Asset-light business model is the key to success for start-ups
Asset-light business model is the ket to success for most start-ups. Around eighty percent of new businesses fail not because of a bad idea but because of choosing the wrong business model. They start with high fixed costs and no revenue. At the core of this bad implementation lies the ill-conceived notion that a heavily invested business would generate high revenues. Some have flourished, but most have floundered. People give too much concentration on acquiring operational resources for the company. But not enough gets done on generating at least break-even revenue. This has resulted in a majority of start-up flops.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. There is still hope for entrepreneurs. Seasoned business people have extolled the virtue of starting small with zero assets and leveraging the enormous power of technology. Put it another way, it means adopting an asset-light business model at the very early stage of the company.
At the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting held in April 2016, Warren Buffett commented that asset-light businesses are the ideal investment opportunities. They generated significant cash flow by investing in some asset-light businesses in the early years of the company. At the heart of today’s most successful start-ups lies the emergence of asset-light business model empowered by deep-pocket private investors who are disappointed by the returns from other investments. The business model helps companies exploit new revenue opportunities faster than more mature and established firms. On closer inspection, it is not hard to find some common traits and features of several new generation businesses.
The disruptive trend towards asset-light business model has bolstered the bullishness of Uber’s investors. The model has enabled its strategy of growth over the pursuit of profits because of the lower cost of expansion. Uber does not own or maintain any vehicles because it uses the gig economy for its survival.
What started off as a simple online business in 2008 selling flip-flops from a Berlin flat has developed into large e-commerce selling goods to 15 countries. Zalando sales revenue is rising by around 15% a year. Guess their business. Selling other brands through the Internet. Surely, the asset-light approach is nimble and sustainable.
One of the ways to adopt an asset-light business model is through outsourcing as Wendy’s has done. It has reduced capital and the amount of real estate they own and managed through franchising their American outlets. Many fast food giants have followed suit and have taken advantage of such scalability.
Capital equipment OEMs
Most OEMs have transferred the task of designing and manufacturing the systems and subsystems to suppliers as new parts sold by vendors are replacing certain obsolete ones thereby passing on the operational complexities and costs associated with producing them using the capital-intensive equipment.
An innovative business model whereby partnering with existing hotels and getting a percentage of commission from them has made OYO Rooms a huge success. The brand owns hotels without having to build them from scratch thus resulting in huge savings, less risk, and exponential growth path.
From homegrown online start-up to an e-commerce giant Snapdeal has managed to garner a huge customer base just by leveraging technology. The Internet has made it possible to reach a wider range of market than ever before with lower asset requirements. In just over five years it has managed to achieve a valuation of USD 5 billion making it attractive to future investors.
Accor group of chain hotels and InterContinental hotel franchises some outlets to other hotel operators. They manage but not own some others. Only a minority of the outfits is owned or leased by the companies. Here the bricks-and-mortar is the property of someone else. Similarly, Marriott owns only a tiny fraction of the hotels that bear its brands.
Utilization and not the acquisition of aircraft is key to stellar returns in the aviation industry. Lan flights use their aircraft to service both passengers and cargo. Likewise, DHL and Cathay Pacific share aircraft for their cargo and passenger routes respectively enjoying the advantages of increased utilization of their capital intensive wide-bodied aircraft.
Types of asset-light business models
Boston Consulting Group points out the most common types of asset-light business models based on the sources of differentiation. They are outsourcing, asset-sharing, licensing in, and licensing out. Inherently these models help companies to keep costs low, diversify risks, and to branch out into new markets. Companies outsource the supporting systems so that they can free up their resources and concentrate on their core business. Similarly, asset-sharing helps in lowering operational and labor costs. Licensing in and licensing out has helped companies to foster valuable strategic alliances in a cost-effective manner.
Lessons for start-ups
It is only natural for a wide-eyed entrepreneur to get overwhelmed and intimidated by the sheer enormity of all these successful businesses. But they all started off with zero capital. All they had was the founder’s drive. Their success lay in adopting an asset-light business model that had virtually no cost and was easy to exit in case the business failed. An asset-light business model start-up company to be successful and to have the edge over others in the market should have the following essential qualities:
- Start with the potential for future growth by paying attention to the market demands
- Do strive for a wider and deeper reach of the target market to achieve quick scalability
- Follow the trends consistently and continuously for long-term business sustainability
- Invest in cutting-edge technology such as software, systems, and subsystems
- Take fewer risks i.e. less capital-intensive investment, equipment, and real assets
- Explore cost-effective measures such as sharing resources with other entrepreneurs
The growth path of traditional old businesses was linear which implies that it took a considerable amount of time to expand the business sometimes even took the founding entrepreneur’s lifetime to achieve the desired scalability and financial success. An asset-light business start-up, on the other hand, can grow exponentially bypassing many of the life cycles of a traditional business by adopting an asset-light model enabled by modern technology. Today advanced e-commerce software has made it possible for companies to find success with a mere fraction of the cost and time.
Photo Credit: Suhyeon Choi
What is the best way to communicate new campaigns to the salesforce? Traditionally there has been a constant tension between sales and marketing. The tension escalates when the marketing department designs a campaign to increase the sales of a particular product or a season without the input of the sales staff. Often the person in charge of marketing campaigns senses a disconnect between the marketing team and Sales team. Successful marketing cannot happen in a silo. It has to happen with the buy-in from the Sales team. Happy salespeople build lasting customer connections. Today, there is an urgent need to converge both the sales and marketing teams together to accomplish the desired results. The Marketing leader can adopt some proven methods to get the group to own the campaign.
Engage Sales early
If the Sales team is accountable for the success of a particular project or campaign, gain their buy-in early. Not after the campaign launch. The sales team are constantly in touch with the customers on a regular basis. Hence they can be a valuable source of strategic as well as tactical input. They can also drive creative thinking. Bring the sales force early on. It can be the most efficient strategy to find out how the target market will respond to the marketing campaign. Perfect the campaign at the initial stage itself with advice from the sales department. Then during the campaign, not much tweaking would be required.
Demystify the clutter
As a marketer, it is important to explain to the sales representatives the mechanics involved in the campaigns. Avoid using jargon as far as possible as it would only add to the confusion. Make it easy for them to implement the campaign. Telling a compelling story, pointing the team to an important thought leader in the field, and illustrating it with a diagram are all tactics that can help the team better understand the objectives that the campaign is meant to achieve. A better-informed sales rep does a better job in supporting the marketing team in their campaigns.
Address the pain points promptly
Before launching a new campaign, the sales team goes through a learning curve. The duration of the learning time differs from one person to another depending on their learning propensity. Marketers should work hand in hand with the sales team to identify the pain points involved and address them in real time. Sometimes the team has a good understanding of the process. However, they waste an enormous amount of time during each step of the process that would ideally take a far lesser amount of time. This wastage of time should also be addressed using automated workflows, educational slide decks, and if needed by installing an internal CRM software.
Show them what’s in it for them
Each team member in the sales department is different. So are the personal aims. Meet with each to find out what they are and relate the corporate goals to each person’s goals. Show them how the management can help them achieve these aims by accomplishing the company goals. After that, let them know that the communication lines are open to deal with any concerns, complaints, and ideas they may have as they go along. Give them the necessary training and tools required to roll out the campaign successfully. The sales team will then start feeling encouraged and motivated to be on the side of marketing.
Make sure the campaign tasks assigned to each member of the team play to their strengths. There is nothing more inefficient than putting people in mismatching tasks. People love to do those tasks that they are good at doing. It motivates them and keeps them productive. Then set measurable goals consensually and hold them accountable as agreed. Allow them to have a say in the improvisation process going forward. Paint the bigger picture and remind them why it matters to the company as a whole and how their personal goals and career advancement fit into the grand scheme of things.
Keep the team informed with regular updates
Keep the sales members regularly informed about the progress of the campaign through daily briefings, staff meetings, newsletters, etc. the staff will then start to see results as and when they happen and will feel valued by the management for their contribution. If there are any areas of the campaign that needs catching up, this will help the team come up with ways to bring the campaign back on the trail and forward. The methods thus suggested can also make their jobs much easier while enabling them to spend their valuable time on closing deals with qualified leads.
In larger corporations, it is a common practice to find task force teams set up around projects. Each of them would consist of 5 to7 members whose mandate it is to recommend ideas around an issue. The entire team agrees that they would strictly adhere to the recommendations thus made. In most cases, this arrangement has produced phenomenal results.
Companies launch marketing campaigns and promotions in response to varying market trends and consumer tastes. It is often the key responsibility area of a high-level Marketing Director or Business Development Manager who have a say in designing the campaign. Doing so without the input or feedback of the salespeople is doomed to failure. It is imperative to get the buy-in of the people who sell the products to the end-users. The success of the campaign, thus, to a large extent depends on including the salespeople in the decision-making process.
Photo Credit: Olu Eletu
The Best Sales Promotion, Before, During and After
The objective of the best sales promotion is to increase sales for a particular product through stimulating additional demand for the product. The end goal is to generate revenue over and above the standard. And the intent is almost always a short-term gain, unlike some marketing strategies that are designed to create customer loyalty, brand awareness and long-term return on investment. Successful promotions are the ones that have struck a chord with the intended audience and have met the desired results of increased business. Companies replace the non-performing promotional activities with performing ones to maximize the benefit.
What is it that makes some campaigns successful and others not? Here we dissect the variables involved pre-promotion, during and after the promotion. Usually, a particular successful promotional campaign may not have had all the factors described here, but a majority of them have. A careful analysis of such ingredients can help companies replicate the successful promotions and roll them out in another market or on a wider scale in the same market. On the other hand, the strategies that worked in the past may not necessarily work out in the future. So, it is recommended to exercise caution.
The primary variables involved in all promotional activities are the product, the market, the channel, the competition, and the budget. We examine the dynamics of each of these before the promotion, during and after the promotion.
- Product: A promotional activity narrowly targets a small subset of the larger target market. The campaign should take into consideration what benefit of the product would appeal to the audience. The promotion should highlight that feature that closely corresponds to that interest.
- Market: Understand the dynamics of the target audience and the stage in the product lifecycle. For example, how often does this market use the product? Conduct a preliminary research on the demographics and behavioral patterns of the market. Learn the cultural nuances of the area.
- Channel: Depending on the target market decide on the mode of delivery that would most appeal to the target market. Then consider a variety of channels that would help meet the promotional goals. For example, retail outlets, malls, media, community centers, event venues, etc.
- Competition: Find out if a direct or an indirect competitor has done a similar sales promotion. If so, what was the outcome? If the promotional activity has produced disappointing results, then there is no point in replicating it in the same market. It would end up in a waste of resources.
- Budget: Work out every element of the promotion that would incur a direct and variable cost. It would be ideal if some partners can bear some costs or if other stakeholders involved could share them in return for a benefit. Agree upon the cost-sharing model in advance with all concerned.
During the Promotion
- Product: Start a conversation with the customer through different media outlets before the promotional deal and communicate with them about the product’s features and benefits. Asking for personal references can work for high ticket items. Social media campaigns are very effective ways to hold a prominent position in people’s minds.
- Market: Rather than a mass approach, acknowledge and re-engage with old customers as well as encourage new customers to try the product by offering free samples and demonstrations. Direct marketing in certain markets and products is a highly efficient way to reach out to high net worth individuals.
- Channel: Help the customers make purchase decisions by making the product available as and when they require it using various channels. Motivate them to buy it by bringing the product to their doorstep. Try personal selling if appropriate when the customer appreciates a direct interaction on a one to one basis.
- Competition: Differentiate the product from the rest. Provide technical information to the prospects on why the product is different. Emphasize on those qualities and advantages that allow the customers to ask relevant questions rather than giving a sales pitch. If possible, distribute special coupons with expiration dates.
- Budget: For budget-constrained clients who show a serious interest in the product offer friendly payment terms in liaison with the local financial institutions. Create and foster brand loyalty by giving them various options on how they can conveniently get hold of the product. Offering them special deals is also a good way to seal deals faster.
- Product: Conduct a post-promotion analysis on what worked and did not work within the targeted audience. Consider what other benefits of the product were appealing. Fine-tune and replicate the ones that worked and discard the ones that did not.
- Market: Make a note of the receptiveness and rejection of the customers to the product features. Create a qualified database of the old customers as well as the new ones in the market. Tweak the product if necessary and possible to adapt to the cultural sensitivity.
- Channel: During the next promotion consider using only those modes of delivery and the channels that were beneficial and that brought the greatest return on investment. Do a survey directly with the first-time purchasers and regular purchases on the preferred usage of a channel.
- Competition: Do a competitive analysis on other companies who are selling similar or augmented products. Rather than competing headlong, work out strategic partnerships to leverage the sales. Some tactical alliances with local partners can even bring the production cost down for both parties.
- Budget: Calculate the cost incurred to carry out the promotion. Compare that to the incremental sales revenue obtained purely by carrying out the campaign. Work out the benefits and risks of the cost-sharing model. Post-promotion phase is a good time to evaluate the mode of payment most preferred by the target market.
The following matrix can help while doing a post-promotion analysis. The information filled out can be useful in designing an improvised promotion the next time.
Photo Credit: Roman Kraft
The new sales compensation program has been researched, cost modeled, and is ready for roll out. So what’s the process? Send out an email describing the new plan and consider it done? Cross your fingers that sales managers will answers questions for their reps?
Don’t assume that because the people who designed the new plan understand it, that anyone else will. Real understanding takes days, weeks, or sometimes months. Put yourself in the shoes of the sales organization, concerned with their livelihood and any possible disruption, and develop your change plan to drive the strategy with the sales team in mind. When making your next change, consider the following six steps:
- Start strong. Conduct your due diligence to make sure the program is bullet-proof and ready to go.
- Craft the change story. Be honest about the reasons for the change, and develop a clear message around the C-level goals.
- See the organization’s view. Expect some resistance, and identify who those resisters might be so you can get them on board.
- Get the change forecast. Know your organization’s readiness for the change and your team’s resolve to see it through.
- Leverage the learning modes. Use multiple methods, including those that serve visual, audio, and other learning types to communicate with the organization.
- Follow the process. Begin communication early and follow your approach until well after introduction.
On Day One, announce the new plan with strategic themes and reinforce at the team level. Make the plan announcement within the context of the overall sales strategy. This is the first formal communication of the change story. Translate the story to the team through sales management in concert with the strategic announcement. Sales management should then work with the team in break-out groups that get into the details of the program, answer questions, and make sure that each member of the organization understands the new program.
In the first 14 days following the announcement, open the communications channels. To support the announcement, open up your support channels to capture the inevitable inbound questions and manage the flow of communications. These vehicles typically include an inbound voice hotline, a dedicated e-mail account, a company-operated blog, and social media presence. While some of these vehicles may seem non-traditional, it’s not uncommon for the sales organization to establish its own web and social media presence in response to a major change. It’s usually better for the company to move proactively in this direction than to reactively defend.
Thirty days after the announcement, test for understanding. No matter how well accepted the plan is during the announcement, don’t assume the whole organization understands it. Following the announcement, managers should work on a schedule to reach out to reps and confirm their understanding of the plan and their objectives.
Sixty days after the announcement, test for behavioral change. The first sign that the plan is beginning to work is a pattern of behaviors that are consistent with the objectives of the program. Test for these changes through direct coaching and observation by sales managers and through performance measurement through vehicles like the CRM system that track activities and steps in the sales process.
At the 90-day point, test for performance results under the new plan. Depending upon the length of the sales cycle, results may begin to show during the initial months or after the first quarter. With many implementations, the sales organization may actually experience a dip in performance after the introduction as it adjusts from any initial distractions and begins a new, consistent rhythm.
When making the change to your program, start early with socialization, craft the right story for your change environment, and stay sensitive to the organization while you work through your multi-mode communications process.
Join SMEI for a webinar on sales compensation strategy.
Photo Credit: Mathyas Kurmann
Your Job is to Hurdle the Top 3 Sales Objections
Sales objections are the bane of existence for many salespeople. Here are a few tips to leap the hurdles and tackle the top 3 sales objections.
Sales Objection #1: Your price is too high
- Which means?
- Compared to what?
- How much did you think it would cost?
- It is high compared to what some companies charge. However, we sell over 800 units a month. Why do you think that is? Do you think that these 800 businesspeople would buy from us if they didn’t see the superior quality and the value they receive?
- It costs only about 48 cents per hour of operation. That’s less than a can of Coke out of a vending machine. You can afford that, can’t you?
- What neighborhood do you live in? That’s a nice neighborhood. You are obviously a person who appreciates the finer things in life. Why are you denying yourself top quality now? Does that make sense?
- Why do you think our competitors are cheaper? Where do you think that they cut the corners? Did they use cheaper materials? Poorly trained craftsmen? Did they cut back on quality control? Why worry about where they cut corners? Why not buy the best and sleep well at night!
Sales Objection #2: I’m too busy; talk to our Purchasing Manager first.
- (Prospect’s name), suppose you receive a letter marked “Personal and Confidential.” Would you allow your Purchasing Manager to open it? (Wait for a reply.) The proposal I have was intended for your eyes only. What I have to say is too important to be shared with anyone outside the executive suite. Can we talk now?
- I appreciate how busy you are. However, the opportunity I have to share with you will have a significant impact upon the future of your company. All I ask for is a brief moment to explain the dollar consequences of this important proposal. Isn’t this worth a few minutes of your time?
- Does he have the authority to approve a $_______ purchase? (If the prospect says yes:) Thank you, I’ll be sure to remind him/her and I’ll see him/her right now. (If the prospect says no:) Well, then, why should I talk with him/her?
- Our proposal is really very significant. It requires detailed information from top management. Is ____ privy to all details and operating plans known to top management? If not, we should set aside five minutes to cover the key parts of this opportunity together. After that, if you want me, I will be happy to talk with ____
- Are you too busy to save money?
- If this opportunity save your company, $____, who do you want to be the hero, you or the Purchasing Manager?
- We almost never deal with Purchasing Managers. This is an executive-level decision. I need to talk with you.
- I am sure your Purchasing Manager is very competent. However, I can assure you, this information is beyond his/her realm of expertise. This information is for the person who is in charge of the total bottom-line profitability of the company.
- I cannot talk with Purchasing Managers. It is company policy. I will either talk with you, or no one in your company will learn of this opportunity. Can we talk?
- You want me to talk with your Purchasing Manager? I know what you are really saying is that you don’t think this opportunity is worthy of your attention. May I have two minutes to explain to you why it is?
- You want me to talk with someone else? Why do you think I called you? It wasn’t by chance! The information I have is for you only! After you have heard it, if you want me to talk with ____, I will be happy to. But, I am confident it won’t be necessary.
- How do you feel when you call someone and they ask you to speak with someone else? Well, that’s the way I fell now! What would you do if you were in my position?
- Thank you for your suggestion. The news I have is very important. Why don’t you give him/her my name and number, and have him/her call me? I don’t normally talk with Purchasing Managers. I’d really prefer to talk with you. May I have a few minutes of your time?
- I have already talked with your Purchasing Manager. He said it was very important that you and I talk directly.
- By handing me over to your Purchasing Manager, what you are really telling me is that you don’t know how critical this matter really is. Would you like to learn why?
Sales Objection #3: I want to work with a more established company
- You impress me as a very smart businessperson. I know you haven’t invited me here to chat about the weather. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, do you?
- I understand how safe you feel about a relationship that goes back 15 years. And yet, I saw your eyes light up when you looked at our products. I can see that you’re giving serious consideration to diversity. Just out of curiosity, could we compare the pros and cons of the two choices? Let’s take a piece of paper and list the reasons for and buying from us. The first reason against us is that we haven’t worked with you for the past 15 years. What would be the reasons for giving us a chance to prove ourselves?
- Is there anything about me that prevents you from doing business with our company?
- I can say good things about my competitor and if I were you, I would go with them – unless, of course, you want a better product at a better price.
- I do respect your loyalty to your present vendor. Loyalty is a virtue. While we’re on the subject, how about your loyalty to your company’s long-term profits? Isn’t that kind of loyalty just as important as loyalty to an outside vendor? If I could show you a way of improving your company’s profits, would you take a serious look at our products?
(Adapted from the book “Sales Scripts That Close Every Deal” by Gerhard Gschwandtner, Founder and Publisher of Selling Power)
Photo: Alberto Guimaraes
Warning Signs in Sales
The cavemen used signs as communication tools when there were no other means to pass on messages. As time went by, signs have lost its significance and now we use languages instead. With the evolution of language, people have lost the ability to read signals even when signs convey rich meaning. Tribal people who have stubbornly refused to integrate into the civilized world still use signs to communicate to others.
To a caveman, signals may be a powerful means of communication. But in today’s sales parlance it is a cue that conveys information that is unobservable from a sender to recipient. Sales management is all about signaling that ultimately leads to increased revenue. Managers design campaigns through the filter of signaling, a process of sending messages with the objective of influencing purchasing behaviors. Done correctly, this can lead to the desired amount of transactional sales. On the downside, market perception may turn out to be unfavorable.
A signal can mean different things to different users (Spence, 1974). When sales executives use signaling, test the waters by experimenting it with a smaller subset of the market. This will enable them to contain rapidly any undesirable consequences and thus manage it appropriately.
When not to use signaling
However, at times, there are costs involved in marketing signaling. It may result in product line cannibalization whereby customers wait for the signaled action and delay purchasing the existing product. Or circumstances beyond the sender’s control may affect the timely delivery of preannounced product or features of it as promised. Similarly, a price cut could be the result of excess inventory or product elimination. So, it would be in the best interest of all to not engage in price war that would dilute profit.
Sign language used by companies
Price signaling raised turbine generator profit/sales ratios in the 1950s. In 1992 Ford announced a 6% price increase to signal not to start a costly war for market share.
Firms that sell intangible products may indicate their high value through prestigious addresses, fancy club memberships, office décor, etc. Some companies hint to the customers their willingness to work around customer needs. They do it through differential pricing, increasing staff count for peak times and by providing complimentary services.
Airlines are notorious for undercutting fares on those routes that are lucrative to their competitors in a bid to undermine the best efforts of their rivals. In such cases, if the undercutting of fares is done to put a spanner in the works then the rates are brought up to the normal level as soon as the objective has been achieved even before some of the travel agents have found out.
Firms pay dividends to its shareholders as a sign of strength signaling to the market that there is no need to hoard cash. Some investors look for a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives to gauge the health of the enterprise. Such companies use CSR to signal the appropriate messages.
Restaurants open up in an up-market locale with high rents to signal to the patrons of its five-star status as well as to advertise its good food. Warranties and guarantees are other examples marketers use to show the credibility of the quality of the product. They offer insurance against faulty products to potential buyers. Longer the warranty, higher the quality.
Marketing signaling is also messages sent to other companies within the industry either to convey to or to gain information from competitors. Companies selectively leak information to manipulate the opponent’s choice of actions. Employees find press announcements to be more credible than internal communications.
Types of signaling
Kirmani and Rao (2000) distinguishes between two types of signaling based on the financial consequences. They are:
- Default-independent signals, where companies incur financial loss, such as heavy advertising costs or fixed upfront costs, whether the signals default on their claims or not.
- Default-contingent signals where companies suffer monetary loss only when the signals default on their claims, for instance, when a high price signal matches with equally high quality.
Keys to signaling success
Maintaining a consistency throughout the organization as to the meaning of the signals is crucial to the success of signaling marketing. Once a signaling strategy has been decided by the company executives the information must be passed on to every employee from top to bottom. Failure to do so may not only cause inconsistency in the quality level but also mar the reputation and integrity of the brand. Equally important is how the rival companies interpret the meaning of signaling.
Also, as responsible marketers, it is rather important to examine your conscience before indulging in signal marketing as using it to promote transactional sales at the detriment of brand integrity is unethical and immoral. In light of this, signaling management has become a tricky task of business leaders. The correct interpretation of sales signals enable the executives to brace themselves to avoid any potential threat or to position them to take advantage of the opportunity.
Having said that, with signaling marketing it is still hard to predict the response of the target audience. Neither is it easy to gauge the perception in the minds of the recipients. Moreover, the way one party perceives the meaning of signals may not be the way another party views them. And that is why it is advisable and a prudent strategy to test the signal response on a smaller scale in an area that closely resembles the target market.
Photo Credit: Bart Anestin