Is there an ROI on a Forecasting System?

September 12th, 2019

A Client Question
Since forecasting can deliver significant benefits with increased levels of service, inventory turnover and margin improvement, the question that inevitably arises is whether it makes sense to purchase a forecasting or demand planning system. Of course, the answer is: “It depends”.

In one client situation, goods were manufactured in Mexico and purchased from Asia. Key customers were large retail outlets. Demand seemed to change daily.  Yet, lead times were in the months if the ‘right’ stock wasn’t in the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time. Of course, they could cover some small changes by adding freight costs but that isn’t a recipe for profit. Improving the forecast would improve their success. So, the question turned to whether a system would have a ROI.

The Answer
In their case, they could achieve a rapid return on investment by using a forecasting system. However, let me say upfront that more often than not, I do not recommend a system. It completely depends on whether it will drive the appropriate level of improvement and associated results or not. In this case, we could easily drive dramatic forecast accuracy improvement since we started out at such a low level of accuracy due to the business environment, industry and key customers. The people understood the importance of the providing forecast feedback and although the key customers didn’t have “good” forecasts to provide, they could provide data we could analyze. In these types of situations, we are able to reduce inventory by a minimum of 20%.  It should be noted, though, that results can be far greater.

Food For Thought
Although forecasting systems can be a great idea to drive service, inventory and margin improvement, they do not always provide a return. Take a step back to understand your industry from a forecasting point-of-view:

  • Is demand constantly changing?
  • Are you supporting small numbers of customer/location points with less than 25 items or is it 100 fold?
  • Are you able to gain key customer input and/or point-of-sale data?
  • Do you have anyone familiar with demand planning and forecasting to be able to make sense of what a system is telling you?
  • And, last but definitely not least, have you found the appropriate scale for your forecasting system?

Trying to kill a fly with an assault rifle is overkill. If you are interested in running your situation by us, contact us.

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Is Demand Planning/ Sales Forecasting Hype or Valuable?

September 9th, 2019

According to Gartner statistics,significant bottom line results can occur with just a 1% improvement in forecast accuracy. In fact, there are staggering improvements in lead time, inventory reduction and margins, so why not at least explore the idea? There are lots of worries expressed by clients and contacts:

  • We cannot predict what our customers will order!
  • Customers don’t even know what they will order! (And, in seeing these ordering patterns, I concur that this is often-times an accurate statement.)
  • Since we are using lean, our lean consultant told us we no longer need forecasts.
  • We are a small company and don’t have resources to focus on forecasting
  • And my favorite, “Why in the world would our significant sales team listen to you?”

I just have one question, if depending on the industry and study, a 1% improvement can lead to a 2.7% to 7% improvement in cash flow and minimally a few percentage points cost improvement in key categories such as freight, wouldn’t you be remiss if you didn’t consider your forecasting process? Of course you would be!

We have yet to run across a client that couldn’t improve the forecast, no matter how daunting the task seemed. Since the outcomes are substantial, it was worth the effort.  And, the effort was typically minimal compared to aligning the people on the forecast.

A few tricks of the trade in driving results with forecasting:

  1. Let your tool (whether Excel or a sophisticated system) do the work for you – From an 80/20 standpoint, there is no doubt that a simple tool will perform far better than even your best person. Develop your base.
  2. Focus on exceptions – On the other hand, your team is best equipped to provide insights and feedback on exceptions. Use their strengths.
  3. Drive results, not blame – Remember, the definition of a forecast is that it will be inaccurate. I’ve yet to run into a client with a perfect forecast. With that said, the three most impressive were across the board – a $100 million dollar facility of a multi-billion dollar aerospace organization with a manually generated forecast, a close to billion dollar consumer products company with a home grown system and smart people, and a rapidly growing <$10 million dollar manufacturer with an Excel-based system with smart, agile and process-oriented people. None of these folks ran around blaming anyone with forecast inaccuracy yet they all outperformed their competitors.

Perhaps it’s time to take a second look at your sales forecasting process. Who is responsible? How does it work? You never know what you’ll discover as you shine a flashlight on the process. If you’d like to discuss forecasting and demand planning further, contact us.

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Is Your ERP System Scalable?

August 14th, 2019

erp successSince we happen to be working on 3 or 4 ERP system projects concurrently, the topic of ERP is top of mind.

Let’s start by saying upfront that we turn down ERP selection project requests. Not everyone needs a new system. Perhaps a process upgrade and better utilization of your current system will sustain your business for 3-5 years. If so, why divert attention? On the other hand, waiting “too long” will quickly spiral into disaster. How do you know which of these is your situation?

An ERP upgrade is one of the most significant initiatives a company can undertake, and the statistics aren’t good. 80% fail to achieve the expected outcome! Yet, if your ERP system isn’t scalable, hiding your head in the sand will lead straight to unmitigated disaster. Thus, it’s best to be proactive, diligent and strategic when it comes to this topic.

Selecting a system isn’t something to delegate to your IT person. Instead, it is something you must “own”. After all, if your system will support your resources so that you can grow the business with the peace of mind that your system will enable a high level of customer service with additional customer-friendly capabilities (such as a customer portal), support your #1 asset (your employees and partners) behind the scenes and allow your business to scale with minimal if any investment of time and resources, it suddenly becomes quite relevant.

The 80/20 of success relates to just two items:

  • Your critical success factors – what is unique to your company or industry and/or what drives customer differentiation and profitability
  • Your design and implementation partners – although the focus typically goes to the software, as with business, the 80/20 of success is with people and partners.

Having an ERP system that supports your business objectives is another key component of creating a resilient supply chain. If you’d like a rapid assessment on whether your ERP system will support your growth and business objectives, contact us. And please check out our resilient supply chain webpage.



Is CRM Valuable?

July 30th, 2019

A Client Question
When clients decide to upgrade ERP, they also look at CRM (customer relationship management) because it makes sense to align the technology infrastructure into a common platform that will be fully integrated and scalable. However, what if it isn’t part of an ERP project? When does it make sense to jump into the CRM world? One client asked us just this question.

The Answer
In their case, they could achieve a powerful return on investment with CRM. It provided the tools and technology that would strengthen their relationship with their current customers, as well as help them expand sales with current customers and create a pipeline of new customers. Specifically, when meeting with customers, the sales reps gained insights into customer preferences and ways to strengthen the relationship. If they captured those ideas into CRM on the spot, the next person who interacted with that customer could see the notes and tailor the conversation. These seemingly small preferences can go a long way!

In terms of expanding business, they needed robust sales reporting that would tell them if they were falling off in a particular area or if they sold one product without its complimentary product so that the sales rep could follow up. Last but not least, they wanted a way to track potential new customers and expansions of business. For example, if a reseller was opening a new facility, they wanted to track it in CRM so that everyone had access to the timing, forecast, and other critical information. Also, since it was a collaborative sales environment, they wanted a way to track potential new customers and where they were in the sales cycle so that they could forecast future sales and the likelihood of it occurring. Sales forecasts were the 80/20 of success in this client because it was in a high growth mode where cash forecasting is of critical importance.

 A simple CRM solution fit the bill. A few years later, they were ready to upgrade their ERP infrastructure. At that time, they had the base CRM disciplines functioning and so it was an easy transition to a fully integrated system with CRM functionality. This client has been recognized multiple times for its substantial growth and success.

Food For Thought
Although CRM systems can be a great idea (as it was in our client’s case), if your sales and support teams aren’t ready to enter at least the key data, you’ve just bought an Audi that sits in your garage.

Start implementing process disciplines early. Enter information about your customers that will be handy at a later date.

Start tracking key meetings and prospects. Are you able to make good decisions from what you are tracking? If not, wait!

Aggressively push to start tracking vital information about your customers, even if you put it in Outlook or a spreadsheet to start. Soon you’ll be ready for a simple CRM solution, followed by more powerful ones as you get used to driving your car on city streets, you’ll be ready to brave the freeways.

If you are interested in running your situation by us, contact us.

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Why Southwest Customers Wouldn’t Buy a Bentley

July 24th, 2019

After giving 10 speeches on pricing and profits to groups of CEOs, it is certainly top of mind. Yet, it should always be top of mind for executive teams. One unanimous finding from the informal research of executives is that pricing is a strategic topic.  So, we must find time! When is the last time you focused on pricing?

Whether you consider pricing a strategic topic or not, it will directly impact your business. Let’s start with three typical options from a branding point-of-view.

  1. Low price leader – Southwest and Walmart are great examples of this. No one flies Southwest to have a first class experience. Instead, they are accessible to the general public and fun to fly. Their prices have to match their brand, and low prices do NOT equate to lower profits. Southwest has been consistently profitable when the higher priced airlines weren’t!
  2. Luxury brands – Similar to the low price leader, a Bentley or Gucci denotes the luxury image. If you found a low price on a Bentley, you would definitely think it was a lemon. In the B2B world, the same holds true. We work with a high quality lawn and garden equipment and tools supplier.  Their prices have to remain higher than the low cost brands to maintain their image and customer base. Of course, they need to provide more education and value for their customers as it is what they expect.
  3. Customer focused – In this case, the brand is all about the customer.  These companies are known for going the extra mile and providing superior value for their target customers. If it is all about value in the eyes of your customer, don’t you think your price better align to this value? Of course! If not, it is the epitome of the opposite of the brand.

Have you thought about your strategy and whether it relates to your pricing? It is easy to get caught up in competitive pricing situations and start to lower your price.  However, it might be the time to take a step back and see whether what you are doing matches your branding and strategy.

For example, one CEO provided an example of when she was a VP of Sales at a significant company. They had a niche product with unique value and higher prices. The sales teams were starting to see competition and thought they had to reduce pricing slightly to maintain their position.  The CEO said ‘no’. They were the leader and had value their competitors didn’t. It was a really hard process for the sales team to go back and talk value instead of giving in on price but they managed it. Fast forward to the next year. They were successful in maintaining their prices and didn’t lose business. Instead of falling into price war thinking, they talked about value.

What Do We Need to Think About Related to Strategic Pricing?

From an 80/20 perspective:

  • Who is your target customer? Think about your answer. Hopefully, it isn’t anyone willing to pay for your product or service! Yet that is an easy trap to fall into. Instead, take a step back and think about your target customer. What is their profile? How many current customers are target customers?
  • What do your target customers value? Although we tend to spend 80% of our time on 20% of our customers, the key question is whether these are the target customers. Do we know what our target customers value? Don’t think about your customer base and your daily interactions to answer this question. Instead, think only about your target customers. If you don’t know, find out! Being clear on this alone will yield dramatic results.
  • Is your pricing aligned with your target customers and their expectations of value? This is a tricky one. In our experience, 80%+ of our clients have room for improvement when we get to this point. It also changes over time.  If you last put thought into this even a year or two ago, you are acting on old information!

There is vast opportunity to keep pricing top of mind as it relates to your strategy. Why do this? It is a top strategy to ensure customer value (to grow your business) and increase bottom line profits simultaneously. If you are interested in a pricing & profits assessment, contact us.

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