Skills Gap – Where Do We Stand?

December 8th, 2019

The skills gap has been a hot topic for many years. Our original research shows a 87% gap. For example, any time Kash Gokli, Engineering Clinic Director at Harvey Mudd and I gather CEOs to talk about timely topics in executive roundtables, no matter the topic of the evening, the lack of talent (or the ‘right’ talent in the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time) arises. As technology comes on to the scene in a BIG way, there is even more conversation, confusion and interest in how to successfully navigate the skills gap.

According to research, automation and robotics have the potential to take over countless jobs. This can be seen as mass destruction of high paying blue collar jobs or it can be seen as a significant opportunity to scale up rapidly to meet rising customer expectations and providing new skills to the workforce. As business owners and executives, we view having the ‘right’ technology at the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time as a win-win-win. Better customer experiences. Better for the bottom line. Better for our employees as they learn new skills. The trick is navigating this skills gap successfully.

We are also starting to see more and more baby boomers start to retire or think about retiring. The unfortunate thing for our clients is that their knowledge base cannot be replaced with one person, maybe not even two sometimes.  That certainly throws a wrench into the plans! Have you started to unearth what knowledge is in your employees’ minds that you take for granted? Innovative companies are pairing up experience with young, fresh ideas. There can be much to gain if managed well.

Please help us understand what is most relevant in today’s business environment. We will share the results for you first, and we appreciate your support. Take our survey here.



Inventory or Capacity?

November 18th, 2019

Inventory has emerged as a hot topic lately. In today’s Amazon-impacted business environment, customers expect rapid, customized deliveries, the ability to change their mind anytime and easy interactions (placing orders, returns etc.). Since clients are growing, they are also concerned with keeping up with the increasing volume. Thus, they have responded  by stocking more inventory to support increased sales and to respond to these increasing expectations.

However, as clients are taking a step back, they see inventory tying up bunches of cash unnecessarily.  Just because they have more inventory doesn’t mean they have the ‘right’ inventory in the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time. Inventory not only ties up cash, but it also increases costs. We are hearing about concerns regarding space, efficiencies, transportation cost impacts and more. In essence, there is a double hit to cash and profit yet the appropriate level of inventory (varies by network and strategy) is required to meet customer expectations.

In addition to pursuing inventory improvement programs to maximize your service, cash and margins such as SIOP (sales, inventory and operations planning) and proactive vendor managed inventory/ collaborative inventory programs, you might want to consider your capacity.

We had a client a few years ago who called because service issues had started to arise and customers were angry. Leadership thought the the operations team was under-performing because there must be something wrong with them since sales revenues were not increasing over 5% a year.

As we dug into the issue, we found that the product mix changed significantly which drove a greater level of operations requirements for the same dollar volume. When this occurred in the past, it didn’t create a problem (lending support to the perception that the operations team was at fault).  Yet, it turns out that as people left, they stopped replacing them because they wanted to bring down costs.

In the past, since they had excess capacity (machinery) and a small excess level of trained, highly skilled direct labor resources, they could produce what was needed as conditions changed without a problem. They no longer could use this magic bullet!

Would it make sense to maintain excess capacity/skills in a key bottleneck area of your operation (whether manufacturing, technical or office)?

If you’d like to talk about your inventory and/or capacity situation further, please contact us.



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.

Did you like this article?  Continue reading on this topic:
Pricing & Profits: It’s Not All About Revenue
Gaining New Ideas to Increase Business Value



Why Inventory Will Matter Again

June 8th, 2019

I was on a bit of a trip down memory lane over the holidays as I reconnected with former colleagues from when I was VP of Operations and Supply Chain at PaperPak, an absorbent products manufacturer for healthcare and food products.  I recently talked about healthcare manufacturing with a group of powerful women (and a few brave men) at the Professional Women in Healthcare event.  When inventory arose as a hot topic, I thought about paper rolls (pictured).

Actually, inventory was a hot topic as we partnered with key customers to develop collaborative forecasting models, implement vendor managed inventory programs to dramatically reduce inventory and free up cash while improving service levels and to maximize storage and efficiencies in our operations, distribution centers and, most importantly, throughout our transportation system (since absorbent products are bulky and freight intensive).

In our view, inventory is circling back in importance and will become a hot topic again as customers expect immediate, customized deliveries with the expectation of easy returns and last-minute changes to orders in production, in the warehouse or in transit. What are you doing to get ahead of this ‘new normal’ assumption?

To throw out a few ideas to get your juices flowing:

  • Get demand further into your supply chain – what are your customers’ customers selling or using of your product?
  • Be collaborative with strange bedfellows – I’ve written several articles recently on this topic as the most successful executives see the value in finding the ‘win-win-win’
  • What talent do you have focused on having the ‘right’ inventory at the ‘right’ place at the ‘right’ time? You could double your inventory and decrease service if you don’t know how to navigate these treacherous waters.
  • How sure are you that your demand and supply (labor, skills, machine capacity, buildings/ storage capacity, cash flow) are aligned and will remain aligned (review your SIOP plans)?

This topic reminds me of one of my early articles, the Million Dollar Planner. Although that sounds insane, it might be worth thinking about conceptually. If you maximize your customer experience, profitability and cash flow, the return is frequently in excess of a million dollars. Most importantly, what could you do with an extra million dollars? Invest in new products and services to spur growth? Build your infrastructure to enable scalable growth? Build your talent base to create sustainability? The possibilities are limitless.

Contact us if you’d like to discuss further.



We Are All Salespeople

May 13th, 2019

Do you think of yourself as a salesperson? For most of us, the answer is probably ‘no’; however, every successful executive, manager, professional and person is a salesperson.  

Last week, I participated in a consulting conference, and our Society for the Advancement of Consulting ambassadors (pictured here) filled the role of salesperson to spread the word on the value of SAC. We had a great time and many value-added discussions. I find the key to ‘selling’ is actually providing value; not selling people products and services they do not need!

When I think back, I have always been in sales even though I thought I had no idea whatsoever about sales at the time. The way I got my first job was talking about the value of a senior project and how it was applicable to performing a planning role. I had NO idea that this was actually selling but it is how I successfully landed a great job out of college. Early in my career, I found system settings that would make our Coca-Cola facility’s process better, and I had to sell IT and others on why they should support this change. Later at a plastic injection molder, I had to sell management on why we should focus on certain inventory initiatives.

Lastly, as a VP of Operations of an absorbent products manufacturer, I absolutely spent 90% of my time selling my team on how they were valuable to the vision, suppliers on how they could have a part on creating a win-win, customers on how we could create collaborative vendor management inventory initiatives that would increase their service and profit (which would also improve our revenue growth, inventory and efficiencies), the Board of Directors on why we should focus efforts on material projects to drive profitable growth (even though they wanted me to focus on reducing labor costs instead) and the list goes on. In consulting, 80% of project success (partnering with the client to make sure results occur) relates to selling and positioning. After all, doesn’t it all stem from successfully navigating change?

Think about your career and daily job responsibilities. I bet you are selling every day as well!

One tip to implement this week:

The key to success in sales is to provide value. As I read in a book by my consulting mentor when I decided to start consulting, selling consulting services is simply finding ways to provide value to clients by helping them to increase the value of their businesses. Somehow, increasing the value of businesses sounded FAR simpler to me than selling people on hiring me as a consultant (after all, who budgets to hire a consultant?), and so I went for it (and am celebrating my 14th year anniversary in May).

Of course, it isn’t exactly that simple; however, it is absolutely true. The crux of all sales is in providing value. Think about when you purchase products and services. Why do you purchase? I used to think I was quite logical and not influenced by typical sales techniques; however, it is human nature that logic makes us think and emotions make us act. Although I am never tempted by clothes (except as I know I need to look decent to be successful), I realized I spent quite a bit of money on education to be successful in my consulting practice. Clearly, I saw the value and ‘went for it’. How can you show value more often in your job, your company, and of your products and services?