Archive for May, 2015|Monthly archive page

Are you charging your customers enough?

Nearly every executive pays lip service to “shareholder value.” But many of them readily, if unwittingly, make business decisions that run counter to that objective.

Over the long run, no variable correlates more strongly with shareholder value than profit maximization — something that many companies do not prioritize in spirit, let alone in practice.

Instead, they often focus on flavor-of-the-month strategies such as market share growth or product innovation. Believe it or not, these are not always compatible with maximizing profit over the long run.

The problem with focusing on market share is that growth is often achieved at the expense of competitors. “Switchers” are the most difficult customers to attract, frequently requiring discounted pricing or free trials, and are also the most difficult to retain. The result is generally a temporary increase in market share that does not translate into higher revenue or lower operating costs.

While focusing on product innovation is always a good place to start, it too can come up short when it comes to maximizing profit. One major reason is a failure to properly price the products. An introductory price that is too low for too long — usually in hopes of stealing market share — may never produce the return a company is hoping for.

The result is that companies often spin their wheels, leaving profit on the table because they don’t understand the true value of their enhanced product — or feel that their brand does not command the heft required to demand premium pricing for premium quality.

Why does pricing go off the rails?

Our consulting firm recently worked with a company whose stock was under-performing relative to its peers. The company’s solution had been to increase market share through product upgrades. Despite considerable money and effort, however, the strategy failed to build top-line revenue and, as a result, investors were unmoved.

When we performed the postmortem we determined that management put a great deal of care into identifying what customers wanted and how to market the products but put little thought into what to charge. Not only were the prices too low to feasibly provide a return on the organization’s R&D investment, customers failed in lieu of premium pricing to grasp the products’ premium quality.

Setting the right price

It can be a challenge to devise and stick to a pricing strategy that reflects the true value of a product or service without compromising competitiveness. Here are a few tips that can make the task a little easier:

  • Ensure that every stakeholder both understands the primacy of long-term profitability and is aligned around that goal;
  • Recognize that there may be special instances when premium pricing should temporarily take the backseat to marketplace competition;
  • Understand your existing and potential customers’ needs and budget and seek to meet both;
  • Enumerate the ways in which your product or service addresses those needs, using tools such as a customer-value model;
  • Consider if or how you need to differentiate and build your brand to support premium pricing.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc., web site.

Why do smart executives make bad decisions?

Why do seemingly intelligent and well-meaning executives make bad business decisions?

As consultants, it’s a question that organizations task us with answering, often through postmortem reviews of failed strategic initiatives. The idea is to develop a better understanding of how and why pivotal (and ultimately poor) choices were made in hopes of not repeating the mistakes.

We look at the analysis undertaken, the managerial deliberation and how the final decisions were made. In each case, we discovered that the root cause of the bad choice(s) was not the decision-makers themselves — i.e. stupidity on the part of management — but rather a dysfunctional process for making decisions.

Optimizing the decision-making process can go a long way to improving the level of analysis, managerial buy-in and the quality of the decision. And — perhaps most importantly — it could spare your organization from being responsible for the next Edsel or New Coke.

Worst practices

Rigid silos
Whether purposefully, a product of geography or a matter of culture, employees in many organizations are “siloed” in discrete units or departments. Rigid silos restrict the flow of ideas, hampering the collaborative process required for developing sound analysis and making informed decisions.

Executives who possess a siloed worldview — i.e. “empire builders” — can be particularly toxic. Unlike lower-level managers, these individuals have the power to inhibit the allocation of necessary resources and the development and implementation of strategy that serves the interests of the larger organization.

Excessive politics
Politicking is inevitable when any group is gathered to make an important decision. The trouble occurs when politicking gets out of control and supersedes sound logic. This sort of dysfunction breeds and emboldens bias and ago, which can hijack the process and lead to lousy decision-making.

Common examples of excessive politicking include: prioritizing departmental or career goals at the expense of corporate ones; keeping key stakeholders in the dark through the widespread use of back-channel communications; and overemphasizing consensus building or “what will fly” over what makes the most sense.

Muddled processes
Most large organizations assert the importance of strategic problem solving and retain scores of managers who possess this skill. However, many of these firms fail to create and follow the right practices for guiding and empowering these individuals to reach their full potential.

The process — if it even exists — often follows inadequate preparatory work and is too brief, under-resourced and devoid of key stakeholders. Worse, the individuals who are in the room often possess a shared analytical framework thus and lack the skills, expertise and vision required for distinguishing between a good idea and a bad one.

Best practices

There is no silver bullet for creating and sustaining an effective decision-making process. Every company and situation is unique. However, getting the organizational fundamentals right can go a long way toward mitigating and eliminating many of the aforementioned issues. Generally speaking, best practices include:

  • Developing and implementing a systematic decision-making methodology and process
  • Encouraging open and frank discussions about all options, assumptions and scenarios
  • Providing access to high-quality and actionable data
  • Using practical and coherent criteria for evaluating decisions
  • Having engaged and impartial leaders overseeing the process

For more information on our services and work please visit Quanta Consulting Inc.  Follow me on Twitter @MitchellOsak or connect through email at mosak@quantaconsulting.com