for your consideration with references to topic specific CFOTips blog posts are as follows —

Review company success at generating revenue through marketing and sales

– Marketing Economics http://cfotips.com/?p=226.

-Activity Based Costing and Sales Management http://cfotips.com/?p=57.

-Bridging the gap between Sales and Finance http://cfotips.com/?p=133.

Review your company’s financial health

– For a Business – Cash Flow is King http://cfotips.com/?p=139.

– Bad Debt Strategies http://cfotips.com/?p=69.

Review if your company is operating efficiently and as expected

– Process Improvement to Eliminate/Contain Non-Value Added Costs in the Services Industry http://cfotips.com/?p=42.

-Internal Audits – “Inspect what you Expect”  http://cfotips.com/?p=325.

Review customer accounts

-Relationship Development after the Sale http://cfotips.com/?p=353.

-The Voice of the Customer http://cfotips.com/?p=154.

Review your position in the market

– How You Compare, i.e. Competitive Analysis Tactics http://cfotips.com/?p=328.

Look Forward

If after this review you are confident that you understand the reason for any variance, plan for the balance of the year –

-Re-forecast your projections.

-Evaluate if strategies identified at the end of last year make sense for the balance of this year.

-Ensure optimal tax planning – state and federal.

Finish the year strong!

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

How You Compare, i.e. Competitive Analysis Tactics

Successful companies conduct competitive analysis on an ongoing basis.  It is important to review how you compare to like companies with respect to the product or service you offer – Market Share, SWOT, Customer Experience, and Pricing.  In theory, consumers make informed and rational decisions based on their perception of what you offer.  Following are some ways to understand their buying decisions –

MARKET SHARE ANALYSIS (Management Focus) –It is very important to understand your success at attracting customers, compared to the entire population of opportunity, i.e. your share of the market.  Depending on your business, you may find that data providers already exist that generate statistics on the size of your industry.  If this information is not available by a third party resource, attempt to capture information from your local industry group.  Study frequency – quarterly.

SWOT ANALYSIS (Operational Focus) – The result of this analysis is a four quadrant matrix which shows your company’s Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats compared to your competitors.  A common mistake I have seen is when a new company enters a market with a product, that they believe is superior.  Their product goes beyond what is offered in the market today, but does not offer all the features provided by current competitors.  This approach is dangerous.  You run the risk of being considered a product in a different category, by potential customers.  Successful companies offer customers everything that is offered by its competitors today and more!  The SWOT analysis should show what you may be missing.  Study frequency – annually.

MYSTERY SHOPPING (Marketing Focus) –This type of activity could be used for multiple reasons, i.e. understanding sales approach, product features, pricing, Marketing positioning.  But the most valuable information learned with this technique – “What is the customer experience?”  In addition to calling competitors, be sure to also call your own service center/office.  What deficiencies can be addressed by increased training?  Study frequency – monthly.

PRICING SURVEY (Finance Focus) –If this information is not easily obtained through purchasing data from a third party vendor or industry group, include this area in your Mystery Shopping.  Your goal should never be, to be the low cost provider.  The middle price point is a great place.  Study frequency – monthly.

Be confident in the information collected.  It is important to make sure that the approaches used are the same every time, i.e. script for performing Mystery Shopping.  Trend the data.  One data point should not cause you to rethink your business model.

Once you have collected information for a reasonable period — Set Strategy!

What is your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Relationship Development after the Sale

The amount of time and energy, not to mention money that is required to develop a relationship can be quite large, depending on what you are selling.  All too often do Sales professionals make a sale and move on to the next potential customer, rather than further cultivating the relationship.  The very best Sales professionals recognize – a customer today can be a great source of referrals; maintaining a customer is less expensive than cultivating a new customer; if they purchased today they are likely to purchase again in the future; and a current customer offers the best opportunity to cross-sell other products and services.

In my experience, I have heard multiple excuses for not contacting a current customer.  Quick Test – If you ask your Sales Force about their most recent contact with their customers and they respond with any of these statements, you have a problem – My product is intuitive, this customer understands. They have my phone number if there is an issue.  I haven’t had a reason to call.

Following is an approach that has been very successful in the past, for a Service provider –   

Pick up the phone.  Do not send an e-mail.  It is very easy to ignore e-mail.

Prior to any call review the customer’s situation.

-Review dates of last service – What occurred?

-Review billing history – payment status.

-Check files to see if all documentation is up to date.

-Ask staff of any recent conversations with this client.

Call the Customer

Hi. My Name is ____________________ from _________________________.

General Customer Satisfaction

I see from our records that we provided service to you on ______________________ at the ___________________ location. Please tell me about this experience.

Were you satisfied? Why or Why not? What could we have done to improve your satisfaction?

We send out a customer satisfaction survey periodically. Your feedback is very important to us. I want to confirm that this survey should be going to the _______________________@ ______________________.

Billing

I see from our records that your current outstanding balance is $_______________.

Either thank the customer for timely payments or ask If there any problem with the billing?

Files

I see from our records that we are missing an updated and accurate Client Information sheet. If you do not have one, please give me your e-mail address and I will send it to you now. But before we hang-up, there are a couple of pieces of information I would like to get from you right now.

Our records show that __________________ is the General Manager, please confirm that this information is still accurate. Our records also show that the phone and e-mail address are _____________________________.  Ask this same question for the Controller and Accounts Payable Manager.

I know that we send all invoices to ______________________ at ________________________ e-mail address. Does this process work for you?

After Call

-Document the conversation.

-If a problem was discovered, refer the issue to the appropriate Manager for resolution.  Never leave it to the customer to call.  Once the issue is resolved, call the customer and discuss the outcome.

By touching these three areas (satisfaction, billing, records) you will discover information about your customer you did not know; as well as identify future issues prior to them becoming a large distraction.

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

A smart entrepreneur should maximize this opportunity

Money is being devoted to the stimulation of small business.  If you ever considered opening a new business or expanding your current business, the time is right.  Grants, loans and tax incentives are available from the public sector, to stimulate the private sector, i.e. specifically small businesses.

How important are small businesses to the US economy?

Small businesses employ about half of U.S. workers. Of 120.6 million nonfarm private sector workers in 2007, small firms employed 59.9 million and large firms employed 60.7 million.  (Source:U.S.Dept. of Commerce, Census Bureau: Statistics of U.S. Businesses, Current Population Survey and Business Dynamics Statistics; and the Edward Lowe Foundation)

Small firms accounted for 65 percent (or 9.8 million) of the 15 million net new jobs created between 1993 and 2009.  (Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Business Employment Dynamics; Advocacy-funded research by Zoltan Acs, William Parsons and Spencer Tracy, 2008)

In many cases, the federal government is providing money to states for their distribution.  May 24, 2012 – “The U.S. Department of Labor today announced the availability of $35 million in funds to develop, enhance and promote Self-Employment Assistance programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Programs exist in various shapes and sizes, depending on the state, but are consistent in the end goal of increasing employment and directing investment to certain geographies.

For example, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (http://www.njeda.com) offers –

To cover operating expenses – Loans up to $750,000; and guarantees up to $1.5 mill for a total exposure of $2.25 mill.

To purchase or renovate a building, machinery or equipment to accommodate business growth and expansion – Loans up to $1.25 mill; loan guarantees up to $1.5 mill for a total exposure of $2.75 mill.

To grow a business located in an urban municipality – Loans of up to $2 mill for fixed assets to businesses in one of New Jersey’s urban areas.  Loans of up to $3 mill with favorable rates for fixed assets to businesses in one of New Jersey’s nine designated urban areas (Atlantic City, Camden, East Orange, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, New Brunswick, Paterson, Trenton).

To grow business by adding employees – Incentive grants to businesses creating at least 25 new jobs in New Jersey (10 jobs if in the technology or biotechnology sectors).

While the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (www.decd.org) offers –

Revolving Loan Fund – Loans range from a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $100,000 to assist with capital and operational needs.

Job Creation Incentive Program – Loans range from a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $250,000 to spur growth.  Amount may be forgiven if job growth achieved.

Creation Matching Grant Program – Grants are available at a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $100,000 to provide a dollar-for-dollar matching grant for specific job creation, capital investment and working capital goals.

What type of programs are offered in your state?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Marketing Economics

The marketing department is a service that supports the Sales efforts of the organization, by providing tools to foster lead generation and customer retention. Regardless of the geographic reach, a centralized marketing department ensures consistent messaging across the organization. Additional activities should focus on identifying low cost, highly targeted approaches to messaging.

 
But this department should not be a financial drag. Most Marketing Managers create a Marketing Plan/Budget which includes a list of activities and the associated costs. This document is submitted to Executive Staff and approved. However, the lack of program justification makes it very easy to slash the Marketing budget during tough times. But interestingly, it is during these tough times that Marketing is critical.

An alternate approach is to project ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) for every proposed activity. ROMI is simply a derivative of Return on Investment (ROI). The formula is as follows – (Gross Profit-Marketing Investment)/Marketing Investment. An example is as follows –

$600,000 Revenue from Marketing Program
$120,000 Gross Margin @ 20%
$100,000 Marketing Investment
20.00% ROMI

Programs should only be considered if they generate a positive ROMI or exceed a pre-established level. In this situation, a 20% ROMI would justify proceeding with the Marketing Investment. Now imagine all of your programs with an associated projected ROMI. Clearly the priority would include executing programs with the highest ROMI first.

Now let’s look at activities where a ROMI measure could be calculated —
• Lead Marketing – Programs that support Personal Sales efforts. For this area, a selection of brochures and materials that discuss the services you offer should be available for sales force use.

• Lead Source Management – Any sales organization should have the capability to track lead contacts centrally; as well as current customers. This database becomes the main source listing of Customers and is a focus of Retention efforts.

• Customer Retention – Programs to strengthen new and past relationships, i.e. thereby minimizing missed opportunities. ROMI should be calculated for all activities to justify their use. Sample activities include –

1. Monthly e-mail announcements with links to marketing flyers;
2. Direct Mail, i.e. targeted campaigns to leads retained in your Contact Management system; and,
3. Website / Social Media activities – please note an earlier blog post – “Is Your Company Maximizing Social Media”

Critical to the roll-out of any program, is the ability to collect pertinent data and accurately track results, to refine the process or adjust projection variables.

What is your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Corporate Sustainability – Risk or Opportunity?

Simply stated, Sustainability relates to our impact on the environment, i.e. social responsibility.  Sustainability issues are on the minds of consumers; and continue to be a focus of the government and community groups.  How your company handles these issues could be a source of positive press or reputational risk.

At the end of 2011, Newsweek published its 2011 Green Rankings.  This piece identified, “America’s 15 Greenest Companies” and “America’s 20 Least Green Companies.”  Results can be viewed here – http://goo.gl/We91A.  Additionally, for a third consecutive year sustainability issues are expected to be a topic discussed at 2012 annual meetings (“Leading corporate sustainability issues in the 2012 proxy season” Ernst & Young).

Executive Order 13514, signed by President Obama in October 2009, could be considered a primary catalyst for the evolving Sustainability movement.  Based on this order, federal agencies are required to establish a strategy towards sustainability and make the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions a priority for federal agencies.  This requirement also extends to new contracts established, for goods and services purchased by these agencies.  If you service government agencies today, in your normal course of business, you have probably already felt the impact of this Order.

Are you prepared?  If not, following is an approach to get you started —

Immediate Approach

  • Identify an executive to be responsible for the Sustainability movement within your company;
  • Research your local trade group to understand their position.  If none exists, research the activities of your closest competitors in the area of Sustainability.
  • Plan to match the standard set.  Activities advocated by a trade group can become the minimum acceptable level, within the industry.  If a trade group does not exist, consider matching the actions of your most similar competitor, if it makes sense.  But doing nothing creates risk.

Long-Term Approach

  • Perform a Sustainability assessment to understand the applicability of Sustainability on your business;
  • Define the problem and develop a plan which may include re-engineering current products and processes;
  • Educate managers and employees on the company’s approach to sustainability;
  • Track issues within the community, i.e. listening to the concerns of employees, shareholders and community groups;
  • Establish a formal reporting process that provides a status of implementing plans and issues presented; and,
  • Discuss results at senior levels.

The growth in adoption by more and more companies makes the issue of Sustainability an important consideration for your company’s overall strategy and management.

What is your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

The Voice of the Customer

By definition, entrepreneurs go into business to provide a product or service desired by the market, based on their view.   It is very important to understand your customers’ buying habits and changing desires.  Without this information there is a possibility that the products and services you develop do not perfectly align with the market’s needs.

There are multiple types of survey formats, depending on the survey goals.  At a minimum, every business should be involved in conducting:

  • Transaction Survey – survey the customer’s experience regarding a recent service provided or purchased.  Common questions include overall satisfaction, willingness to recommend, satisfaction with eight to ten aspects of the sale process, ideas to improve the product or service.
  • Contact Survey – survey the customer’s experience when they called your Customer Service department recently.  Common questions include wait time, were your question(s) resolved, satisfaction with eight to ten aspects of the customer service process, ideas to improve the service.

At the end of both surveys, respondents should be given the opportunity to provide their personal information and request a call back.  This requires results to be reviewed when received, and personal calls made to the respondents in a timely manner, if that is what was requested.

The data collected should be analyzed and monitored, to identify product or service change recommendations.  The information should also be used to set satisfaction levels today, allowing you to gauge improvements or to quickly identify problems, over time.   Survey results and comments can be added to your marketing message or posted on your web site.

Businesses that are unsuccessful at this strategy run the risk of planning for more revenue than occur; and wasting valuable cash resources on developing and maintaining products or services not wanted by customers.

What is your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Bridging the gap between Sales and Finance

The sales and finance relationship is tricky, but necessary.  The Sales Team interacts with current and potential customers.  The Finance department is responsible for ensuring the company’s cash flow can support Operation’s efforts to meet these customers’ needs.  Following is an approach to make the partnership easier –

Establish Process with Controls

Sales activity should be flowed out to identify bottlenecks and risks.  If need be, policies should be established.  For example, it is difficult to ensure that decentralized national sales forces obtain the proper approval signatures from both the client and senior management.   A process should be established with timelines to make sure all approved documentation is collected and retained in one central location.  If during the course of the relationship, legal proceedings are necessary to ensure the collection of outstanding debts, these executed contracts will be required.

Production Planning

At the beginning of the year or at the time a new Sales Manager is hired, a full twelve-month sales plan should be established and approved by the Sales Executive.  The plan should include discounts offered and expected Marketing dollars utilized.  Expect that increased discounts and marketing dollars will be needed in highly competitive markets with a strong competitor(s).

Model Development

The most successful sales team I worked with was provided a simple financial model in excel, for their use.   Areas requiring variable inputs specific to the relationship were yellow shaded.  With this tool, sales personnel could easily input the variables missing and see the value of the relationship, at the point of sale.  Slowly but surely the sales team began to understand the drivers of revenues and expenses, when establishing a relationship.

Escalation Process

There will be situations when the model does not show the relationship is as profitable as required, by Finance department standards.  In this case, if the sales manager believes that the relationship should be established for strategic reasons, they need to have the ability to escalate the approval.  There are times when entering a relationship which is not as profitable initially, makes sense after some seasoning.  Other reasons may include a new product/program introduction or establishing a referral relationship.

Activity Tracking

Sales activities should be tracked via a sales manager specific scorecard which shows each individual and each of the contracts they manage.  Examples of items to be included  – revenues less discounts used, less marketing dollars used, customer service hours provided, commissions paid…  When this information is presented in one document, it is possible to see the profitability of every sales manager and the profitability of each relationship.

Scheduled Meetings to Discuss Results

Tracking reports should be discussed at monthly Sales meetings that include the Sales Executive and the responsible Finance Executive.  As the Sales Manager is intimately involved with the relationship, details not obvious by “the numbers” can be learned, which may impact collections and the future of the business.

The process established above provides a controlled, risk free way to achieve sales.  As outlined, finance will not be surprised by the results of the sales team.  Sales Managers will  have the independence to achieve company and personal goals.

What is your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Time for a resurgence of Market Research

Since the start of the December 2007 recession, as declared by the National Bureau of Economic Research, companies have had to reduce expenses, due to falling revenues.  Strategies included – reduce staff, consolidate locations, scrap projects…

A strategy that worked for me in the past was a review of contracts outstanding to understand if the items promised in the agreements were being fulfilled.  As a result of this review, 42 non-active strategic relationships were terminated for a monthly savings of $63,000; and a contract was terminated with a data vendor that was not providing what was promised, for a one time savings of $37,000.

Cost cutting is getting more difficult.  The risk of cutting costs at the expense of quality becomes greater.  As such, I recommend that prior to any cost cutting action, the opinions/views of your customers are considered.  Studies should be conducted to understand –

  • Satisfaction – overall, product, customer service
  • Brand perception
  • Pricing strategies
  • Timeliness of delivery
  • Policies for returns and exchanges
  • New products and services

Research methods that could be utilized include –

  • Post Purchase surveys are great ways to quickly gain immediate customer feedback, i.e. within 30 days of sale/service.
  • Contact surveys are great ways to quickly gain immediate customer feedback, i.e. within 30 days of the last contact to your customer service or help desk.  The reason for the contact is also great information.
  • Focus groups are an excellent way to collect customer information on current products/services provided, as well as future concepts for consideration.

There are many different study types.  But based on the aforementioned studies you should understand what your customers value vs., what they do not consider important; understand if the customer is willing to recommend; and request Testimonials that you can use to capture new customers.

So what is the process –

  • Write the questions
  • Pilot the questionnaire to ensure that the results you are getting, answer your needs
  • Distribute to the full population
  • Tabulate the results and analyze
  • Use the data for process improvement and product development

What is your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Financial Modeling is an Art, not a Science

Financial Modeling of proforma returns is a task that should be performed by every business, annually.  It is the act of quantifying the anticipated revenues and expenses, associated with implementing your business strategy.  While the expected outcome of a Balance Sheet or Statement of Cash Flow can be completed, the statement modeled will most likely be the Income Statement.

The primary driver of the success of this process is related to the quality of the assumptions used, i.e. data based estimate vs. a gut guestimate.   The ease of choosing assumptions is directly related to the age of your company –

  • Established businesses within a mature industry – The assumptions used will be mainly based on the history of your company, but slightly modified to take into account your strategy.  The model output would be an annual budget.
  •  New businesses within an established industry – The assumptions used will be based on the activities of competitors, whose business model closely match yours, but slightly modified to take into account your strategy.  The model output should be a three to five year plan.
  • New business for a new or young industry – Assumptions chosen should be conservative assumptions provided by senior managers of your company, i.e. the experts.  The model output should be a three to five year plan.

The first model produced is your expected scenario.  Now produce two more models, i.e. run the model for revenues 25% greater than previously expected and 50% lower than expected.  This process is valuable to understand what you will do if actual results differ from your first model projection.  If your company is 25% more profitable than expected, what will you do with the enhanced revenue?  If your company is 50% less profitable than expected, will you survive the next 12 months of Operations?

Once the model(s) are completed, the iterative analysis process should begin.  Understand the drivers of revenues and expenses.  What adjustments can be made to cost inputs and revenue strategies that could create different results?  What Risk components (opportunity, threats) alter this cost vs. revenue relationship.   Adjust the model accordingly and re-analyze.

The process discussed can be completed by any experienced modeler using a spreadsheet program, to predict the economic outcome of any business, new product or service.  A more in-depth analysis can be performed (Monte Carlo Methods/Simulations) using a statistical package or spreadsheet “add-in” that can model the probability of different events occurring, based on changing variables.

The last and final step – document the model.  Document the assumptions you employed so monthly you can compare actual results to plan results.  This documentation will help you understand the cause if a variance exists.

What is your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Activity Based Costing and Sales Management

Activity Based Costing (ABC) is a process by which you attempt to identify the discrete costs associated with a product, service or process.  Activity Based Management (ABM) is the process of using ABC derived information.  The primary uses for ABC include new product/process development and process improvement.

  •  New Product Development – Prior to implementing any new product or process you want to understand the costs of development and the expected returns.  Anyone that has experienced a major system conversion, understands that the true cost of the conversion is more than just the monthly licensing fee.  Some of the hidden costs include contract negotiations, compliance reviews, project staffing, testing…
  •  Process Improvement –In the ongoing quest to offer quality services at the lowest cost and remove non-value added expenses, ABC is a valuable tool.  Activities include – process mapping and validation, apportioning costs by activity, identifying areas of improvement to maximize revenues and minimize expenses.  This process is extensive and complicated.

The ABC process makes tremendous sense for these aforementioned uses.  However, the greatest drawback of ABC is that it cannot easily be utilized month-to-month, due to the extensive analysis required to allocate expenses.

In every p&l some items are obviously associated to a product or service sold, but others are not.  Items that are not as clear include HR, IT, Legal, Payroll.  For smaller companies these administrative services show up on the p&l and are tracked by themselves, as they are considered the cost of doing business.  But for larger companies, with multiple channels, these costs are a source of frustration, as they show up as a management fee or corporate allocation.  Lumping together and allocating is much easier to administer than an accurate monthly allocation of expenses.

So what can you do monthly?  ABC should be used monthly when reviewing Sales activities.  For each Sales person, the company should track the individual expenses associated with obtaining the sales generated, i.e. revenues less discounts, marketing dollars utilized, commissions paid.  Through this process you will better understand which sales managers are bringing you the most value vs. the sales managers that are not as profitable.  Once identified, these less profitable sales managers can be coached with the intention of bringing their profitability to parity with the rest of the sales force.

What has been your experience?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

Is Your Company maximizing Social Media?

Social media is a communications outlet that cannot be overlooked.  While current clients can be reached today via print, TV and through more traditional methods; future clients, individuals that were born after 2000, can be best reached via a social media platform.

If you are not engaged in the Social Media, following are some tips on how to get started —

Identify your strategy.  A strategy I have used before is as follows – “Build a relationship between your company and your consumers.   Reinforce your brand and your positioning.  Engage consumers or potential consumers to gain feedback on your products or services, i.e., positive testimonials, and willingness to recommend statements.”

Set-up a company page on a couple of social networks that reach your target customer.  Invite current/past users and potential customers to join your community.  Interact with the community on-line through product development suggestions, beta testing, targeted marketing campaigns.  Be true to your brand.  If your clients expect traditional content, now is not the time to become satirical.

Actively Market.  Respond to clients/customers.  It is terrible when a client makes an effort and comments, and their efforts do not receive any feedback.  If there is no response, they will never comment again, and may develop a negative impression of you.

Continue to post fresh material.  Successful usage of social media requires an effort.  It is not an afterthought.

Differentiate messaging across social media sites.  For example, you may wish to discuss seasonal promotions, special events or discounts on Twitter; but product information on Facebook.

However, in my experience, there are two primary reasons why some companies may wish to shy away from this communication medium –

Negative Comments – If you provide individuals an opportunity to interact with your company via social media, be prepared to read bad comments; as well as good comments.  Keep in mind that messaging on the internet is “forever” at the current time.  These negative comments will never go away.  But, in my opinion, any information that helps you understand what your clients are thinking adds value.  Just be prepared.

Legal Significance – Often times, social media is discussed as just a different type of advertising, similar to print and TV spots.  There does seem to be one very big difference.  Any company communication, prior to the use of print or TV, is vetted through legal departments to ensure there are no statements that could be considered by reasonable people as misleading.  It may not make much sense economically to constantly run 170+ words by your legal department.

But regardless of the two caveats discussed, I believe the benefits of engaging in social media outweigh the risks.  Just be thoughtful and true to your brand and strategy.

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Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.

The Value Embedded in Tele-Commuting

As communication technology advances and tools become more pervasive, the traditional office blurs, i.e. geography and time zone.  Organizations are more-and-more giving up traditional brick and mortar, in exchange for the online office.  High speed internet is now available in many places.  Business can be conducted at home or at the local coffee establishment.  The term telecommuting includes all remote working and work from home arrangements.

The trend is growing —

“In a recent Accountemps survey, one-third (33 percent) of chief financial officers (CFOs) interviewed said remote work arrangements, such as telecommuting and working from satellite offices, have increased at their companies in the last three years.” (PR Newswire 09.14.2011)

“TechCast, a virtual think tank based at George Washington University, forecasts that 30% of the employees in industrialized nations will telework  2–3 days a week by the year 2019. What’s more, they estimate the market for related products and services at $400 billion a year.”  (TeleworkResearchNetwork.com / Kate Lister / May 2010)

Benefits to these arrangements include –

  • Benefits to Employer – “Half-time home-based work among those with compatible jobs could save employers over $10,000 per employee per year—the result of increased productivity, reduced facility costs, lowered absenteeism, and reduced turnover. The cumulative benefit to U.S. companies would exceed $400 billion a year.”  (TeleworkResearchNetwork.com / Kate Lister / May 2010)
  • Benefits to Employee – “Overall, researchers have found that virtual workers are slightly more satisfied than their in-office counterparts. In general, virtual work leads to higher satisfaction, lower absenteeism and higher retention. Additionally, because the majority of virtual assignments result from the employees’ expressed desire, organizations usually observe little to no decrease in production or performance. On the contrary, productivity often increases (Erskine, 2009; Mulki, Bardhi, Lassk & Nanavaty-Dahl, 2009).”  (Cornell University study Remote Work: An Examination of Current Trends and Emerging Issues Spring 2011)
  • Benefits to Society – Online Office arrangements provide the opportunity for those with disabilities to more efficiently participate in and/or transition into the workforce, i.e. an online arrangement may allow individuals on maternity leave to transition back to the work force more easily.

Benefits to date have been experienced by employers and employees, using a combination of various technology tools.  Top 10 technologies that companies provide to support remote workers include – Laptop 62%, Virtual Private Network (VPN) 40%, Instant Messaging 29%, Outlook Web App (OWA) 28%, On-line Meeting 27%, SmartPhone Mobile Computing 25%, Desktop 21%, Remote Desktop 18%, Collaboration/On-line Workspace 17%, Video Conference 17%. (Microsoft 2010 US Remote Working Research Summary National Survey Findings).

However, as you would expect with changes in business methods, come unforeseen issues, i.e. innovation creates disruption –

  • Issue 1 – Employee Exclusion – “Employees in virtual environments may develop perceptions of exclusion or isolation due to their need to rely on technology to communicate with others; common forms of communication technology (e.g., email) do not provide a high level of information richness and can inhibit social exchange (Marshall, Michaels, & Mulki, 2007).” (Cornell University study Remote Work: An Examination of Current Trends and Emerging Issues Spring 2011)
  • Issue 2 – Remote Responsiveness – “Some remote employees struggle when attempting to coordinate their work with their managers and other employees or when attempting to receive timely feedback.”  (Cornell University study Remote Work: An Examination of Current Trends and Emerging Issues Spring 2011)

More and more companies are figuring out the proper way to reap these benefits, while addressing the issues.

Where is your company in this process?

Author: Regis Quirin
Visit Regis's Website - Email Regis
Regis Quirin is a financial executive with 23 years of corporate experience, i.e. New York Stock Exchange, JP Morgan Chase, and GMAC ResCap; and 15 years working with small and medium-sized entities, i.e. joint ventures, start-up entities, established businesses. In 2014, Regis published "Redesign to Turnaround Underperforming Small and Medium-Sized Businesses" available via Amazon.