3 Ways Proper Long Term Strategic Planning Helps Your Business

3 Ways Proper Long Term Strategic Planning Helps Your Business

Dreams turn into goals when they have a foundation of long-term strategic planning supporting them. They become reality when the ensuing strategic implementation plan is executed properly. With Kaizen Solutions as their strategic planning consultant, small and medium-sized business CEOs can see it all come to fruition. 

7 Attributes of Agile Growth™

People and businesses aren’t static, and neither are the obstacles that get in the way of their goals. Whether you as a CEO want to grow your company, generate more profit, attract higher caliber talent, or develop a better work/life balance, the first thing you need to do is flesh out your aspirations on paper. This sets the groundwork for long-term strategic planning and makes crystal clear the mission to your team. Once clarity and alignment are achieved, a strategic implementation plan is formed and made fluid through company-wide engagement. The proven management framework of your long-term strategic planning consultant from Kaizen Solutions will coach and train your team on how to institute the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™.

The 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ is a living framework drawn from the experiences and lessons of leaders who have been in the same shoes as you. It’s practical, profitable, and proven. Following the best practices for strategic planning, it begins with strong Leadership developing a compelling strategy and a culture of accountability for disciplined execution. Scalable systems enhance the value and experience of the customer whose life cycle generates growth and profit – authenticating your talent and their process for an efficient path towards more success. 

A long-term strategic planning consultant from Kaizen Solutions enables your leadership team to engage with each other and your goals to find a customized solution to all obstacles. With coaching, a strategic implementation plan will succeed because of their instilled belief in its viability and differentiated strategies they’ve developed. Accountability for their role is measurable by metrics we also implement. 

The 7 Attributes of Agile Growth™ framework for long-term strategic planning can help your business in these 3 ways: 

1. Focus Your Efforts

Small and medium-sized businesses, especially, need a focused strategic wealth plan to succeed in today’s business landscape of increasing competition and present and ever-looming economical pain.

2. Align All Team Members and Departments

Whether it’s a long-term strategic wealth plan or any other goal you have for your business, alignment between departments and all team members is only possible when the mission is clearly stated and engaged at every level.

3. Improved Performance

Focused efforts and alignment all lead to the ultimate benefit of improved performance.

Choose Kaizen Solutions As Your Long-Term Strategic Planning Consultant

Achieving long-term goals requires planning and engagement now. Choosing Kaizen Solutions as the coach and teacher for you and your team puts you one step closer to reaching your vision. Our process utilizes the best practices for strategic planning with a proven framework for success. Learn more ways long-term strategic planning help from Kaizen Solutions can benefit your business by Booking A Call today.

EOS is just that, an Operating System

EOS is just that, an Operating System

For those of you who are not aware of EOS, it is the Entrepreneurial Operating System. It seeks to improve businesses by getting six components aligned to enhance business operations. The six are:

  • the vision
  • the people
  • the issues
  • traction – meetings and goals (“Rocks”)
  • the processes; and
  • the data

I am a supporter of EOS in that I believe all companies should have some system to improve their performance. However, as I have worked with clients who have implemented EOS, I found that it is just that, an Operating System and not a business model that enables the organization to grow!

As defined by Wikipedia, an Operating System is “the software that supports a computer’s basic functions, such as scheduling tasks, executing applications, and controlling peripherals.” So for a business, I defined it as “a model that supports the company’s primary functions, such as identifying a vision, getting the right people in the organization, improving meetings, defining goals (rocks), etc.” At the risk of upsetting EOS Implementers®, I think EOS satisfies these metrics to a varying degree, but in most cases, doesn’t enable the company to build a growth engine.

Here is what I believe is missing to develop a growth model.

The Hedgehog Concept

In Good to Great, Jim Collins talked about the Hedgehog Concept named after Isaiah Berlin’s essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” which divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes. The theme is based upon an ancient Greek parable where “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Collins found that those companies who became great followed the Hedgehog Concept. Those companies which didn’t tend to be foxes never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent. 

The Hedgehog Concept is based on the questions prompted by the three confluence of questions. 

  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • What drives your economic engine?

The EOS Model® doesn’t focus on the hedgehog concept, and so many companies using EOS have goals and strategies based on bravado than from understanding.

Knowing your hedgehog concept will keep the organization focused on something that aligns its passion with what it can be the best at. Being good at something means you are only good and indistinguishable from many others. If you are the best at something, then you stand above the crowd. Finally, the economic engine keeps the company focused on a metric that drives profit.

Vision

While the EOS Method® works to develop a ten-year goal, I find that is not as compelling as Jim Collins’ BHAG. A BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is a clear and persuasive statement and serves as a unifying focal point of effort with a defined finish line. It engages people, is tangible, energizing, highly focused, and often creates immense team effort. People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation. 

A visionary BHAG is a 10-25 year compelling goal that stretches your company to achieve greatness. It should be a huge, daunting task, like climbing going to the moon, which at first glance, no one in the company knows how on earth you will achieve.

As Collins’s noted, the best BHAGs require both “building for the long term and exuding a relentless sense of urgency: What do we need to do today, with monomaniacal focus, and tomorrow, and the next day, to defy the probabilities and ultimately achieve our BHAG?”

Profit/X = Economic Engine

The BHAG’s economic engine is the concept of Profit/X. In Good to Great, Jim Collins defines this strategic metric as “One and only one ratio to systematically increase over time, what x would have the greatest and most sustainable impact on your economic engine?” Unfortunately, too many companies don’t have an economic engine, so they fail to deliver hoped-for profits. This metric is not easily identified; however, Collins noticed that the companies that took the time to discuss, debate, and agree on one key driver for their economic engine are the ones that went from good to great.

Profit/X how you choose to make money; it is a strategic metric, not an operational one. This ratio is a key driver in your financial engine and when you make decisions about how to spend money. When developing your Profit/X, you need to have that is unique and not the industry average because if you choose the latter, then everyone will be pricing and driving costs the same way to maximize it. Like the BHAG, a correctly defined Profit/X will promote teamwork as everyone can focus on their role to drive the metric, from how many people to hire, where to open new operations, etc.

Here are some examples of Profit/X.

  • Profit/customer experience or customer visit
  • Profit/customer
  • Profit/employee
  • Profit/location
  • Profit/geographic region
  • Profit/part manufactured
  • Profit/division
  • Profit/sale
  • Profit/brand
  • Profit/local population
  • Profit/invoice
  • Profit/market segment
  • Profit/store
  • Profit/plant
  • Profit/purchase
  • Profit/square foot
  • Profit/fixed cost
  • Profit/recurring revenue client
  • Profit/seat
  • Profit/plane
  • Profit/product line
  • Profit/life of the customer

To frame this in a real-life context.

Southwest Airlines: Profit per plane

Walgreens: Profit/Customer Visit

New System Laundry: Profit/Delivery Truck Load

I think the EOS Method® ignores the following areas, but to me, they are part of the Hedgehog Concept. If you are doing something with clarity and focus, you need to have clarity and focus on these areas.

Value Creation

It is said, “A Business That Doesn’t Create Value for Others is a Hobby,” so what value does your organization create? Value creation is part of what you can be the best at. However, organizations need to know, “What is the problem they are seeking to solve for their customers.” Christian Claytonson defined this as “What is the job your customer is hiring you or your products to do?” Too many organizations define the job to be done as what they do, e.g., “We integrate your systems.” While that is what they do, that is not the job they are hired to do. The job they are hired to do may depend on the client but could be, “Provide information from across the organization to make better-informed decisions.” Knowing the job to be done enables your marketing and sales efforts to focus on the customers’ needs rather than on what you do. No one cares about what you do; they care if you can solve their problem. I don’t see the EOS Model®’s focus on this crucial question, but it is central to a company’s growth.

Core Customer

Who is the company’s core customer? I have discussed this before, and many companies can identify their core customer. However, most haven’t analyzed their customers from the point of view of Profit/X. If Profit/X is the driving metric of the organization’s profitability, then failing to know which customers meet and exceed it is crucial in defining your Core Customer. There is little point focusing on a Core Customer that doesn’t meet your economic engine’s critical financial metric, hoping that somehow you will magically capture the lost profit elsewhere. Furthermore, if you don’t know your Core Customer, your marketing and sales activities will be directed towards the wrong groups, further weakening your performance. 

Brand Promise

What is your Brand Promise, and how is it measured? This question is one that the EOS Model® doesn’t address. However, it is crucial.

  • It is what convinces your targets to buy from you. 
  • It is what you stand for and promise to deliver. 
  • It is the metric against which you will be measured.

Some organizations do have a brand promise, but it is not measurable. In that case, it is “valueless” because if it is not measurable, no one knows if you are delivering it, and in that case, it has no value to prospects or clients.

Value Delivery

Value delivery is vital for knowing how customers value the performance of the organization. While the EOS Model® discusses many metrics, this one does not get enough focus. Companies need to understand if their customers are satisfied with their performance. Recently, I spoke with a CEO who said that 80%+ of their customers were “Very Satisfied.” However, on further investigation, I discovered:

  • It was just a guess as they didn’t measure it.
  • 7 – 10% of their customers had complained in writing about their product and delivery in the last year.
  • None of their clients had recommended them.

Here is wishing over reality. I would expect that the company had a “Very Satisfied” score of less than 25%, and they should be working hard to improve their delivery and start collecting customer satisfaction data.

Critical Number and Counter Critical Number

The EOS Model® deals with goals (Rocks) and meetings, and that is one area that I think it does very well. However, I notice that the Rocks are not aligned to improving a critical number for the quarter. The Rocks should seek to improve some Critical Number each quarter. Without a Critical Number, you are once more a Fox, not focused. Those that use Scrums know the importance of the Critical Number. 

Rocks are great, but they need to improve a single business area to have the most significant benefit. As the saying goes, “You cannot defeat ten soldiers by sending in one soldier every day for 100 days.” For example, if our Critical Number is Customer Service in a Call Center, then the Rocks could relate to:

  • Hold time
  • Time on the call
  • Customer satisfaction at the end of the call
  • Percentage of calls resolved in one call
  • Employee satisfaction.

The Counter Critical Number is essential to preventing the critical number from overwhelming the company and leading to adverse effects. For example, if our Critical Number is project completion, then a Counter Critical Number would be customer satisfaction. This metric would counter the attempt to deliver incomplete or defective products or projects.

Focusing on a Critical Number and Counter Critical Number for the 13-Week Sprint is essential to developing focus and alignment within the organization.

Team Alignment

The EOS Model® does a great job of looking at the “Right People” in the “Right Seats.” However, what it doesn’t look at are alignment among the leadership team and employees’ satisfaction. Is your leadership aligned around the company’s direction or not? Culture will bring them to agree on values, but not necessarily alignment.

Your employees may all have the correct values, which is crucial, but if they are not engaged or dissatisfied with the leadership, cultural values will not prevent them from leaving or, worse, showing up but not there. Companies need to survey their leadership teams for alignment and their employees for satisfaction to ensure everyone is working in the same direction and committed to its success.

Conclusion

Thus while I like the EOS Model®, I think it doesn’t deal with many of the key things involved in the Hedgehog Concept. This failure enables companies to perform but not grow at an optimum rate. I am not ignoring many of his other areas of focus in Good to Great; however, this refinement of the Hedgehog brings an additional guide that the EOS Model® doesn’t. 

The above model is most of Gravitas 7 Attributes of Agile Growth® model, and if you add in the rest, you have a model that will propel you to growth while keeping your operations running smoothly. The 7 Attributes of Agile Growth® focuses on:

  • Leadership
  • Strategy
  • Execution
  • Customer
  • Profit
  • Systems
  • Talent

making it a more encompassing system. If you want to start your transition to an agile growth company as a certified Gravitas Agile Growth coach, please contact me.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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Do You Truly Know Your Core Customer?

Do You Truly Know Your Core Customer?

Who is your Core Customer?

In working with many clients on improving their business and developing a growth model, we soon get into the issue of their “Core Customer.” I have realized that many have not given this much thought and cannot easily define their “Core Customer.” Your Core Customer is the customer you are targeting, the customer that is preferred, and the one that your marketing and sales efforts are focused on. A Core Customer has the following attributes:

  • A real person with wants, needs, and fears.
  • Will buy for optimal profit.
  • Has an unique online identity and behavior.
  • Pays on time, loyal, and refers others.
  • Exists today among your customers

Not knowing your Core Customer is not a terrible problem, as we can quickly work through a session to put a definition in place. However, a more complicated issue is knowing their Core Customer but unable to define their “Economic Engine,” or profitability per customer. Lack of good data is always a severe problem! If you can’t measure something, then your performance is purely an assumption, and down that road is chaos.

Profit per Customer

If you don’t know your profit per customer, the customer you consider your “Core Customer” may generate sub-par profits pulling down the company’s performance. During a recent conversation, a CEO told me their metric was revenue per employee. While that would generate top-line revenue, it does nothing for profit, efficient customer targeting and marketing, or market differentiation. The business adage, “We are losing money on each item, but will make it up on volume,” seems to be the driving force.

Many companies I have worked with cannot tell me the profitability per customer and so work on the assumption that they are performing well, but cannot understand why they cannot scale and have profit and cashflow issues. Also, often their data is corrupted by the “Flaw of Averages.” So to paraphrase the proverb, “First get your data.” Sometimes getting good data on project costs is difficult, but without there cannot be:

  • Knowledge of performance;
  • Plans for improvement;
  • Measurement of improvement.

And “Hope is not a strategy.”

Select the Right Core Customer

Once we have data showing your Core Customer’s profitability, we can determine if they generate optimal profit. Since a requirement of a Core Customer, as mentioned above, if your Core Customer is not generating optimal profit, then there are one of two choices:

  1. Change your economic model so that they do, or
  2. Change your Core Customer.

When examining the data, many companies have found that the companies they were targeting as their “Core Customers” were their less profitable customers and ones that everyone in the market was fighting over. Targeting a different segment of customers that generated optimal profit could increase its profitability and differentiate itself from its competition, a great “Blue Ocean” strategy.

Lake Truck Lines, a Gravitas client, was focused on large customers. However, when analyzing its data, Lake Truck Lines realized that everyone was targeting those customers so there was pricing pressure and low margins. By make mid-sized customers its Core Customer, the company was able to operate with less competition and generate the optimal profit per customer. Similarly with Build Direct, focusing on young women seeking to do DIY, it was able to realize a much higher margin and operate in “Blue Ocean” waters compared to when it was focused on supplying general contractors.

The time spent analyzing your clients, their profitability, and your Blue Ocean possibilities can result in you operating at higher margins with less competition.

Profit / X

I have discussed the “Economic Engine” before, but it is the concept of “Profit/X,” Profit/X is the crucial part of your strategy, and it must:

  • Tightly aligns with your BHAG®
  • Be the fundamental economic engine of your business
  • Be a single overarching KPI to scale your business
  • It must impact revenue while controlling cost.
  • More X must be desirable.
  • It must be unique within the industry – you have to differentiate yourself from your competition.

What is critical is finding a Profit/X that is unique within your industry. If you choose the same Profit/X as everyone else, you are all competing on the same drivers, and you cannot differentiate yourself from your competition. Having identified our Core Customer, the appropriate Profit/X can be identified. Picking the wrong Profit/X given your Core Customer again will lead to sub-optimal results. These two concepts are interconnected and for you to achieve the best results, you need to determine both and have them connected.

Having the Right Profit/X

If your Profit/X is defined as profit per employee, you have only three ways to achieve this: increase the price, improve employee performance or cut the product’s quality. Since price should be driven by value creation, not employee profitability, raising prices may be difficult. We do not want to cut value delivery, and driving employees harder is no recipe for success. Thus a better metric may be profit per customer.

With customer size, if you are servicing large customers it may require longer larger projects compared to mid-sized companies. If mid-sized companies have more set up and administrative costs then your Profit/X must be different between the two.

There are many examples of Profit/X from Southwest Airlines’ profit per plane to a dry cleaner who measured it by profit per delivery truck. The key is to find the one that drives your business and will also differentiate yourself.

Conclusion

Many CEOs and Business Owners are salespeople and are not interested in digging into the financials and getting to the data I have discussed above. However, the effort is well worth it, as once you have a clear understanding of where you are, you can:

  • Target marketing towards your Core Customer;
  • Differentiate yourself from your competition;
  • Ensure that all projects, services, or products meeting your Profit/X to ensure profitability; and 
  • Position yourself for growth and profitability. 

Get your CFO, your team, and a coach and spend a day or two to determine the ideal results. The payoff will be huge.

 

Copyright (c) 2021 Marc A. Borrelli

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Working with many companies looking to grow, I am always surprised how many have not built a financial model that drives growth. I have mentioned before a financial model that drives growth? Here I am basing on Jim Collin’s Profit/X, which he laid out in Good to Great. So then we have to delve into what is Profit/X. This is the key financial metric that drives profitable growth by defining some profit number per some “X” that results in:

Passion. Your employees are passionate about the “X” and excited about increasing it.
Empowerment. Your employees are empowered to make decisions to ensure the baseline Profi/X is met.
Drive. It drives behavior to generate profit and growth.
Discipline. It provides the financial discipline to ensure that the organization remains profitable as it grows.

Thus is it is your Economic Engine that will enable profitable growth.

Many people look for a quick answer in determining Profit/X, but there is no quick answer. It is an iterative process that will get there, but no something you necessarily come up with on the first try.

Profit can be:

  • Gross Profit,
  • Operating Profit,
  • Net Profit,
  • Gross Margin,
  • Operating Margin, or
  • Net Margin,

to name a few.

“X” is very variable and can be:

  • “Product/Service,”
  • Customer,
  • Invoice,
  • lb,
  • pallet,
  • truckload, or
  • plane.

For a better understanding of Profit/X, my video below may help explain it better.

Profit/X

It is well worth your time to develop your Profit/X and get your employees to understand it and embrace it. The discipline it provides combined with the drive and empowerment it delivers makes a very strong economic engine and ensures continued profitability through your growth.

 

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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I am currently sick with COVID, so, killing time yesterday, I watched Downfall: The Case Against Boeing about Boeing's issues with the 737 Max and how the focus and financial results versus anything else led to the problems with the plane. The company focused on...

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The “Flaw of Averages” Causes Havoc for Businesses

The “Flaw of Averages” Causes Havoc for Businesses

Right out of the gate, I will admit I stole the “Flaw of Averages” from Sam Savage, whose book by that name I cannot recommend highly enough if you find this topic of interest.

What is my issue with averages? They misstate what is happening in the business and cause misallocation of resources. Let’s take a hypothetical business, ABC Inc., with the following products, units sold, unit price, and gross profit per unit. Now while this examines Products, we could easily substitute Services.

Product

Units Sold

Price/Unit

Gross Profit/Unit

A

         30,000

 $          100.00

 $       12.50

B

           7,500

 $            90.00

 $       75.00

C

         20,000

 $            80.00

 $       37.50

D

         15,000

 $            70.00

 $       45.00

E

         10,000

 $            60.00

 $       25.00

F

         25,000

 $            50.00

 $       12.50

G

         20,000

 $            40.00

 $       20.00

H

         20,000

 $            30.00

 $       25.00

I am sure that everyone can see that ABC’s revenue is $9,575,000 and its gross profit is $3,825,000, giving it a gross margin of 39.9%. Let’s assume that this gross margin is in line with the industry to not get into the cost of goods sold issues.

If we look at products in terms of revenue and sort from largest to smallest, we get the following.

Product A is the largest seller accounting for about 40% of sales. While products B, G, H, and F together account for 35% of sales, obviously less than A. So, how should we consider this product portfolio?

Examining the product portfolio, we see that A accounts for only about 10% of gross profits. Products B, G, H, and F together account for 46% of gross profits, so they are far more critical to ABC’s profitability. Furthermore, products C, D, B, H, and G are more important than the revenue chart above would indicate. While they account for about 50% of revenue, they generate 75% of gross profit and have a gross profit margin of 61%.

If ABC were to stop selling product A, its revenue and gross profit would fall by $3MM and $300k, respectively, and its gross profit margin would increase from 40% to 52%. Increasing gross profit margin by over 10% would be fantastic! Furthermore, given product A’s high cost of goods sold, we can assume that it is consuming a large amount of raw materials and labor–in other words, working capital. If ABC were to stop selling A, its working capital situation would improve, thus improving its liquidity ratios.

Also, this simplistic assumption doesn’t provide details, but there are possibly additional costs that I have not included from the production of A, namely:

  • Factory space to produce A
  • Warehouse space to store the raw materials for A and completed inventory.
  • Staff to track orders and purchases related A
  • Shipping costs of A
  • Staff overseeing the production of A

If ABC were to stop producing A, it’s Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses could fall further, boosting profitability. Thus, by looking at average margins, we don’t see Product A’s full impact on the business. Now I realize that A might be essential to getting the other products’ sales, but undoubtedly, we can increase the price of A or put together a bundle for more effective pricing.

Many years ago, when I was working at Holiday Inn, now IHG, the company was delighted with Holiday Inn Express’s launch. Holiday Inn Express franchises were selling like proverbial “hotcakes,” compared to the sale of old Holiday Inn franchises (“Green Sign” as we referred to them then). The increase in franchises was boosting distribution dramatically. However, if we look further into this and add some data (the numbers below are indicative, not actuals, to show the effect), we see it is not as straightforward.

 

Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn Express

Avg No of Rooms

120

80

Average RevPAR*

$48

$35

Franchise Fee

7%

6%

Expected Hotel Revenue ($ 000’s)

2,102

1,022

Expected Franchise Income ($ 000’s)

147.2

61.3

Franchise Support Costs ($000’s)

20.0

50.0

Estimated Profit ($000’s)

127.2

11.3

RevPAR = Revenue per Available Room = Revenue / Rooms

So, while Express hotels were selling faster, IHG needed to sell two Express hotels for each Green Sign. Also, most Express hotels buyers were independent operators who had not owned franchised hotels before if they had even held a hotel. Owners of Green Sign hotels were typically experienced hotel owners who often owned multiple properties. Due to the clients’ difference, further analysis showed that each Express owner required 2.5x the Holiday Inns’ franchise service support. Thus, while Expresses were selling like hotcakes, the profitability was far lower, and it is easy to see how the adage, “We lose money on every sale but will make it up in volume,” happens.

If we add customers to the mix makes it gets more interesting. Let’s assume ABC has the following customers, who purchase the following amounts of product.

Now, if we examine the purchase and gross profits of each customer, we get:

Customer

Revenue

Gross Profit

S

1,899,890

        869,085

T

       1,725,700

          700,983

U

       1,598,430

          414,600

V

          951,540

          491,173

W

       1,273,760

          459,958

X

          563,430

          259,640

Y

          458,530

          176,880

Z

       1,103,720

          452,683

Total

9,575,000

     3,825,000

Sorting that into the order of gross margin, we can see the following:

,Now we can see that S is our most profitable customer by a large margin, and the gross margin from its purchases is above ABC’s average. Hopefully, every company has done this analysis and know that they all want customers like S.

However, if we look across the rest of the clients, X, while not generating a lot of profit, does so at a very high margin. Y generates slightly less profit but at a margin below 20%. So, ABC wants more customers like X and fewer like Y. Also, given that our average gross margin was 40%, nearly all customers except Y, W & U are buying combinations to generate gross margins above 40%.

Therefore, this analysis shows that while ABC’s gross margin is nearly 40% and its gross profit is $3.8MM, if it were to lose customer S, sales and gross profits would fall to $7,675,110 and $3,333,828 respectively, providing a gross margin of 38.5%. However, if ABC were to lose client U, sales and gross profits would fall to $7,976,570 and $3,410,400, respectively, while gross margin would increase to 42.8%. Increasing gross margin by even 300 basis points would be significant for many companies.

As with products, we don’t see which clients to seek or replace by looking at the average gross margin. If ABC were to extend the analysis to clients that were done product A by looking at the time taken to service each client, it might find more that are not worth having.

(An old client of mine had a business doing about $4MM in revenue and generating $200k in EBITDA. His original client, say XYZ, was his largest, accounting for 40% of his sales, and it was time for the contract renewal. As we looked at it, we noticed that XYZ was like Product A, generating meager gross profit. We then analyzed what would be the impact on the business if he were to lose XYZ. My client realized he could cut his workforce by 50%, reduce his vehicle fleet by 55%, and cut energy consumption and floor space. As a result, he held firm on his proposed price increase with XYZ during the contract renewal, and XYZ refused to renew the contract. So, he cut the expenses we had identified, and the following year, his revenue fell to about $2.4MM, but his EBITDA increased to $450k.)

Finally, for company ABC, when we determine that we want to make a gross profit of “X%”, focusing on each product to ensure it meets that criteria will help. By focusing on each customer to ensure that their purchases don’t drive gross profits down, we can raise ABC’s profitability.

I hope you do this work for all your products/services and clients regularly and focus on those that improve margin and profitability. Using data properly can really help your business.

As I mentioned above, if you are interested in this area, I would recommend the following books The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty, by Sam Savage and Why Can’t You Just Give Me The Number?: An Executive’s Guide to Using Probabilistic Thinking to Manage Risk and to Make Better Decisions, by Patrick Leach.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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