Do you know your Profit per X to drive dramatic growth?

Do you know your Profit per X to drive dramatic growth?

I recently facilitated a workshop with several CEOs where we worked on the dramatic business growth model components. One of the questions that I had asked them beforehand was, “What is Your Profit/X?” The results showed that there this concept is not clear to many. So I will try to provide some clarity below.

What is Profit/X?

Jim Collins, in Good to Great, said,

“The essential strategic difference between the good-to-great and comparison companies lay in two fundamental distinctions. First, the good-to-great companies founded their strategies on a deep understanding along three key dimensions; what we came to call the three circles. Second, the good-to-great companies translated that understanding into a simple, crystalline concept that guided all their efforts … one particularly provocative form of economic insight that every good-to-great company attained is the notion of a single ‘economic denominator.'” 

The economic denominator is Collins refers to is “X.” So if you could pick just one “profit per X” ratio to increase over time systematically, what “X” would have the most significant and sustainable impact on your business?

Whatever it is, it is your single, overarching KPI, and to achieve that status, it needs to meet the following:

  • Everyone in the business knows it.
  • It is the factor by which all significant, strategic decisions are measured.
  • It has a positive impact on revenue and is cost-effective
  • More “X” is desirable.
  • It is tightly aligned with your long-term vision.
  • It is unique within your industry.
  • It should improve your team’s discipline and focus.
  • It should decrease the likelihood of spending on initiatives that end in failure or don’t align with your strategy.
  • It can always tell you whether you are trending forward or backward? 
  • Everyone understands their role in driving its improvement.

How do you determine it? 

Again from Good to Great, “The denominator can be quite subtle, sometimes even unobvious. The key is to use the question of the denominator to gain understanding and insight into your economic model.”

So, determining your “profit per X” is not just choosing what appears to be the most obvious answer, as many do. Instead, you need to understand your company’s economic model. Don’t just accept any denominator, but figure out what is the strategy to increase it.’

However, determining your “profit per X” is difficult! It requires an investment of time and effort and will be the source of many debates and disagreements. Not only that, but once you do agree on your unique KPI, it needs to be managed, which is also tricky. Finally, it requires the discipline to review and monitor it continually; otherwise, it won’t provide helpful insight.

Determining your unique economic denominator is difficult. Because it’s complicated, many companies are unwilling to invest the time and effort required for this exercise to succeed. 

Remember, what works for one company may not work for yours!

Those who struggle to determine it?

Some of the CEOs I asked struggled to develop their “profit per X.” What is apparent is that those companies are not clear on their core customer and marketplace, so they cannot clearly articulate what problem they’re solving and for whom.

A CEO didn’t have the data on their profitability per client, so without that, they couldn’t determine effectively who their core customer is. However, he informed us that the larger customers were the most profitable. Suppose the data shows that is the case. In that case, they are probably over-servicing their smaller clients and making barely any money from them.  If the company lost all these smaller clients, they would be only marginally worse off.  It would be better for them to focus most of their resources on our higher value, larger customers, which will lead to exponential growth.

It needs to align with your strategy.

It is critical that “profit per X” is tightly aligned with your long-term vision. Many companies either pull a random number out of thin air or align it to a vague aspiration statement. That will not work! Your strategy and “profit per X” must support each other, and your strategic goals should be measured in the same units as “X.”

Some of the CEOs I mentioned said “gross profit per FTE” and another revenue per FTE with a general assumption on profit levels. The latter fails the test above because no one in the company knows it, gets behind it, and it’s not measured regularly. Gross profit per FTE reflects efficiency, but does it align with the strategy and drive growth? If the strategy is to be the most efficient in the industry, maybe. But if your strategy is to grow to $XMM in revenue and be the market leader, probably not. Using up valuable management cycles and energy to improve efficiency will distract from your growth objective. Instead, find a “profit per X” that drives revenue growth.

Unique within your industry.

When discussing this concept recently, someone mentioned that they didn’t believe it needed to be unique to your business. However, suppose the key driver in your economic engine is the same as your competitions’. In that case, you are all focused on pursuing the same outcomes from the same market. The result is that you are viewed as a commodity rather than differentiated from your competition. Once you’re a commodity, it is a race to the bottom.

Also, a good “profit per X” can provide an advantage to your business even during an economic downturn by differentiating the company from the competition and focusing on revenue and costs containment. It can help a business succeed, even if it’s in a dying sector.

Here are some examples of how uniqueness can enable your business to scale dramatically.

Walgreens. In Good to Great, Collins uses Walgreens chemists as an example. The industry model was profit per store, so to increase “profit per store,” the trend was fewer larger stores. Instead, Walgreen adopted the Starbucks model of profit per customer visit. As a result, they focused on opening lots of smaller stores instead of a few big ones. With more (conveniently located) stores, customers’ likelihood of coming to one of their stores increased. Since the customers were no longer visiting for a single purpose, customers’ spend per visit increased.

Southwest Airlines. The world’s most profitable airline. Southwest identified that their core customer was someone who would otherwise get the bus or drive. They weren’t solving the problem of a Fortune 1000 executive who needs to fly from the US to Europe on a flatbed. With customer clarity, their “Profit per X” was profit per airplane. They made their money while their planes were in the air. They identified their competitors, not as other airlines, but bus companies. So, their business was focused on price. They stripped out food and assigned seats to increase profit per airplane and only used one model – the 737.

Autopia car wash. Like many companies, it was focused on “profit per customer.” While they offered car wash memberships, the “profit per customer” metric showed membership customers were less profitable. They took up more admin time to update credit card details than single-transaction customers. 

However, looking at the data and examining the company’s economic engine, the CEO realized membership customers were ten times more valuable, not the inconvenience he perceived. The company pivoted its model to focus on memberships, making customer satisfaction and member benefits central to the strategy.  Profit per membership card became the new “profit per X,” the one metric that drove the company’s growth. (Thanks to Doug Wicks, a Scaling Up coach, for sharing this story).

New System Laundry. New System Laundry serviced the hospitality industry, picking up and delivering laundry. Again their “profit per X” was profit per customer. However, given their core customer, they could only scale the business by increasing business per customer or prices. They re-examined their business and economic model. Changing their “profit per “X” to “Gross profit per truckload” enabled them to focus on reducing cost per delivery through more efficient delivery routes and schedules, customer clustering, and core customer locations. They added new customer locations strategically, and the business grew dramatically! 

A jewelry design firm. Their initial “profit per X,” like many, was profit per customer. However, looking at the data, it was apparent that many showroom customers were not profitable as they took up too much time and didn’t spend enough. As a result, the owner closed the showroom and moved into a studio, taking customers by appointment only. Taking appointments on weekends and offering champagne and hors d’oeuvres while customers shopped, revenue per appointment increased over 400%. As a result, “profit per X” is now “profit per appointment.” By optimizing appointments, the business can scale dramatically. (Thanks to Glen Dall, a fellow Gravitas coach, for sharing this story.)

So what is your “profit per X?”

As I have tried to show above, profit per X is different for everyone. It needs to align with your strategy and drive dramatic growth. What works for one company doesn’t necessarily work for you. 

Below are some examples to get you and your team’s imagination going about what is the unique economic denominator for your company:

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

If you would like help determining your “profit per X” and dramatically scaling your business, contact me.

(c) Copyright 2021, Marc Borrelli

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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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Many privately owned businesses don’t have Boards of Directors since they don’t have outside shareholders there is no need to. However, having a Board of Advisors has been shown to result in a 3x greater growth in sales and profits than companies without them.

 

What is a Board of Advisors?

A Board of Advisors comprises 3 to four high-level executives who provide the CEO with advice and are focused on the CEO’s success. However, unlike a Board of Directors, the CEO doesn’t have to take their advice. Their role is to:

  • Hold him and the management team accountable. We all believe we can hold ourselves accountable but fail miserably;
  • Act as a coach;
  • As the difficult questions or the questions no one is asking;
  • Enable the CEO to focus ON the business and not IN the business – to stop the tyranny of urgency taking precedence over the important;
  • Validate the CEO’s ideas and strategy; and
  • Bring their experience to the company.

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What is a Board of Advisors not! It is not a group of people to make introductions to potential sales targets.

 

Who should be on the Board?

The Board of Advisors is there to help you and should not have other interests, so it should not include advisors or consultants that you already use, i.e. your accountant or lawyer. Also, it is not necessary to get a marquee name that has retired. More useful is to get middle to upper management that has real experience with the issues the CEO is facing and from a range of industries. That way he can get the benefit of best practices across all industries and learn of new solutions to problems in the industry. As times change and the company faces new issues, the board should change to have a membership with experience with such issues.

Like a marriage, you need the right partners. These are people the CEO can rely on to provide good advice and like your doctor will see you “naked”. Ideally a group with different skill sets that complement the CEO’s skills and deal with issues currently facing the company.

 

How should they be compensated?

People often joke that Board of Advisors is just paid coffee, water and a bagel. Typically they don’t work for much; however, it is advisable to pay them a stipend, i.e. $20k, even if it is a contribution to a charity in their name. Why? Because you are asking them of their time and commitment, and if compensated, they are more likely to return that urgent call when you have a crisis. Also they should all be paid the same.

Sometimes they also get equity; however, since many of the companies seeking a Board of Advisors are private, the company doesn’t want to give equity. However, synthetic equity works such instances. In addition, if you have a Board of Advisors and are raising equity capital, all the Board members need to have purchased equity in the business, as most Angel and Venture Capitalists will not see it as positive the Board of Advisors is not willing to invest.

 

How often should the Board of Advisors meet?

Typically, they should meet between four and six times a year. Not less than four, and if over four maybe the additional meetings should be telephonic. The meetings are often 4 hours as well as some preparation time of maybe 10 hours, so if you are asking for six meetings per year, you are asking for a commitment of 84 hours a year or two weeks.

 

When do you need them?

A small company can always use the independent outside input; however, they are especially useful when going through inflection points in the company’s life, or the marketplace is changing dramatically. When dealing with something the company has not faced before, the Board of Advisors can be invaluable to the CEO as he navigates a new course. If you realize you need one it is often too late. However, most important is that the CEO must believe that they will be beneficial, and the CEO must be coachable. If not there is no point!

 

Who should attend?

The senior management I believe to be best. However, not necessarily all at once! They can each attend as their area is discussed and reviewed. As a result, they are receiving coaching too, and the benefit of the Board’s expertise as strategies are proposed and discussed. However, there should be just a time for the CEO as there are only things that can be discussed with the CEO, i.e. the perceived performance of a senior manager or the CEO’s failure to live up to his deliverables.

 

Should there be agreements with them?

While they are not a Board of Directors, you should have agreements with them. These agreements need to set out, among other things:

  • Pay – They know what they are getting.
  • Time Commitment – They know what they are committing to.
  • Liability – They know what to expect.
  • Term – They can let them go when the company needs different skills with no difficulty
  • Nondisclosure terms and non-competes as relevant – protects all parties.

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