Change in Business Strategy

The Situation

The client was an industrial valve manufacturer that catered to large oil and gas firms in Asia. They specialised in custom designed valves that controlled a variety of fluids ranging from water to crude oils and gases. They had a committed and talented R&D facility to simulate and test fluid dynamics within the valves they built. 

The Business Need

The client’s valve manufacturing provided sufficient profit margins and they were comfortable with their market share. However, over the last few years, the top management has clearly noticed a steady decline in sales volume. One of the reasons for this was because of the top management’s adamant hold on profit margins. On one hand, if they had reduced margins to increase sales, the reality of declining sales volume would not be very evident in a few years. The sales volume would have been propped up by less profitable sales. On the other hand, since they held onto the profit margins, the increasing competition that was causing the loss of sales became quickly evident.

The question that was posed to our consultants was this: should the client change their stand on holding onto current profit margins or should they reduce profit margins to increase sales volume and therefore compensate for revenue loss.

Analysis

Our initial discussion with the client, showed us that their market awareness was quite limited. As a first step, we conducted a market study of the valve industry for the Asian region. The results of the market study presented the fact that the price of the custom designed valves had dropped in the region. Purchasers of these valves also had new manufacturers in the region to procure from. One obvious step was to get into a price war with the new entrants in the valves industry.

The other aspects that came out of our structured analysis of the client’s strengths was their maturity in tool and die manufacturing. Though the client did not have expertise in materials other than steels, their basic engineering capability for working with homogeneous and composite materials was evident. Our analysis also pointed to the client manufacturing process needing significant improvements that can be made, to reduce product costs. For example, advanced software simulations can be used to reduce or avoid physical testing to a large extent and improve quality related failures.

Our market study in India pointed to a burgeoning residential and commercial plumbing market for valves. This was an eye opener for the client’s management.

The Solution

The solution that was proposed was a two-pronged approach to change the overall business strategy. One was to look at the collapsing profit margins and the other was into new product development.

As a stop-gap, a revision of profit margins could be done, however a clear minimum was to be determined upfront by the management. Our consulting team guided the management through a pricing exercise to come up with these profit margins. 

A new product development was started to look at plastic and composite plastics-based valves for the retail market, especially for residential homes and commercial buildings. The client’s capability in tool and die manufacturing was quickly realised with plastic mold and plastic forming dies. 

Results

The client got a revenue boost by gently reducing the profit margins. This boost helped with the product development of retail plastic valves. The product development took a few months because the R&D in plastics had to be done. They initially released 3 valves into the market and achieved better market acceptance than the existing plastic valves because of their higher quality standards they brought to the manufacturing process. 

Our team had pointed out that the client sales teams were not capable of doing retail sales and an entire sales restructuring had to be done to approach the new retail market. 

The market research and strategy change for the client took 3 months to complete. The retail sales team creation and restructuring of the sales effort took another engagement of 6 months.

Introduction to After Sales (Webinar)

A free webinar introducing Aftersales as an important process for customer retention and loyalty.

Join us at 4pm IST, Saturday 4th April 2020

In this introductory webinar on Aftersales, the topics that will be covered are:

  • What is after sales service?
  • Maintenance contracts
  • Costs associated with aftersales
  • Product improvements

Duration: 30 minutes
Time: 4pm IST
Date: 4th April, 2020
Location: Online link or paste this in browser https://meeting.zoho.in/meeting/register?sessionId=1372142262

Panel Speakers:

Dr John Mathew (Principal Consultant)

Jacob George (Principal Consultant)

Aligning IT Systems

The Situation

The client was a food manufacturer based in Western Europe. They were a third generation, family owned business, that was very interested in expansion. With this focus they acquired a logistics company to scale up their capability to deliver to a larger geography.

The Business Need

One of the reasons for acquisition of the logistics company, was to cater to a larger geography. The other reason was to respond to changes in demand in a more flexible manner. After the acquisition of the logistics company, the parent manufacturing company, found that the market changes were more pronounced and therefore could not keep up with the rapid changes in demand. The demand changes caused more issues within the parent company than before the acquisition of the logistics company.

Analysis

The client mentioned that the systems of the logistics company were integrated to the parent company. However, a closer look at how the parent company had envisaged the workflow to serve the market was significantly different from what the systems in the logistics company was set up to do. The logistics company had a variety of controls in place to understand the flow of materials through its systems but there was no need for the company to understand actual market demand. Market demand and in turn, the rate of flow of materials through its systems was always determined by an external firm, such as the parent company. 

The demand measurement was added to the logistics firm and the parent company expected demand management to be met by the newly acquired logistics firm.

The Solution

The solution was a compromise between the decision making in the logistics company and the decision making in the manufacturing company. ACPL decided to segregate certain functions of demand management to the logistics firm and certain functions to the parent manufacturing firm. Based on this segregation the processes had to be slightly changed, and there were significant changes to the IT systems.

Some of the functions were automated and the upper and lower bounds of operations were set using historical data from the both the firms. This automation helped remove the pressure points between the two IT systems that had caused numerous errors and issues during rapid demand changes.

Results

The alignment of the two IT systems was the key to success for this client. Throughout the engagement, there were significant ups and downs because of the disparate systems of the two firms. The data flow could only be corrected once the workflow of how the materials moved through both the firms were understood, and how the decisions were supposed to be made were understood. Both the IT systems had to work as a cohesive system along with all the people who were responsible to ensure that demand changes were being catered to. Though our engagement took nearly 18 months, the end result was quite satisfying.

Customer Segmentation

The Situation

The client was a printing firm based in Kerala, India. Their focus was on outdoor media, mainly in flexible hoardings, and signages. They catered to a wide variety of clients, ranging from walkins, to large corporate clients. Anyone who needs signage could approach them. For the last five years, their turnover has slightly increased however, their profit margins have dropped considerably.

The Business Need

The client mentioned that they were not able to increase price margins, however, they were able to get reductions in purchases because their volumes had increased. The client is worried about losing clients as the competition is increasing.

Analysis

The analysis of the client environment pointed to the large range of clients that they were catering to. Most of the interactions to each type of client had a different approach and requirements. For example, walkin customers did not have a price issue however, they usually had a strong delivery time requirement. This meant that the client had to reschedule any current manufacturing orders and even break running orders to free up the printing machine for the walk-in customer’s order. 

On the other hand, large corporate customers had long deliberations on pricing and delivery dates were well into the future. Since corporate customers needed tight pricing, the discussions were more specific and technical in nature, such as print quality, use of eco-solvents, print media quality, packaging, delivery and many more.

The Solution

Looking at each type of customer, we found that the requirements were spread quite broad and therefore, we could afford to price the services differently. We used a couple of customer profiling methods to cluster the different types of customers into approximate homogeneous segments. There were six customer segments that were identified and for each segment, we suggested a baseline pricing and an additional pricing for the range of additional services that were included for the final delivery. We created a customer feedback service and aftersales support service to ensure that pricing adjustments did not create a backlash to the client in the long run.

Results

Our engagement, from initial discussion to signoff took 6 months. There was a 1.5x increase in turnover and the profit margins were significantly increased. The customer feedback was initially mixed, as the new pricing and delivery took a few months to streamline. A majority of customers enjoyed the pricing as the additional services were clearly specified. There was significant client handholding that was required to ensure the pricing changes were accepted to the end customer. The client’s staff was quite eager to help customers as the process became simplified based on the customer segment. Once the staff identified the segment the customer was in, the rest of the process was to follow a standard script. 

Towards the end of the engagement we found that one customer segment could be divided into two more segments! The client was confident to build the pricing and related services for these new segments based on our training.

Building a robust Marketing and Sales Capability – Part 2

This is 2 part post. See the first part here

Confirmed Information

Once the marketing team or the sales team identifies the lead to be a potential customer, and the sales team does have an interest to pursue a particular lead, it is then converted. This conversion has a few of different categories of information; a contact, an account, an opportunity:

  1. A contact is a person within a company. It is possible to have multiple contacts within a company. Most interactions with a company is to a contact
  2. A company is also referred to as an account. Some systems have the capability to have parent and child accounts. This relationship is to ensure that head office and branch offices are maintained under the same account.
  3. The third aspect is the opportunity. An opportunity is a clear potential to make a sale. The opportunity in many systems are gauged by a timeframe within which the sale can be conducted and the value of a sale that can be done.
  4. There are other optional aspects such as events, notes and campaign logs that can be maintained for a converted lead. The reason behind these optional aspects is maintain a history of interaction with the customer. For example, for which marketing campaign did our company first meet with this customer or when was the email campaign sent.

The confirmed information about a contact and the company that she works for is a static data point that usually does not change over time. Contacts and account details can be used for a variety of activities such as sending proposals sending quotations, sending invitations to events or for specialised discounts and promotions.

People moving

One thing to note about a contact is that, the person may choose to work for another company in due course of time. In such a case, usually I would recommend that you mark the current contact as terminated or change the status to dead. It is very rare that you would transfer the contact data to the new company that she works for. However, you would create a new contact and the new company and keep a reference note under this contact mentioning that she had work previously for another company.

Duplicate data

Most systems will be able to detect duplicates within the contact database using fields like email, primary phone number or a combination of name and address. Duplication must be seriously looked at during this phase of the sales cycle.

The Sales Cycle

We had discussed about targets and is being part of the marketing campaign and everything  beyond leads to be part of the sales cycle. The sales cycle has numerous steps and depending on the complexity of the product or service that is being sold, the length of the cycle can drastically change.

Qualification

Qualification is usually the first step in the  sales cycle. Once the lead, or contact is qualified,  it means there is a clear need for the product or service that is being sold. The exact need would be identified in the next step of the cycle.

Needs Analysis

Based on the information that is received about the qualified lead which is converted to a contact and also an account, the exact pain point is identified. A single product or service may not address all the pain points, however, so long as there is sufficient number of pain points a value can be found.

Value Proposition

Understanding the value that the product or service will deliver to the customer is important because this value has to be clearly expressed to the customer. Before a sale, the customer has to believe that the product or service will deliver what is expected. Most of the value proposition will have to be built around solving the pain points that the customer has exhibited during the need analysis. This is a stage where the mapping of the product features to the pain points of the customer takes place.

Identifying Decision Makers

When selling a product or service to a large firm, there are usually multiple people who will be using the product and therefore, it will be necessary to identify all those who will influence the purchasing decision.

Perception Analysis

There could be other components that is required to ensure the sale can be closed. The perception of the customer is understood to incorporate the additional requirements to satisfy all the possible needs of the customer

Proposal/Price Quote

A detailed proposal is presented along with the price of the product/ service

Negotiation/Review

Most cases for large contracts, there will be negotiations that are conducted. There could be specifications that are changed or general price negotiations

Closed (Won/Lost)

This is the final stage where, the sale is closed and result is either a win or a lose. If customer is won, then the next step is to bill the customer. If the customer is lost then there could be a assessment to understand the reasons why this customer was lost.

Maintenance/Recycle

In most cases, the customer contacts are maintained for future business, whether the sale was won or lost.

Not all sales cycles follow this exact pattern. The type of product or service will determine the length of the cycle. For example, the sale of a chocolate bar to person would last a few minutes, while the sale of a large commercial oil tanker may take a few months. This difference is not because of the physical size of the product but rather the time taken to make the decision to buy or not. Most individual buyers tend to be much faster in their decision making as compared to a large corporate entity. Therefore all the phases of the sales cycle mentioned above may not pertain to the sale of a chocolate bar!

Now that we have explore the different stages of a sales cycle, do let us know how you conduct the sales cycle in your firm. Please provide your comments below!

Building a robust Marketing and Sales Capability

Most companies are aware that revenue is of utmost importance to ensure growth and sustenance for the company. This is a 2 part post. Read the second part here

The two vital components of revenue are marketing and sales. Though most firms are well aware that marketing and sales functions are important aspects, very rarely do they look at marketing and sales as a capability not as an end goal  for generating revenue. This article does not downplay the importance of sales and marketing goals, but it does show that companies with systems and procedures can sweep up more opportunities than those firms with random or incomplete processes with goals at the end.

Another aspect is that, at times, companies fail to understand the boundaries of marketing and boundaries of sales.This creates an overlap of tasks and activities thereby causing loss in effective revenue management. The separate tasks and activities of revenue management as part of marketing and sales are described next.

Sales and marketing process has a variety of tasks and activities that can be sequenced in a linear fashion. This process is quite generic and can be adopted to a variety of industries and categories of companies. The following sequence shows the overall process of a typical sales cycle:

A typical sales cycle

Target → Lead → Confirmed Information (Contact, Account, etc) → Opportunity Exists → Understanding the pain point → Proposal → Negotiation → Closing → Maintenance or Recycle

What are targets?

Targets are pieces of information about a person or a set of persons from a particular source of marketing activity. For example, if a company has conducted a seminar, then all the attendees of the seminar would be potential targets for future marketing activities. There is no potential impact on the marketing or sales activities if targets change or have incorrect data. Target are quickly changed, deleted or modified depending on the type of information that is obtained about the target. There could be additional activities done on targets such as data cleaning or a call centre based verification. In some cases email subscriptions are requested to ensure targets are real. The most cost effective method is used to ensure targets are cleaned and moved to the next stage of qualification.

A target is just the starting point to a more personalised communication to a person or a company.

The next stage of activity in the sequence is to convert a target to a lead.

What are leads?

Leads are targets that have been qualified based on an email confirmation or a phone call. Since leads have origins in the target list, their conversion depends on the campaign activity.

Each campaign activity may have different types of qualifications and therefore not all targets get converted into leads. Targets which do not get converted, may not be important for the current campaign. In some cases, a marketing campaign starts from existing leads, that were used before or were those that would never converted in previous campaigns.

The stage of leads in the sequence of marketing and sales activities represents the boundary between marketing and sales.

A lead has sufficient information  about a person or a company to to have an effective communication. However a lead does not have all the information required to make it a sustainable data point for future interaction. This is because leads can appear as duplicates or may appear across different companies with different names.

Not all leads come from targets. Some are created directly in  the system based on the Information that is received by the company. These created leads are sometimes created by the marketing department and in some cases done by the sales department. Usually the volume entries for new leads are done by marketing department and lead corrections and data scrubbing is done by the sales department.

The conversion from targets to leads, exposes a level of efficiency that the marketing campaigns are able to achieve.

Why is this lead necessary?

In most companies the sales department may feel that marketing departments waste a lot of budget with no direct return on investment. A marketing department can use the ratio of targets to leads conversion to show a clear value of the different marketing campaigns that were conducted.

Usually leads have the same data that is in the target and therefore, most sales and marketing tools are not able to distinguish unique leads within their system. In the next stage of activity, the leads are changed to a more static data point and hence duplicates can be identified more easily.

Now, as a company, we are quite sure that the customer exists and the person we are talking to exists. The information about the lead has a significant level of confirmation. The next stage of activity in the sequence is to convert a lead to a contact.

Read part 2 of Building a robust marketing and sales capability

Revenue Management

Situation

The client was a rapidly growing food chain based in a metro city in South India. They are focused on the premium cafe customers who are looking for a/c, beautiful interiors and a South Indian menu.

The rapid expansion throughout India has caused their revenues to drop in 3 successive quarters. Most of the newly opened locations have not broken even after 3 months of operations.

Business Need

The client has done a thorough study on the viability of their shop at each new location so they are confident that the location has potential. The client needs to know what changes to make so that their overall revenue per location is increased.

Analysis

The initial knee jerk reaction of the client to the current situation was to increase the advertising budget and start localised advertising, such as flyers and local newspaper and TV channels. Our team had to convince the client’s management to pull back on all the advertising spend and evaluate the entire source of revenue before committing to an advertising budget.

From our expertise in the food and retail industries, we selected a range of parameters to collect data. Most of the parameters that we had selected, such as customer age range, frequency, etc. were available with the client. Some of the parameters such as local events, tourism related customers, etc were not available and therefore we had to setup the collection for the same. Most of the analysis pointed to weak product-market fit for the entire range of menu that was presented.

Solution

The client was instructed to cut back on all menu items to just the ones that were not present in the locality of each cafe. The remaining items on the menu formed the base framework to understand the taste palate of the local customer. We were quite surprised to see the difference between the menu items from location to location. This cut back was held for a few weeks before offering customers additional menu range as a free sample. All new items were provided free for a couple of months until there were some customers who specifically asked for the new menu item. We recommended this ‘ask’ as a trigger to place the item on the menu permanently.

Results

The results were significant to the client as they did not expect the variation in menu items from location to location. The assumption was that the local cafe from a particular location could thrust the opinion of taste to another geographic region and maintain the revenue. 

The client was aware of the taste requirements at their original location but refused to accept that their taste would not be accepted in its native form to another location. 

Once we had shown the client the cut back menu item and only when a customer ‘asked’ for a new item, the results were rather evident to the client. The revenues bounced back to healthy numbers and they have now become a well known eatery in nearly all their locations.

From Risks to Audits

Risk management and audit management are distinctly separate in terms of personnel involved and the techniques used. Most organisations that have ventured into assessing risks, have found that moving from risk assessment to audit (control and test creation) is quite a daunting task. Conceptually, moving from risk assessment to audits is the ideal and logical step to take, but there has be considerable hesitation from numerous organisations.

The GRC Envelop tool has a risk management module for the enterprise version. Risk registers, associated risks, stakeholders, risk opinions/scoring, risk treatments and many more features are present in the risk module. However, there is no connection between the risk management module and audits module.Why is this left out?

Once there is a decision by the business management as to which risks exist and which are to be assessed, the next step is vague for most of the clients. Here are some of the approaches that have been noticed when we implement GRC Envelop at organisations who have started risk-based auditing:

  • create a new audit and define a “relatively” new set of controls that will assess the risks
  • map the risks to a department or division and create a new set of controls
  • modify existing controls and tests to cover the new risks, but later realise there are control gaps

Over time we have observed two aspects that should help overcome the hesitation while moving from risks to audit creation; first, the understanding that risks are part of a process that exists in the organisation and second, the overlap between existing controls/tests and the new ones has to be taken care of.

Risk as a part of a process

Risks do not exist independently within an organisation.

The recommendation is to attach a risk that needs to be handled, to an existing process. This existing process forms the basis of the risk based audit. Attaching the risk to a process is the most efficient mechanism to track where the risk would fall within the entire organisation.

However, attaching risks directly to a process may not be the ideal situation because risk exists with reference to an objective. A risk is the situation when an objective fails to achieve the desired output of a process. Therefore, attaching the risk to an objective is a much better alternative. This results in the overall structure being: Process (at the top), having numerous objectives, and each objective having numerous risks.

Do keep in mind that risks may span multiple objectives.

Control and test overlap

Though it is true that newly identified risk may need a new set of controls and tests to capture the assurance that business management needs, it is not true that these controls and tests have to be new completely new. Most large organisation have quite stable processes and keeping this assumption means that the newly identified risks may have been implicitly captured in some other control.

Understanding control overlap caused by the newly identified risk is a painful process of weeding out controls and tests that are no longer needed. This also maintains an optimised number of controls and tests for each process (not to mention control owner satisfaction).

Not so easy to find a common path

To conclude, I agree that moving from risk assessment to audit execution is not a straight forward task, but the framework of using the process/objective hierarchy will help ease the transition and help manage the ever growing risk control matrices in large organisations.

One aspect that I’d like to throw in is, the feedback from audit results back to risk assessment, but I think I’ll keep it for another post.

I look forward to your feedback on how you move from risk assessment to audit definition!

Data analysis in Sales and Marketing

Situation

The client was a small mutual fund company whose parent company was a medium sized Bank based in Western Europe. As part of a major restructuring and cost reduction, a majority of the internal workforce was reduced at the mutual fund company. The marketing department was almost eliminated and the sales department was reduced by more than 50%.

Business Need

The client needed to show that they still have the ability to grab market share in the tight economy in Europe in 2011. The sales force was strained significantly because of the workforce reduction. The client needed a different strategy to approach the market.

Solution

The reduced sales force needed much more quality data to fill the sales pipeline. There was no other alternative. Buying market data sets would lead to large volume of cold calls and turnaround would be very slow.

Based on numerous conversations with the management of the mutual fund company, we found a majority of the board members and operational heads, also reported to the parent Bank. Using this as a key stepping stone to enter the parent Bank we were able to access the customer data of the bank.

We proposed to use the data of all the customers in the parent Bank and map them to the existing clients of the mutual fund company. Using data analytics tools we found potential customers from the parent Bank data that have similar characteristics as those who had bought mutual funds. Using this inference, we were able to rank the potential bank customers who had not yet bought mutual funds.

Results

The results were extremely pleasing to the client. The list of potential customers had a very high propensity to buy mutual funds and in turn the sales team found it very easy and efficient to approach and close new mutual fund accounts

Within a period of 3 months we were able to deliver the entire data set from the parent Bank, rank ordered for potential customers.

There was a 300% increase in new mutual fund account creation for the mutual fund company.

Looking for an Audit management tool at low cost?

When looking for a GRC software, how much would price affect your decision? Would you try a free open source, but reduced feature software?

An interesting comment on the Norman Marks blog asks why you would stick to a fixed set of features rather than look for “á la carte” GRC software. At what “point” would you choose product that covers a fixed feature set over a pick-and-choose approach to software or visa versa?

The GRC Envelop is a risk and audit management tool that is web – based and has risk and audit work flows. To answer the price issue, GRC Envelop tool is available in 2 licences: an open source licence and an enterprise licence. The open source licence is referred to as the community version. The enterprise licence is refer to as the enterprise version. The enterprise version has commercial support and many additional features to help with risk and audits. Please take a look at the feature list to decide which one is better for you.

GRC Envelop tries to blend the price and feature set issue by the classic software design of breaking the tool into modules. For example, the risk management module that can be swapped for another risk management tool, using APIs provided.

Audit and risk management tools are quite common in the enterprise, and they help structure the audit work flow, maintain a common repository of audit/risk related information (such as objectives, risks, controls, and tests) and manage the people around the audit/risk activities. Assuming we look at audit management for now, there are four basic areas for every audit management tool should have:

  1. Creating audits – Title, description, start and end dates are of some of the features that are available while creating an audit. You can also attached work papers to an Audit. While creating an audit, you can create the processes, the objectives, the risks, the controls and the tests. At each of these levels you can attach work papers too.
  2. Managing and executing audits – to manage or execute an Audit, the GRC Envelop tool provides a separate workflow to ensure that auditors can only enter test results and test descriptions. While executing the audit you can create findings and actions. The ability to make control and test assessment is only available in the enterprise version.
  3. Report generation – the main use of this tool is to provide easy report generation at the end of an auditing exercise. report generation template can be modified according to your needs. The community version has only one default report generation template. The enterprise version has the ability to have multiple templates.
  4. User management – Restricting users to their areas is an important task for a tool. The community version has only one user type ( auditor) whereas the enterprise version has 6 user types (Audit manager, auditor, external viewer, internal business user, repository manager and risk manager)

The GRC Envelop provides all these basic areas. Paid support is also available for the community version. The community version has to be downloaded and installed on your machine or server. The enterprise version can be run on your servers or hosted on a public server. Please take a look at the feature list to understand which version will be most suitable for your use. Here are a few questions that we’d like to pose:

  1. Do you think there are other basic areas that was missed out?
  2. How would you define if a audit tool is easy or complex to use (steep learning curve)? The time it takes to learn a tool is one aspect, what else affects complexity?

Let us know in the comments below.