Tag Archives: business model innovation

Good Revenues

“What makes for good revenues?” You ask.

good revenues from shaversWould you rather own Dollar Shave Club or the Gillette Corporation? Probably the answer is Gillette, because its worth a hell of a lot more. But, the answer could be different tomorrow because of Dollar Shave Club’s good revenues.

Gillette was founded in 1904, has 750M customers and is valued at USD$19B. Dollar Shave Club was founded in 2011, has around 2M members and was valued on sale recently at USD$1B. This means that Gillette’s customers are valued at USD$25 each, whereas Dollar Shave Club’s Members are valued at USD$500 each. They both sell razors! Startling, isn’t it?

Lets have another look, say Engineering firms. I have held commercial and leadership roles in engineering businesses (Avionics, Telecommunications, Machine Tool Engineering, IT ) for half my adult life, so I reckon I have some insight into how they operate.

Your standard engineering business offers design services, and may also offer a bit of hardware, software and installation. Perhaps they also offer maintenance services for the hardware and software. Commercially, their revenue is generated from a customer that they win a big project with, then they may pick up a trickle of maintenance work. If they’re lucky, the customer uses them again for another project in another area.

So what’s wrong with the traditional revenue model?

readitional business has difficult revenuesFirstly the future is always hard to plan on. Forecasting sales is really difficult as your confidence in invoicing dates is low. All to often future forecasts are based on last years data, without any insight on which customers the sales will come from.

Secondly this means they will be generally less profitable as they need to endlessly spend more on acquiring new customers, plus their operational people are expensive but regularly benched.

Thirdly It’s always going to be feast or famine when it comes to cashflow. Times of famine also mean you lose good people!

Perhaps some innovative thinking is required?

When designing an offering to the market, a large number of requirements need to be addressed:

  • Corporate strategy alignment
  • Customer problems that need solving and their demands for a specific bundle of features  and benefits
  • Your own operational capability and supplier capabilities
  • Legislative, environmental and community requirements
  • Internal requirements from marketing, operations, finance, IT and human resources etc, etc

But what I’ve noticed over the last 30 years or so though, is that there is one area which gets very little attention – the underlying commercial arrangements, or commercial packaging of an offer. Everyone tends to use industry norms instead.  So that’s what I want to address with this article, and answer the question “What makes for good revenue?”.

Commercial Packaging is the Key to Good Revenues

Experience indicates there are 3 principles of good commercial packaging, that should be considered.

  1. Low Barriers to Entry
  2. Maximise your Profitability
  3. High Barriers to Exit

Pretty simple, yes? So let’s dive a little deeper.

Low Barriers to Entry

So on top of creating products and services your customers value,  you want to make it as easy as possible for the customer to buy.  So how do you do this?  Well, lots of ways (and I’m sure my list isn’t exclusive).

lower your drawbirdge to make selling easierHave a Trusted Brand – Consumers still insist on buying pharmaceuticals from name brands that are chemically identical to the generic brands, but three times the price.

Lower Entry Cost – Large upfront costs can be turned into “one low monthly payment” with financing leases. Mobile phones are costed into contracts rather than having an upfront payment. Colour printers are discounted to make them easy to buy and profits are made from the ink. Some features can be removed and sold back later as “accessories”. Perhaps the type of revenue model (sell, rent, subscribe, licence, usage, brokerage etc) should be altered to lower the cost.

Lower Ongoing Cost – Consumers have a much higher propensity to buy a product with lower ongoing costs but a longer contract, than a higher costing short contract that has the same total value. Lower ongoing costs doesn’t mean you earn less! $100 a week for 10 weeks, isn’t nearly as valuable to you as $50 a week for a year! Its why adding the metallic paint option to your new car costs you another month or two of repayments, rather than increasing the monthly cost. Its why the first service of a new car, appears to be free.

Reduce Risk – “Try before you Buy”, “30 days Free Access”, “Freemium” & the “Money Back Guarantee” are common ways of reducing risk. Some of these cross over as  tactical marketing solutions, not underlying commercial packaging, but they are worth considering.  Another method can be to change the business model and offer a rental of plant & equipment first, for clients who are not sure they will get good use out of a product.

Maximise your profitability

So once you have got the customers, you want to make as much money from them as you can, for as long as reasonable. Right? This translates to:

jump as high as you can to Maximize profitabiltySeek Annuity Income – Wouldn’t it be better if one sale led to months or years of revenue, rather than a couple of milestone payments then you’re done?  Annuity income means getting ongoing regular payments from just one sale.  It can come from a business model that charges a regular fee, such as rentals, subscriptions and licensing. It can come from selling consumables such as printer ink. It can come from selling consumable products or bigger items with built in obsolescence such as smart phones. It can come from selling product extensions such further musical albums. It can be supported by supply contracts and automatic resupply.

Lower Costs – Profitability increases as you lower your costs. Review your value chain and eliminate waste. Automate the routine as much as you can. Substitute cheaper resources whenever possible. It could mean having a graduate trainee program, it could mean FAQs and technical manuals written and published online, it could mean investing in systems to support your customers!

Higher Prices – Don’t leave money on the table, use research to understand how your customers value your solutions! Understand how they will pay a premium for a better solution! Jon Manning, the pricing expert behind Pricing Prophets once said to me, “best practice is always having some price experiments going on”.

Automate the Cycle – once you have sold to a customer, you don’t want to put a decision in front of them every month to continue buying. Automate the delivery, invoicing and payments wherever you can!

High Barriers to Exit

When you have a profitable customer, you don’t want to lose them as new customers are much more expensive to acquire.

A Better Customer Solution & Experience – generates more loyal customers than a loyalty program marketing comes up with. A cancelled flight is far more damaging thpenalities for exitan expired frequent flyer points, and I don’t care that Telstra is more expensive, if you want to check your email in regional Australia, they’re the only choice. Beware unethical behaviour, it appears lucrative in the short term, but will cost you in the long run.

Requires a Loss to Exit – Nobody wants to lose their email address which traditionally keeps most people with their ISP, long after they start to think about leaving. If you live in the Apple ecosystem, you don’t want to lose all your apps (covers, in car holders, chargers etc) when you move to Android, and vice a versa.

Requires Effort to Exit – Nobody wants to lose their mobile phone number when changing phone companies, which is why the Government had to force number portability onto Optus, Telstra etc. But despite it being a reasonably easy process, the Telco’s will still make you jump through alot of hoops to exit. It’s a pain, and its deliberate. However it’s nowhere near as painful as changing Banks!

Requires Penalties to Exit – Minimum contract lengths and exit penalties have found their way into an enormous number of industries, despite having no relationship to the underlying costs that customer churn causes. If you are renting anything or subscribing for access to a service, expect to be locked in with alot of pain if you try to break the contract. See Smartphone and ISP contracts!

So what would happen when you re-engineer your business for good revenues?

  • Perhaps engineering businesses would see themselves as sellers of more lucrative maintenance contracts, with the initial design project just the gateway? The service teams would no longer be the poor cousins of the project teams!
  • Perhaps expensive suit manufacturers, could package in drycleaning services to the monthly fee you pay for accessing their clothing line.
  • Perhaps Pharmacies could help you reorder your drugs as you need them, rather than waiting for you to come in.
  • Perhaps Real Estate Agents would provide services around building value in your house over the long term, rather than just  appraising it and selling it.

And perhaps the business that you launch and grow, will become a valuable commodity. Looking at Dollar Shave Club again, their revenues per customer are valued at a massive  20x higher than a competitor selling the same product in a traditional way! Dollar Shave Club clearly has the “good revenues”.

Pricing = Timing

People talk about price as if its the only thing you negotiate. Its not obviously, but pricing can have interesting impacts on your business and the the timing of your sales. I was at a family function many years ago when an older Jewish real estate agent, took my hand in his vice like grip, stared into my eyes and said. “You make your profit on the buy, not the sell”.

At first I thought it was simply weird old guy stuff, but the phrase stuck in my head and I realised he was right.

When you at a reasonable price, you don’t have much option but to hold out for the sell price you want to maintain your required margin. But when you buy well, you can alter your timeline. i.e. if you need a quick sale, drop the price, if you don’t be relaxed and enjoy super profits.

So the best way to buy well, is to buy for free. So how do you buy for free? I can think of a couple of ways.

  1. Indent Stock – You get paid when I get paid, you’re just using my premise as a warehouse. This is common in retail, and can be applied elsewhere.
  2. Buying the right to buy – Rights don’t normally get sold outside of equities, but doesn’t mean you can’t. I have seen someone rent a holiday house and pay 12 months in advance for the right to buy that property at a set price.
  3. Swapping – you don’t have to pay cash. Consider swapping for something you no longer value.
  4. Sharing the Yield – An interesting deal is sharing the yield. You obtain the right to sell something, for a pre-agreed share of the profits.

Have I missed anything?

Superprofits from the Arcade

Crane GameI just spent a week down on the Mornington Peninsula with the kids over school holidays. I tried to keep my mind on Kite flying and mucking about at the beach, but I came a across a small business that I found just fascinating in how they generated their revenues.

On first glance it appeared to be a games arcade with lots of video games and machines that you thump, prod or throw balls in. I was surprised to find that they didn’t have much food or drink for sale, but they did have lots of prizes in cases you could win.

It may sound weird but at the end of half an hour or so, I suddenly had an epiphany about their business model. They weren’t selling arcade games, they were selling primitive plastic gifts at outrageous margins.

Consider this:

  1. We purchased tokens from a machine, to put in the arcade games. Roughly $1 per token with a volume discount (eg. 6 tokens for $5).
  2. When you finished the game (or even part way through) the arcade game started spitting out a string of tickets, the length depending on your score.
  3. At the end of playing all the games, you gathered up all your tickets and fed them into another machine, which spat out a receipt with the number of points you had earned.
  4. You swapped the the receipt for a prize (eg 10 points got you a sticker book, 40 points got you a tiny plastic pool table).

All these steps (and opportunity for mechanical problems) seemed a bit strange to me which got my antenna up. I then did some quick mental calculations and realised that the prizes you could “win” were overpriced roughly 10 fold, but it was difficult to notice because we were so abstracted from the original cash spend. For instance:

  • A $15 metal car was worked out to $250.
  • Tiny Sticker Book worth a dollar worked out to $10.
  • and a single lolly worth 50c was $1.

The business model innovation of turning the purchase into an experience and abstracting the cash spend from the purchase, allowed them to generate super profits in a traditionally highly competitive commodity market. Makes me wonder what lessons I can find here for improving margins in my business?