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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lesson #268: The Art of the Follow-Up

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/08/2017

Given how important good selling techniques are to driving revenues, I am shocked how many entrepreneurs and salespeople are just bad at...



Given how important good selling techniques are to driving revenues, I am shocked how many entrepreneurs and salespeople are just bad at working their leads. This includes things like not following up on leads (or following up too much) and not knowing how to break down barriers, to get the lead to actually listen to your pitch. This post will help you become a master at properly working your sales prospects.

CONTACT THE RIGHT PERSON IN THE FIRST PLACE

If somebody is not getting back to you, often times it is because they are the wrong person in their organization to make decisions about your product or service. So, before you even send your first outreach, make sure the person you are reaching out to has decision making control for your solution. For example, if you are selling a social media management software, it is most likely the head of social media communications at that company—not social media advertising, not their head of marketing, not their CEO, etc. And, if you are unclear who is the right person—ask to be pointed in the right direction, or send outreach to all logical candidates, until you find the right person to engage with you.

MAKE THE RIGHT FIRST IMPRESSION

Another reason people don’t get back to you, is they don’t like what you have to say. Often times salespeople are so excited about the “what” they are selling, that they don’t focus on the more important benefits of “why” a customer would want to buy it. Simplify your pitch to the point you are helping them understand you are selling a need-to-have “painkiller” for their problems, not a nice-to-have “vitamin”. As an example, for the social media management software, it is less about how it integrates with Facebook and Twitter for easy communications, and more about how it will help them double their base of social media followers and help them generate more revenues. So, put on their hat, not yours, to figure out would resonate most with them.

FOLLOW UP IN THE RIGHT FREQUENCY AND RIGHT FORMAT

It shocks me how many times a salesperson forgets to follow up with their old leads. Thankfully, marketing automation software (e.g., Pardot, Eloqua, Marketo, Hubspot) has helped bring automated follow-ups to a formerly manual process. But, you need to know how to program that software with the right business rules. I typically live by the three strike rule within a once-per-week follow-up schedule. So, for example, if you first email them on March 1st, your first follow-up will be on March 8th and your second follow up with be on March 16th. If they don’t get back to you after three tries, it is time to move on, but don’t forget about them. Put them into a long-term nurturing schedule, sending along interesting research or insights that shows them you are smart on their space, for them to want to engage with you in the future. Then you can restart a more direct selling effort again in the following quarter.

And, shake up the methods is which you make your outreach. Email is easy and can be automated. But, it is a lot less personable than a phone call, where they can better hear your voice and personality shine through. And, you never know, you may call and they just might actually pick up their phone. This is particularly effective in the 8-9am or 5-6pm range, while they are most likely in the office, but their assistants are away.

SHAKE UP YOUR MESSAGING

You can only browbeat a person so many times with the same message before it falls on deaf ears. You need to shake up your messaging. Start with an introduction about your business and its benefits to them. If that doesn’t work, send them some interesting market research, that shows you are smart on their space. If that doesn’t work, invite them as your guest to some key industry event. And, if all else fails, everybody loves a free lunch, golf invitation or tickets to the ballgame. An unexpected gift sent to their office also works well, where they will hopefully call to say thank you. Do whatever you need to do, to get them on the phone or to a meeting, to hear what you have to say. Persistence without being annoying is the key here.

BREAK DOWN BARRIERS

It also surprises me that when a salesperson hits a wall, they stop trying, instead of tearing down that wall. For example, if a target lead is not responding to you, try to develop a relationship with their assistant or co-workers. If you get to a dead end with one person in the department, start again with another person in the department. Or, if the CMO won’t listen to your pitch, try calling their CFO to talk about the cost savings or revenue lift they can expect from your product, so the CFO can help you get the attention of their CMO. Or, if there is an entrenched competitor, cut them out of the equation with a materially better price. And, as always, leverage mutual connections -- especially if they are your customers that can help sing your praises as a credible third party. To me, there is no such thing as a dead end -- keep trying until someone gives you a chance.

Hopefully, now you are better armed to put your outreach efforts on steroids -- and drive your qualified sales leads and revenues in the process.  Happy hunting!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Case for Hiring a Re-Founder Before You Pull the Plug on Your Startup

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/03/2017

Oftentimes, startup entrepreneurs are simply too close to their businesses to get a clear, non-biased look at what may be holding it bac...



Oftentimes, startup entrepreneurs are simply too close to their businesses to get a clear, non-biased look at what may be holding it back from ultimate success. Maybe they lack the required skills or business experience required to identify or correct problems inside their product, process or team. More often that not, as a new entrepreneur  “you just don’t know, what you don’t know.” When the problems become material enough to potentially put the company out of business, maybe it is time to hire what I call a RE-founder to help put it back on the right course.

Read the rest of this post in Entrepreneur, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Marketing ROI--The Metric That Matters Most To Investors

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/01/2017

For all you entrepreneurs trying to attract investment capital, this post will be the most important one you read.  If you cannot answer...



For all you entrepreneurs trying to attract investment capital, this post will be the most important one you read.  If you cannot answer the following customer acquisition related questions for your target investors, your fund raising process is over, before it even started.  Below will walk you through the inputs required to calculate the most important marketing metric for investors:  your return on marketing investment ("ROMI").

Read the rest of this post in Forbes, which I guest authored this week.

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter: @georgedeeb.


Lesson #267: Score One for Brick and Mortar Retail--An EZContacts.com Disaster Case Study

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/01/2017

It is no surprise that the internet has been killing offline retail.  Gone are chains like Blockbuster, Borders, and Sports Authority, t...



It is no surprise that the internet has been killing offline retail.  Gone are chains like Blockbuster, Borders, and Sports Authority, to name a few. And, the blodshed is far from over, with chains like Sears, Macy's and JC Penney hanging on for dear life.  They just can't compete with the internet prices, that don't have to cover the huge investment in brick and mortar real estate, inventory and employees.  Is there any retail category that is safe from the internet's death grip . . . I may have found one!!

THE BACKGROUND

I recently needed a new pair of eyeglasses.  I went to my local LensCrafters store for my eye exam and to browse new frames.  But, I did something I had never done before at an optical store, which I always had done in other stores . . . I wrote down the SKU of the frames and started searching for them online when I got home.

And, for good reason.  The same Polo brand frames I has seen at LensCrafters for $250, were available online for half the price of $125 from several vendors I had never heard of.  After doing a little online research, I felt EZContacts.com was worth giving a shot (despite their brand name, as I assumed they started in contacts and evolved into glasses too).  Online they made it pretty simple.  I could easily enter my prescription, they showed me how to measure my pupil distance and gave me a wide range of lenses to choose from.

I picked their most expensive lenses, at $199, assuming they were going to be the best, with all the bells and whistles needed, like anti-reflective coatings, thin construction and crystal clear definition.  I paid for the transaction on March 23, sat back and waited for my new glasses to arrive.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTERWARDS

I got a call the next day from an optometrist that said he worked for EZContacts.com saying that he had my prescription and all looked good, and asked if I had any questions.  I thought that was a nice touch, and I felt that I was in good hands.  Although, I did find it strange that the caller ID came in as a different company name called Sharper Image.  I assumed EZContacts.com had subcontracted the fulfillment to a local optometrist, which was fine given the price savings I was getting.

But, after the 5 business days of advertised delivery time, nothing showed up.  I gave them another week, and called them on April 6th asking why they were more than a week late; as I needed these glasses to see!!  They apologized, said there were abnormally busy, and shipped them out on April 9th, which I received the next day.

Excited to finally get my new glasses, I opened the box and tried them on.  And, I couldn't see clearly through them at all.  The prescription didn't feel accurate.  There was no anti-reflective coating, which distracted my vision.  And, they felt like a crappy lens--with a cloudy haze.  Anything but what I was expecting.

CUSTOMER SERVICE BREAKS

I called to complain, and was greeted by a message that their office was closed on April 11th and 12th for the Passover holiday break (even though every major retail optical chain were open those days).  And, when I called back on April 13th, there was such a back log of customer service calls that I ended up on hold for over two hours behind around 100 other callers.  Probably people like me, disappointed with their purchases??

When I finally spoke to the company, they said to ship them back and gave me a link to their returns page, which was not easily found on their website (forcing me to lose two hours on the phone hunting it down).  It was like they were intentionally hiding it, so people couldn't send back their purchases.  About a week or two after shipping back my glasses, I got a call from their support team saying my lenses were missing the anti-reflective coating by mistake, and that they would send a new pair.  To which I said, I don't really trust you guys anymore with my eyesight, and asked for a full refund, given how bad my customer experience was with them.

But, they told me they could only refund 50% of the $199 lens cost, since they were already cut.  So, I was going to have to eat around $100 for giving this online retailer a chance: an amount that was elevated by the fact I thought I was buying the best lenses possible to avoid exactly this situation.

THE OUTCOME

Given the bad experience I had online, I marched right back into LensCrafters, where I could physically see the quality of the lenses before buying them, and have them professionally measured (as I wasn't exactly sure I was doing it right on my own, from home).  I didn't end up buying new frames, I re-used my old frames to save on the costs, given the above out-of-pocket costs I incurred.  So, instead of getting new glasses and frames for around $300, saving $100 versus retail.  I ended up paying $300 for lenses only, including the $100 I lost from EZContacts.com.  Not the outcome I had in mind by going to the internet to save money.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

I may or may not buy frames only online, depending on how high the lenses costs are alone.  The offline retailers are smart--they deeply discount lenses by 50% if you buy frames from them, but you have to pay full price for the lenses if you don't.  So, whatever savings you are getting from buying frames online, you are most likely giving it back in the form of higher lenses prices offline.  So, until an online optical store can more seemlessly replicate the offline buying experience, I think the brick and mortar optical stores will survive to live another day.  Score one for brick and mortar retail, in the sea of otherwise carnage.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU

If you are in the brick and mortar retail business, you are most likely going to lose on price to the internet retailers every time.  And, price is a huge driver of a consumer's purchase decision.  You are going to have to figure out how to offer something unique and different, that the online guys don't have to compete.  In this case study, that included things like the onsite doctors, physical lenses to look through before you buy (privately branded and unique to them, so you couldn't hunt them down online) and pricing models that make the consumers feel indifference whether they buy online or offline.

And, as for EZContacts.com . . . buyer beware!!  I should have know better to buy eyeglasses from a company branded as a contacts seller.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Raleigh-Durham Venture Capital Firms & Angel Investor Networks

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/23/2017

Below is a list of selected venture capital firms and angel investor networks that are actively investing in the Raleigh-Durham area.  Mo...


Below is a list of selected venture capital firms and angel investor networks that are actively investing in the Raleigh-Durham area.  Most are split between a technology or life sciences focus, although many invest in additional industries, as well.  Please research them at their linked websites, to see who may be the best fit for you.  I organized this list in terms of stage of investment focus, from early to late stage investors.  So, please don't reach out to VC's if you do not fit their target criteria.  And, be sure to research their specific technology focus on their websites (e.g., healthcare, education, digital media, SaaS), to make sure your business is a fit for them.  Also, as a reminder, don't blindly cold call these companies.  It is always best to have a warm intro into one of their partners, where Red Rocket or others may be able to help here.

ANGEL INVESTOR NETWORKS IN RALEIGH-DURHAM

Carolina Angel Network --  UNC angels for UNC related entrepreneurs

Carolina Seed Investors --  life sciences focus

Duke Angel Network --  Duke angels for Duke related entrepreneurs

Investors' Circle --  impact investing

RTP Capital Associates --  technology centric, or low-tech execution driven

Triangle Angel Partners --  high tech and life sciences

Wolfpack Investor Network --  NC State angels for NC State related entrepreneurs


SEED STAGE (Up to $250K checks from $0 revenues)

Cofounders Capital --  software focus

Contender Capital --  technology focus

Full Tilt Capital --  technology focus

Inception Micro Angel Fund (IMAF) -- generalists

Madison River Ventures -- ecommerce, SaaS focus

Solidarity Capital Group --  social impact (community dev, economic dev, sustainable agric., energy/environmental, social finance)


EARLY STAGE (Up to $1MM checks in up to $1MM revenues) 

IDEA Fund Partners --  technology focus

Bull City Venture Partners --  software, internet focus


SERIES A STAGE ($1MM-$5MM checks in $1MM-$5MM revenues)

Cato BioVentures --  life sciences focus

Cherokee Investment Partners --  real estate, environmental, energy, others

SJF Ventures --  impact investing


SERIES B  STAGE ($5MM-$20MM checks in over $5MM revenues)

Hatteras Venture Partners --  life sciences focus

River Cities Capital Funds --  healthcare and technology focus

True Bridge Capital Partners --  into funds early or mid-to-late stage direct, tech focus


ALL STAGES

Echo Health Ventures --  healthcare focus

Pappas Ventures -- life sciences focus


STARTUP STUDIOS

Bootstrap Advisors --  consumer products

8 Rivers -- sustainable infrastructure innovations in future-critical areas

Excelerate Health Ventures -- healthcare focus

Golden Pine Ventures --  biotechnology and biomedical focus

Rex Health Ventures --  UNC related, healthcare focus


OTHER NORTH CAROLINA FIRMS WHO INVEST IN RALEIGH-DURHAM

Asheville Angels (seed stage, Asheville)

Blue Ridge Angel Investor Network (seed stage, Asheville)

Charlotte Angel Fund (seed stage, Charlotte)

Double Time Capital (growth stage, Charlotte, sustainable energy)

ECU Investor Network (seed stage, Greenville)

Frontier Capital (growth stage, Charlotte)

Lowe's Ventures (all stages, Mooresville, emerging tech, retail tech, home tech)

North Carolina Innovation Funds (Charlotte, state fund co-invests behind other VCs)

Piedmont Angel Network (seed stage, Winston-Salem)

SunBridge Partners (early stage, Charlotte, technology with global applications)

Wilmington Investor Network (seed stage, Wilmington)


OTHER FIRMS

I would also recommend reaching out to investors outside of North Carolina who are open to investing in the region.  So, research venture investors in the surrounding states in the Southeast.  Or, even further beyond, as I know a lot of Chicago venture capitalists are open to investing in smart companies, wherever they are located, and for the right companies, Red Rocket can make introductions to our relationships there.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Lesson #266: Managing for Net Cash Flow vs Net Profit

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/15/2017

As many of you know, Red Rocket has been looking for a businesses to buy.  We have previously written about all the challenges that come...



As many of you know, Red Rocket has been looking for a businesses to buy.  We have previously written about all the challenges that come with buy-side mergers and acquisitions work.   But, there is a new wrinkle we have been running into, that is worth talking about.  Most businesses we have looked at were managed to maximize net profit, which is typically a good thing.  But, when trying to attract an acquirer, they really should have been managed to maximize net cash flow.  As at the end of the day, that is really want matters most to investors--getting visibility into a near term return of their invested capital, that hopefully can pay back in 12-18 months, not 4-5 years.  Let me explain further.

DEFINING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NET PROFIT AND NET CASH FLOW

Net profit is a pretty straight forward calculation; it takes all the revenues of the business collected from customers in a time period and subtracts all the expenses of the business in that same period.  Those expenses include things like the cost of goods sold and all the selling, general and administrative costs of the business (e.g., marketing, payroll, home office).  Net profit is an income statement output.

Net cashflow is a cash flow statement output.  It starts with the net profit calculated above and then adds back non-cash items like depreciation and amortization, and then subtracts other longer term investments made in the business, like build-up of inventory for future months' sales, research and development costs made for future product offerings and other capital expenditures (e.g., for new equipment or capitalized software investments).

WHY MANAGING TO CASH FLOW MATTERS

Let's say we had a business with $5MM in revenues generating $800K in profit before taxes and $1MM in EBITDA when you add back $200K of non-cash items, like depreciation.  Since most businesses are valued on a multiple of EBITDA, this business may be worth 4x cash flow, or $3.2MM to a potential acquiror, depending on how fast it is growing.

But, then the potential buyer of that business starts to peel back the layers of the onion on the cash flow statement, and uncovers the business is making $1MM of off-income statement investments to support their growth, into things like building up inventory for future months and R&D investments into future products.  That takes the net cash flow of the business down to zero.

So, with most acquirers looking for businesses with high net cash flow, with which to attract bank financing and to have funds from operations with which to pay down their loan and interest over time, this presents a major challenge for the buyer.  Instead of getting a business that they thought was generation a lot of profits (which is valuable to them), they are getting a business which is cash flow neutral (which is not that valuable to them, given the nature of their business).  What worked well for the entrepreneur in growing their revenues at the expense of short term distributions, does not work well for most private equity investors or acquirers of your business.

WHEN THIS IS NOT THE CASE

Obviously, if you are not trying to sell your business, making potential investors or acquirers happy doesn't matter.  You can do what you like in those cases.  And, the reason most businesses don't care about not driving huge positive cash flow, is because they are more focused on re-investing all cash flow into the company, to help propel the business to new heights in future years (not caring about the impact to profits or cash flow in the current year).  Amazon is a great example of a company that has had major success with a strategy like this, although it ruffled the feather of many of their early investors as a public company, since it was counter to the norm of maximizing near term profits.

CASE STUDY

We were studying the potential acquisition of an ecommerce seller of branded shoes.  They were showing very impressive revenue growth from $5MM to $10MM to $15MM over a three year period, and net profits were growing right along with it, from $1MM to $2MM to $3MM.  That would attract the excitement of most any investor or buyer.

Until, we looked at the cash flow statement in more detail.  And, we learned, they needed to invest the full $3MM of profit into their future inventory investment required to support the next year's expected revenues of $20MM.  With a 50% cost of sales ($10MM) and a 3x inventory turnover ratio ($3.3MM of inventory needed for next four months), they needed every penny of the prior year profits, and more, to fund their growth.

So, yes, if the plan was to shut off the growth at $15MM, and milk the $3MM of profits out of the business in perpetuity, that would appeal to certain buyers.  But, if the plan, was to grow a $15MM business into a $50MM business, all while distributing a portion of profits to the shareholders or the lenders along the way, this business wouldn't attract anyone.

WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU

Yes, profits are important and should be maximized.  Especially since they are the root driver of EBITDA which is relied on heavily in valuing companies.  But, if at the same time, you are not being sensitive to maximizing cash flow during growth periods of your business, you are going to have a hard time attracting new investors, lenders or acquirers for your business.  At the end of the day, there has to be enough cash left to distribute out to the investment partners in a business (e.g., banks, private equity firms), along the way, in order to get their upfront attention.  So, plan accordingly.


For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.


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