When Should I Sell My Business?

When Should I Sell My Business?

Every business owner I have ever known, has sought to sell their business at the top of the market. I think this is part of the movement where many are in a constant quest to outdo others. While conceptually I understand this desire, these owners should heed the voices of some sages.

Daniel Kahneman’, “The average investor’s return is significantly lower than the market indices due primarily to market timing.” 

Warren Buffett, “Trying to time the market is a fool’s game.”

Baron Rothschild, “You can have the top 20% and the bottom 20%; I will take the 80% in the middle.”

 

What it takes to Sell at the Top of the Market

If you are determined to sell at the top and are ready to step aside at any time, the only concern is timing. However, if you have other timing considerations, e.g., retire when my business is worth $X, step aside when I am 65, then things are far more complicated.

For the market to be at the top when you reach some predetermine criteria, you need to ensure that the entire economy collaborates with you. To do this, I expect you would need to have the ear of: 

  • the President, 
  • the majority of Congress, 
  • the Chair of the Federal Reserve, the Secretary of the Treasury,  
  • the President of the European Central Bank, 
  • the German Chancellor, 
  • the President of France, 
  • the President of Russia, 
  • the President of the People’s Republic of China, 
  • the heads of the People’s Bank of China, and
  • the leaders of all the leading investment banks and hedge funds worldwide, to name a few. 

Not only would you need their ear, but you would have to persuade them that collaborating with you is in their best interests as well. Furthermore, many of these people would want something in return for a favor, and most of the people I have spoken with would be able to afford the price Vladimir Putin would expect. Finally, I have found any scheme where only one person knows of it but requires many people to ensure its success is bound to fail.

As a result, I would say that trying to sell at the top is a fool’s errand and one that should be abandoned.

 

A Contrarian View

Some have argued that selling at the bottom of the market makes more sense. The rationale is that the business owner will reinvest those assets into other assets whenever they sell their company. Thus if you want to ensure continued wealth accumulation, one should do it at the bottom of the market rather than the top.

To examine this theory, I did a simple analysis. I reviewed four dates and the market conditions. I looked at the Russell 2000 Price Earnings Ratio for those dates and indexed them with the 2000 Price Earnings Ration as the base = 100. Assuming that enterprise value (EV) to EBITDA ratios followed the Russell 2000’s PER, the EV/EBITDA ratio in 2000 was 5x, and the company had an EBITDA of $1 million in each year before the sale, the results are as follows:

Date Market Conditions Russell 2000 PER (Indexed) EV / EBITDA Multiple Proceeds ($k)
12/31/2000 After the Top of the market 100.0 5.0 $5,000
12/31/2005 Near the top of the market 58.6 2.9      $2,929
12/31/2010 Emerging from a recession 52.6 2.6 $2,631
12/31/2015 Middle of a bull market 74.7 3.7 $3,734

I then made a few more simple assumptions:

  • Transaction costs to be 30% comprising intermediary and legal fees of 10% and taxes of 20%.
  • The proceeds are invested in two funds, VFIAX – Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares and VBMFX – Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Investor Shares as proxies for a general stock and bond market investment.
  • The allocation is 70% into VFIAX and 30% into VBMFX.
  • Any funds withdrawn and any distributions are ignored as they would be the same for both funds.

Below is a chart of the S&P 500 from December 31, 2000, to December 31, 2020 to show the market’s performance over the period.

Source: Yahoo Finance

Following the investments as described above after five, ten and fifteen years the returns were:

Date Initial Value ($k) After 5 yrs ($k) Return (%) After 10 yrs ($k) Return (%) After 15 years ($k) Return (%)
12/31/2000 5,000 4,822 -3.6 4,930 -1.4 7,027 40.5
12/31/2005 2,929 2,993 2.2 4,292 46.5 5,414 84.8
12/31/2010 2,631 3,790 44.0 4,786 81.9    
12/31/2015 3,734 4,643 24.3        

 

So as it can be seen, while selling at the top, provided the greatest wealth after fifteen years, interesting the difference over 10 years was less than 3% between selling at the top and selling just after the bottom. The other points are somewhere in between. Therefore, selling at the top is not the conclusive answer we expected.

 

So what to do?

What I have always advised clients is to build a business that is attractive to buyers and can be sold. The key is to create your own redundancy, so that you can sell it, stay in a non-executive capacity and effectively “coupon clip,” or pass it on to your children or employees. You have many options and if someone comes along and offers you “silly” money, take it. But don’t worry about the “Top of the Market.”

If you want to know if your business is sellable, complete this questionnaire, and if you want help building a sellable business, contact me.

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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Reflecting on the current employment environment as we emerge from COVID makes me think of “Being Caught Inside When a Big Set Comes Through.” Why?

For those who don’t understand the analogy, it is something that surfers experience when paddling out when a large set of waves appears. The first wave appears in front of you, and it is a monster. So you put your head down and paddle like crazy to get over it before it crashes on you. You paddle up the face of the beast, hoping to get over the top before it breaks and drags back down “over the falls.” You make it, and you look up to see the next monster, larger than the last, bearing down on you. Tired, you have to paddle harder to make it over that one before you end up in the “impact zone.”

2020 was the first wave that appeared. We all put our collective heads down and paddled hard. We made it over. However, talking to many in early 2021, I don’t think we realized how much effort that had taken. Everyone was tired, many a little depressed. But as we looked up, the next wave was there blocking the entire horizon. That wave is the increase in business activity.

Some of my clients are experiencing more business in Q1 than they did in H1 last year. So we need to paddle hard to make it over this one. However, with everyone tired and depressed from the last one, it is getting harder. Everyone is looking for employees right now, but you are asking more of your employees when they are already working flat out and dealing with the stress until you hire.

The Current Situation

As a result, many are thinking about moving. A new survey reported by Fast Company found that 52% of U.S. workers are considering a job change this year, and 44% have plans in place to move. What is interesting when breaking down the data is that:

  • 59% of those whose annual household income is between $50,000 and $75,000 (the middle-income bracket) were thinking about moving.
  • 76% of those under 30 either looking or open to new opportunities.
  • 48% of six-figure salaried workers were planning their change, and 66% of them are feeling more confident about their decision to change jobs than they did six months ago. 
  • 21% of those surveyed felt there were “better opportunities available to [them] at other companies.”

What I have also seen recently is not only that people are considering leaving, but who. The “Who” here are those centers of influence within the organization. To understand that, look at your “shadow org chart,” which shows employees who have disproportionate levels of impact relative to their hierarchical position. To develop one, ask your employees these three questions:

  1. Who energizes you at work? (list four or more people)
  2. Who do you go to for help and advice? (list four or more people)
  3. Who do you go to when a decision needs to be made? (list four or more people)

If key influencer leaves, then many others may decide that the time to move on has come. One executive told me this week that his concern was that if two of their top influencers left, that would be the beginning of the end.

A recent HBR article suggested asking both the departing employee and the rest of your team questions, listening attentively, and acknowledging their concerns. Focus on goals and reassure your team that they’re still important and achievable, and provide them with educational opportunities to show that you care about their long-term effectiveness.

Regardless, those looking or considering a change are looking for:

  • A stable organization and where they are sure they’re growing and changing within that organization. 
  • More pay. Pay is the main factor that entices employees to look for a new role.
  • Work-life balance is also an essential requirement. 68% of employed workers and 43% of women said that remote work and work-from-home options are “very important,” versus 33% of men. 18% want to have more flexible hours in a new job.
  • Finally, the overall work environment is an essential factor.

However, employees say that the most critical factor that keeps them with their employer is engaging work.

Furthermore, a recent study from Ceridian reports that the cost of onboarding a new employee can range from $2,000 to $4,000, and talent expects a rise of 29% to change roles. I have mentioned before that everyone I know is looking for people. So if a 30% increase is required to change, and 50%+ are looking to move, expect salary and wage costs to increase.

The Challenges

So given the above, the critical challenges for organizations today that want to get over that second wave are:

  • Recruiting.
  • Onboarding.
  • Engagement.
  • Growth path.

Recruiting

I have written before about recruiting and ways to make it better and more of a system. However, I think some of the critical factors to consider right now are:

  • Stand out above the crowd. How do you attract the best talent and not just one of the many looking for a new opportunity? To achieve this, you need to produce job ads that create interest in your organization and the opportunity to attract everyone, not only those considering moving. 
  • Using your employees, customers, and suppliers to help find new talent. These people all know you. They know your culture and values. So they are the best people to refer people to you if you are looking. However, first, you have to tell them what you need. If you have a great job ad, share it with them. Encourage your employees to refer people.
  • Employee testimonials on your website. Again I have mentioned this before, but it still amazes me how few companies have employee testimonials on their website. The first thing a prospect will do is go to your website to find out about your organization. Having no employee testimonials is not a good way to entice them. Worse is only having stock photos of employees other than the leadership team.
  • Ensure your reputation is good. Check Glassdoor and other sites to see what has been said about you. While you cannot always change the negative posts, understand them and be willing to address them in an interview.
  • Interviewing. With many people looking to move and the cost of replacing large, make sure that you are getting the right person. A term I prefer is “auditioning.” As many have said, the key is culture and values. Concerning ability, ensure they can do the job. Given how busy everyone is, it might be harder to defend hiring someone capable but requires training. However, getting the wrong person just because they have the skills is a more expensive proposition in the long run.

Onboarding

Onboarding is more critical than ever, and it is more challenging than ever with COVID. However, now you have to ensure that your new members can absorb your culture and values and know your strategy and expectations.

I have discussed onboarding with many CEOs and find that all are struggling to do it effectively. A few thoughts are:

  • Ensure they know your culture and values, and strategy first. With this knowledge, they can make better decisions that benefit the organization.
  • Ensure they understand what is expected of them and have regular check-ins for the first year to ensure that both of you are on the same track.
  • Understand their objectives and needs. These are both professional and personal, but you can build a plan together to help realize them if you know them. That is not to say the company has to give them more but enabling them to see that they have a path to what they seek will show interest on the organization’s part. Right now, several companies are offering an extra day off a month or large bonuses. Figure out what you can offer to make your employees feel appreciated and not cause trouble in your organization.
  • Make sure they feel welcome. Remember, a majority of people regret the move after the first day! Make sure your new employees don’t. 

Engagement

Keeping all employees engaged is key to keeping them, those that you have and those that you are hiring. That means they need to know:

  • The current situation. Your employees need to know where you are today. Now is time for the truth because they do know, just not necessarily from the leadership team. Telling them everything is okay when they see chaos around them means that the leadership team is out of touch with reality, and now is the time to move on.  
  • Where is the company going? Make sure they know the company’s BHAG and 3HAG. Knowing where you are going provides more energy for the task, and right now, we need everyone to paddle.
  • What is their role? Make sure they know their role in the organization. First, make sure they can answer the following:
  1. What do we do, and where am I in the process? 
  2. How do we make money, and what do I do that helps that? 
  3. How will we succeed?
  4. What is most important right now that my team has to do? 
  5. Who must do what? Accountability and reporting roles and 
  6. How can they help? Seek input from them regularly on how to improve processes and actions to perform better. It is incredible how often employees know a better way, but no one ever asks. However, please don’t ignore their feedback because they will never give it again. If you don’t want to use it, explain why.

Growth Plan

As part of the onboarding, understand what they want in their life. If they wish to grow to a new role in the next X years, help them develop a plan. If they are contented at their current position but want to move flexibility, work on that. Understanding their wants and needs shows interest by the company, and that builds attraction. If they feel you care about them, they will care about you. 

Given all that is happening, this is not the time for the Mushroom Theory of Management!

Finally, given that many people are thinking of leaving, if you can afford it, maybe this is the time to prune some of that deadwood.

Good luck paddling out, and I hope you make it through the set.

 

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli

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Why is there not MORE common sense

I often hear a variant of this in meetings with business leaders, when discussing their employees or the actions of their direct reports: “Why don’t they use common sense?” As Abraham Lincoln supposedly noted, “God must have loved the common man because he made so many of them,” then, surely, most of the decisions involve common sense.

We all think that all it takes is common sense; however, we all decide based on the information we have and the guides we use to make those decisions. Thus, for people to make better decisions, we need to ensure that they:

  • Are solving the right problem.
  • Have all the available information.
  • Know the “Intent.”

 

Solving the Right Problem

The first person to state a problem rarely has the best insight into the issue. However, once a problem is defined, our problem-solving and “get it done” nature kicks in, and we dive straight in. We don’t stop to ask, “Are we solving the right problem?” As a result, many decisions made solve the stated problem, but not the right one.

To prevent solving the wrong problem, make sure of the following:

  • You defined the problem and not someone else.
  • You are close to the problem.
  • You are thinking about the problem from many levels and angles.

 

Have all the Available Information

Having all the available information is challenging; however, I look to two military people to guide me. First, David Marquet, whose great advice is, “Move the decision-making to the information.” This ties in with being close to the problem above. So, move the decisions to the front lines, where people with all the available information about the situation are. The second person is John Boyd and his OODA loops, which I have written about before. OODA means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. I would say that having all the available information is a combination of Observe and Orient.

 

Observe

Here the purpose is to observe the situation to get the most accurate and comprehensive picture possible. Information alone is not sufficient; we need to take the data and put it into context. The real skill here is identifying what is “noise” and thus irrelevant for the current decision. Ensuring you can put all the information in the correct context requires asking questions to build a comprehensive picture.

At a simplistic level, this reminds me of two stories.

A little girl asked her mom where she came from. The mother responded with the full explanation of the birds and the bees. The little girl looked a little confused, so the mother asked why? “Well,” said the little girl, “Jill next door says she is from New York.”

A car stops next to someone walking down the street, and the driver asks for directions to the nearest interstate. The pedestrian responds with directions, and the driver goes off. However, the pedestrian should have asked, “Where do you want to go?” The interstate may not be the best solution or the quickest for where the driver wanted to go.

In both cases, questions upfront result in a better answer as they help understand the issue. However, we are programmed to answer, not to question!

 

Orient

Orientation is seeing the world as it is and removing the influences of cognitive biases and shortcuts. If you properly orient yourself, you can overcome disadvantages from less information or fewer resources. However, there are four barriers to the ability to orient effectively.

  1. Cultural traditions. Much of what we consider universal behavior is culturally prescribed.
  2. Genetic heritage. We all have certain constraints.
  3. Ability to analyze and synthesize. We fall back on old habits if we are faced with new types of thinking.
  4. The influx of new information. If the environment keeps changing, it is hard to determine what is going on.

To overcome these barriers, Boyd recommended “deductive destruction,” a process of understanding our biases and assumptions and developing mental models to replace them.

As Boyd put it, “Orientation isn’t a state you’re in; it’s a process. You are always orienting.”

 

Know the “Intent.”

You will notice that I didn’t say know the “Rules”, as I feel rules are too limiting. They tend to prescribe an exact situation, and if the situation changes, then a new rule is needed. Also, rules are easy to get around. Knowing the intent is a broader guide but makes it easier to understand.

A great example was GM when Mary Barra changed the corporate dress code. GM’s dress code was ten pages long, trying to cover everything. As a result, it was complex, and I doubt anyone read it. However, Mary Barra decided to change it to “Dress appropriately.” Before the change, someone would have to go through ten pages of rules to determine if an outfit met the code; now, they have to decide whether it meets the intent. Now Dress Appropriately on its own may have caused a few issues, but in discussions among teams to explain the purpose, it didn’t take long for everyone to understand what was required.

So, when I ask CEOs and business leaders, do they have organizational clarity, they respond, “Yes.” But when I ask the following:

  • What is your BHAG?
  • What is your passion?
  • What are your core values/expected behaviors?
  • Why do you exist?
  • What is your Strategy in a sentence?
  • What is your Brand Promise?
  • Who is your Core Customer?
  • How do you make money in a sentence?

Often, they cannot answer all these questions and think that many are trivial. Yet these are the “Intents” that provide organizational clarity. If you know the answers to all these questions, you know whether an action will support the organization or not.

However, the answers to the questions are the “Intent” that helps your team know what is expected of them. If everyone knows the same answer to all these questions, then it is more likely that they will make a decision that falls within the “Intent” and meets your definition of common sense.

Returning to David Marquet, he emphasized that for people to make good decisions:

  • They need to have control, e.g., make the decision so they take ownership of the problem. If you retain the power and don’t give it, your team members will never make the decisions you want.
  • They need to be competent. Do you have the “right people in the right seats?” If you do, then they should be able to make the decisions. If not, then it is not their issue, but yours. You have the wrong people running things.
  • Organizational Clarity. Or stated as “Is it the right thing to do?” If your people know the above guides’ answers, they will know if the action supports the organization’s purpose and goals.

So next time you feel your team is not making “common sense” decisions, ask yourself:

  • Are they solving the right problem?
  • Do they have all the available information?
  • Do they know the “Intent,” and is there organizational clarity?

I think you will find that something in the above is missing.

However, a warning! This course is not easy; you are giving up control, and to make it work, you have to allow them to make different decisions. If you keep snatching power back, it will fail. 

Once you decide to go down this path, ensure that the “Intents” are answered, and everyone knows the answer. Good luck.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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Bringing clarity to your organization is a common theme on The Disruption! blog. Defining your business model is a worthwhile exercise for any leadership team. But how do you even begin to bring clarity into your operations? If you’re looking for a place to start, Josh Kaufman’s “Five Parts of Every Business” offers an excellent framework. Kaufman defines five parts of every business model that all flow into the next, breaking it down into Value Creation, Marketing, Sales, Value Delivery, and Finance.

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

Working with my Vistage group this week, we had an exciting discussion about “If you were starting your business today, what would you do differently?” This discussion made me think of sunk costs and how they limit us. I have discussed how to make better decisions before, but sunk costs deal with our assumptions.

What are sunk costs? A sunk cost is a payment or investment that has already been made, and it is sunk because it is unrecoverable no matter what. So, it should not be a factor in any decisions from now on.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is when an action is continued because of past decisions (time, money, resources) rather than a rational choice of what will maximize the returns at this present time. The fallacy is that behavior is driven by an expenditure that is not recoupable regardless of future actions.

For example, a company that decides to build a new software platform. They have done their analyses and determined that the future benefit they will receive from the software will outweigh its development cost. They pay for the software and expect to save a specific cash flow level from the software’s production each year. But after a few years, the platform is underperforming, and cash flows are less than expected.

A decision has to be made: should the platform be abandoned or not? At this point, the software’s initial cost is a sunk cost and cannot be recovered. The decision should only be based on the future cash flows—or the future expected benefit—of the platform compared to the value of replacing it today, not the original cost of the software.

However, businesses, organizations, and people often have difficulty abandoning strategies because of the time spent developing them, even if they aren’t the right choice for the company or individual. Therefore, recognizing what a sunk cost is will result in better decisions. 

How sunk costs sabotage us

Here are a few ways, but this list is not exhaustive.

At Work

Bad Pricing

Companies often justify pricing based on their costs. Most commonly, the R&D expenditure to develop the product. Whatever the R&D costs were, they are irrelevant to the pricing. The market will only pay what the product is worth, not what was invested in it. A pharmaceutical company’s attempt to justify high prices because of the need to recoup R&D expenses is fallacious. The company will charge market prices whether R&D had cost one dollar or one million dollars.

Similarly, many businesses price their services on the hours it took to deliver a service. However, the costs of providing the service are sunk, and you cannot recoup them. The market will only pay you what they deem the value of the product or service to be, so using pricing to recoup costs is “backward.” Instead, one should determine the price and then figure out how to deliver the product or service at the profit margin desired.

Consider if a company invested $100,000 to produce a product and planned to sell them at $100 each. However, the day after the product launch, a competitor announces a better competing product at $50. Will anyone pay $100 for an inferior product when the best one is available for $50?

Bad Investments

Sunk costs are why so many investors tend to remain committed or even invest additional capital into a bad investment to make their initial decision seem worthwhile. How many times has an investor tell you, “As soon as X gets back to what I paid, I am selling.” Why?

What they paid is paid. The investor cannot change that; it is a sunk cost. The real question is, “Does X offer higher returns in the future than Y, some other asset I am considering, after transaction costs?” If yes, then stick with it. If no, switch out X for Y. 

Assume you spend $4,000 on a wine tour of Napa. Later on, you find a better wine tour to Bordeau that costs $2,500, and you purchase that trip as well. Later, you realize that the two dates clash and the tickets are non-refundable. Would you attend the $4,000 good wine trip or the $2,500 great wine trip? The $2,500 trip. The $4,000 trip is irrelevant in consideration because it is inferior, and the money is gone.

Bad processes

Returning to my initial question, “If you were starting your business again today, what would you do differently?” Many people will give outstanding examples of what they would do differently but never consider making the change because of the investment they have in their current process. As with assets, if your current process generates a cash flow of $X per year, and switching would generate some cash flow greater than $X after the costs of switching, you should switch.

Misaligned employees

Many companies have employees whom they know are subpar. However, they cannot fire them because they have been employed for a long time or the company has invested some amount in them. This situation is most often seen with those employees who have been with the organization since the beginning. However, the organization has outgrown them. 

Again, the time invested by the company and the employee are sunk costs. The decision is what is the best investment going forward. If a more significant return is achievable with a new employee, then the change is required.

Sunk Costs Exist in Our Personal Lives Too

Feel free not to ski in bad weather.

You may be considered a fair-weather skier, but the cost became sunk when you purchased your ticket. You might feel obligated to stay and stick it out if the ticket was expensive or you have a limited holiday window, but if not skiing in a freezing whiteout makes you happier, do it! Either way, you aren’t getting your money back.

Don’t go to the gym just because you have an annual membership.

While working out may be advantageous to your health, your annual membership shouldn’t dictate whether you go to the gym on any given day. If you have paid up front, then the money is gone. So if you would prefer to take a hike, ride a bike, relax and meditate, you should. However, I am not saying there may be more benefits to working out.

Don’t grow up to be a lawyer.

I chose lawyers because I was this example; however, I decided before I graduated law school that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Assume you went to law school, passed the bar, started working, and then realized you hate being a lawyer. What should you do? You invested so much time, energy, and money in that degree, so it can’t be worth starting over again with a new career? Unfortunately, time, energy, and money are all sunk costs, so if your end goal is your happiness, you might need to cut your losses and refocus your energies elsewhere. 

With the above examples, next time you face a decision, ignore all the sunk costs; you will make better decisions for your organization and yourself.

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Clarity is a repeated theme of mine and The Disruption!, whether in regards strategy or how you make money. Listening to Josh Kaufman discuss his “Five Parts of Every Business” and the need to define your business model while presenting this information clearly magnified the point.

 

What Are The “5 Parts of Every Business”?

Kaufman says in every business model there are “5 Parts of Every Business,” each of which flows into the next:

  1. Value Creation: A venture that doesn’t create value for others is a hobby.
  2. Marketing: A venture that doesn’t attract attention is a flop.
  3. Sales: A venture that doesn’t sell the value it creates is a non-profit.
  4. Value Delivery: A venture that doesn’t deliver what it promises is a scam.
  5. Finance: A venture that doesn’t bring in enough money to keep operating will inevitably close.

 

Value Creation

Kaufman defines Value Creation as “Discovering what people need or want, then creating it.”

Most customers don’t know what they need or want. As has been pointed out many times, people wanted a faster horse, not an automobile. However, whatever they want, in reality, they are just seeking a solution to a problem. Therefore, the critical issue is determining “What problem you are trying to solve?” Or, as Clayton Christensen said, “What is the job the customer is hiring you or your product to do?”

Defining this is often hard, as many companies don’t know what job their clients are seeking them or their products to provide. I have discussed this before. However, as the adage says, “people aren’t buying drills, they are buying holes.” This is a vital part of your business model.

So, working with your team to determine “the job to be done” and your “Core Customer” is well worth the effort because you can better describe what you do, and all your employees will better know what you do and how what they do impacts it.

 

Marketing

Kaufman’s definition is “Marketing is defined as attracting attention and building demand for what you have created.”

In today’s digital world, with Google, Facebook, Linked In, and Instagram, marketing separating yourself from the masses is hard, especially if people don’t understand the product and service. Therefore, by focusing on the job to be done or the problem you are solving, it easier to stand out among the crowd.

Also, as you identify what the “job to be done” is, you can better identify your Core Customer. Remember a Core Customer is:

  • An actual person with needs and wants. If you sell B2B your core customer is still a person because you have to convince a person to buy.
  • Who buys for the optimal profit.
  • Who pays on time, is loyal, and refers others.
  • Has a unique online identity and behavior; and
  • A customer who exists amongst your clients today.

Build Direct started as a company supplying contractors. However, it soon realized that while contractors were a key customer component, they were not the company’s Core Customer; instead, Build Direct’s core customers were young female DIYers interested in the products and education. Build Direct focused its marketing according to that recognition and started providing much educational content for young female DIYers. This specific marketing drove much better brand recognition and engagement.

Also, South Shore Furniture in Canada identified their core customer as “Sarah.” Sarah is so vital that there is a mannequin of Sarah in all meeting rooms, so no one forgets whom they are seeking to serve.

Besides, marketing to the correct demographic is easier and more fruitful if you know your Core Customer. Without this information, the marketing section of your business model is just hope, not a strategy!

 

Sales

Kaufman defines sales as “Turning prospective customers into paying customers.”

However, as Jeffrey Gitomer, put it “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” So the key is how do you move prospects into customers? Businesses have to earn their prospects’ trust and help them understand why it is worth paying for the offer. Another way of looking at this is, “What is your brand promise?”

Companies need to know what their brand promise is. For example, Starbucks is “Love your beverage or let us know and we will always make it right.” Some organizations may have supporting brand promises to prove more definition of the brand promise. Your brand promise must be measurable, because as Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed.” So if it is measurable and measured, the organization can ensure that it meets its brand promise, which provides more assurance to the prospect. Finally, with a clearly defined brand promise that is measurable, the organization ends up saying “No” more than “Yes” to opportunities and ideas since they will damage the brand promise.

Since no one wants to be taken advantage of, Sales is about educating the prospect to identify what is essential to convince them you can deliver on your promise. A clearly stated brand promise that is measured and quantified increases the ability to persuade the prospect to purchase from you. It amazes me how many business models don’t have a brand promise.

 

Value Delivery

Here Kaufman defines Value Delivery as “Giving your customers what you’ve promised and ensured that they’re satisfied.” With this, I have no issues. Anyone who doesn’t deliver what they promised is effectively a “scam artist.”

To ensure you that make the customer satisfied, you have to exceed the customers’ expectations. A popular way to determine customer satisfaction is through Net Promoter Score scores which we see more and more (if you are looking for help with NPS surveys of your customers, contact me). You want more promoters and detractors. However, the NPS score tells you what the customer thinks after experiencing the service or product. Companies need to develop systems that ensure the service or product is exceeding expectations.

A great example is the Ritz Carlton’s policy whereby any Ritz-Carlton employees can spend up to $2,000 per incident, not per year, to rescue a guest experience. This policy ensures that the customer is getting a great experience because it empowers employees to fix problems and provides the customers’ concerns are solved quickly. As David Marquet says, “Move the decision making to where the information is.” That is what Ritz is doing, and it is empowering employees and making customers happy.

Companies that have outsourced many functions to cut costs, so any customer has difficulty reaching the people they need or have to spend five minutes going through a phone tree to contact some is already failing at this.

Ensure your business model tracks customer satisfaction and you have ways to ensure that customers are happy.

 

Finance

Kaufman defines finance as “Bringing in enough money to keep going and make your effort worthwhile.”

As I have pointed out, this is key, and many people don’t realize the situation because of flawed analysis and lousy modeling. However, the key for any organization must be a well-defined “Profit/X.”

Many organizations don’t have a well-defined Profit/X, but there is a lack of discipline that ensures good financial performance without it. Profit/X is some unit of scale, and profit can be gross profit, net profit, EBTIDA, or EBIT. Examples that I have seen are:

  • profit per airplane
  • profit per job
  • profit per customer
  • gross margin per delivery
  • profit per employee

There is no correct Profit/X, just the one that works with your business. One organization that did deliveries chose Gross Margin/Delivery, which focused on reducing the cost of delivery to maximize profit. Once Profit/X is selected, the entire organization must seek to meet or exceed it; thus, everyone needs to understand it and how they drive it. With that focus and discipline, the organization is more likely to meet its financial goals and objectives.

 

Summary

In summary, the organization needs to be able to define its business model by the following:

  • Define the problem its products or services solve or, more precisely, what job they do.
  • Who their Core Customer is so they can market to them effectively?
  • What is their brand promise, and how is it measured?
  • That their customers are satisfied, returning and recommending.
  • That they have identified their Profit/X so that they are profitable.

Doing this work is an excellent exercise for any leadership team to help bring clarity to your organization. If you need assistance doing it, contact me. Good luck, and may your business grow.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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Ideation is key in an organization as it faces the challenges of a changing environment. What new ideas, thoughts, understanding, and logic can we bring to the situation before us. This may sound easy, but I have found that when challenged to do so, the thought process slows down very quickly, and after a few ideas have been thrown out and rejected, a form of hopelessness takes over. Face Idea Generation is Hard!

 

So how to solve this problem?

Working with some teams recently, I have come across the following system, which, while not perfect, helps get closer to what we want to achieve. For example, let’s say the topic is “Grow repeat business.”

 

100 Ideas, No Less

When starting the process with your team, the first rule is that we will not stop with ideation until we have at least 100 ideas on the board. Not only do we need 100 ideas, but no one is allowed to criticize, demean, promote, or challenge any idea until the 100 are there. This rule’s logic is to stop ideas from being shut down by some of the dominant participants. It is hard to get 100 ideas up on the board, and we progress through them, they get crazier, but that is sometimes where the gems lie. So, following our example, we could have the following ideas:

  • Create a membership club
  • Offer discounts to repeat customers.
  • Provide value behind a paywall for member customers
  • Offer bundling
  • Offer easy returns, e.g., Zappos.
  • Provide special shopping events for repeat customers or members
  • Offer suggestions to customers based on what they have purchased.
  • Free shipping for members
  • Special shopping days for members only
  • Early access to new products for members or repeat customers
  • Send you products that we believe you want and if you don’t return them then charge for them.

As can be seen from the above, many of these ideas are common, and we have seen them with Amazon and others. However, at one time, they were all new. Also, the last one, someone might think is “crazy,” but it doesn’t matter; it is still an idea to be put down.

 

Mind Map

Once you’re over 100 and there are no more ideas, time to organize. If there are still ideas at 100, don’t stop. I find organizing through Mind Mapping the best. For those of you who haven’t done Mind Mapping, take your ideas and organize them into “topics.” Elaborate on those by creating sub-topics and use short phrases or single words to identify them. Thus, once done, your 100+ ideas are organized into subtopics within topics, so it is easier to look at what each is seeking to achieve. In some cases, the ideas are just variations on prior ideas to be lumped into one. So, again looking at the ideas above, we could organize them as follows:

Membership Ease of Use Promotions
Create a club Offer easy returns Special shopping events
Provide additional value for members Offer bundling Discounts
Special shopping events for members Offer suggestions to customers based on prior purchases Special shopping days
Free shipping for members Free shipping for everyone  
Early access to new products for members   Early access to new products for prior customers
Send products and customer decides if they want them.    

 

10% AND ?

Once we have divided everything into our subtopics, then we go through them one by one. Each person has to identify at least 10 percent of what they like about any idea and then add to it. The next person builds on the last person’s statement, again identifying at least 10% they like and then adding to it. This ensures that nothing is shut down and that the creative exercise can take place. By having to build on something regardless of whether or not you agree, forces you to find the best in it and make it better – KAIZEN. The number of participants in the meeting will determine how many times you go around. As you go around, each iteration is recorded. This process further frees the imagination as you have to identify something you like about the statement before you and add something good. At the end of this process, some excellent ideas may have been arrived at. Then you can use a multiple voting system for the participants to identify what they like best.

 

So, Give it a try!

So, give it a try; you may find you get some fascinating and novel ideas from your group. Besides, as the group’s ideas flow, you should find a greater commitment to the ideas than those that the usual dominant people promote.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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