& PAY ON CUSTOMER PROFITABILITY
Profits are hurting for most distributors, and the “Great Recession of
‘09” could linger for some time. But, many distributors could be quickly making
solid profits if they decided to cure three profit-destroying factors hiding
within their customer portfolios. They are:
About 1% of all of our customers are super-losers, because they order a huge number
of small orders for which the total “Cost to Serve” (CTS) exceeds the margin
dollar contributions by at least a 2:1 ratio. Because the sales and margin
dollars from these accounts are often significant, we need to have some information
tools for identifying and tracking these accounts and some alchemy recipes for
turning leaden losers into golden-profit contributors. (For tools, we use
WayPoint Analytics, see last paragraph. For alchemy recipes go to article 4.10;
and exhibits 44;
and 57; http://www.merrifield.com/exhibits/Ex57.pdf
big chunk of chronically-small customers that have been accumulated over
the years that have and will continue – if allowed –
to order small orders for which the average cost of providing traditional
wholesale services will increasingly exceed the margin dollars in the orders. (Solutions
for this in articles 2.15 & 2.19 at merrifield.com) http://www.merrifield.com/articles/2_15.asp
have too many sales reps to cover the 10 to 20% of the accounts that
have enough annual sales, margin dollars and order-size potential to cover the CTS
which includes sales rep compensation.
Fortunately, problems 2 and 3 can be solved together to generate five
new streams of profit contribution. To overcome traditional industry
thinking that more reps on straight commission are always good, do this
analysis for your own business.
ACCOUNT PURCHASES / MONTH
TO JUSTIFY OUTSIDE SALES COSTS
Let’s look at the true cost ratios for sales force coverage:
the total cost of your sales force (including compensation, benefits, meetings,
education, coaching, office space, travel expenses, etc.) and divide it by
(number of reps yr x number of calls per day x 230 sales days/). By example: $800,000
for 8 reps who average 5 calls/day x 230 selling days yields $87/sales call.
The cost per call for rookies will be less and for vets higher. (Tune your
input numbers as needed; the final prescription process will still be roughly
the per-call Gross Profit requirement to offset this cost by dividing the Sales
Call cost by the commission/compensation) rate of the GP$. By example, if we
pay 25% of the GP dollars in commissions, then we divide $87 by 0.25 to get $348
in GP needed to break even on the selling cost per call.
then would be the sales per call to breakeven, which will vary by the
overall average margin percent for the channel and the company? If our company
gross profit rate averages 20%, then we would need 5 times the breakeven, GP$/call
figure, or, $348 x 5 = $1740 for every call made on an account. If we average
25% in GP, then sales/call breakeven drops to $1,392.
minimum number of calls per year must a rep make on an account to accomplish:
a good personal rapport with all decision influencers? And…
able to sell, install, maintain and continually improve some degree of a
“purchasing contract/replenishment process” that every smart buyer wants in
order to lower all elements of “total procurement cost” especially, of course,
most common estimate from audiences has been one call per month minimum;
biggest accounts get more.
then is the minimum amount of purchases per year by an account to support
minimum outside sales coverage? 12 calls per year at $1392 in sales/call would
equal $16,704; at $1,740/call, the annual minimum threshold would be $20,880.
Let’s assume going forward the 12 call/year, sales-rep-service, minimum,
annual-sales level is $18,000.
HOW MANY “A, B, C AND D” ACCOUNTS
DO WE HAVE?
accounts does the firm currently have that are assigned to outside sales reps
that fall below our minimum $18,000 in annual sales? The typical distributor will find that about
70% of assigned accounts fall below this minimum threshold. Let’s call those
that are above the $18,000 level, “A” accounts. How many are there? (Hypothetically:
if reps could only be assigned to our existing “A” accounts - or ones that
would quickly grow past 18K in purchases - how many reps would we need with how
many total accounts per territory?)
And, what should
be the lower, sales or gross profit/year boundary for “B” accounts that we must
serve with a (new, experimental?) lower-cost marketing method than outside
selling? (For example: a blend of tele-marketing and direct e-mail and/or
fax-grams with strict minimum order sizes; higher freight or transaction
charges; must enter their own orders electronically; etc.)? Let’s say the lower
boundary might be $100/month in gross profit. How many active B
accounts do we have?
many “C” and “D” accounts are there below $100/month in gross margin?
reviewing the A-D account mix in each sales territory, how many “A” accounts do
our weakest reps have? What would happen if we could free up some time for our
best rep to call on those “A” accounts instead? How fast might top 10% reps get
more business on a profitable basis out of “A” accounts being served by bottom
ACTION PLAN THAT
YIELDS FIVE, NEW, PROFIT STREAMS
In my personal experience since the ‘70s, doing turnarounds for myself
and my clients, we’ve have evolved a solution for these seemingly separate problems:
small accounts which creates chronic losses;
reps under-penetrating A account potential; and,
plans that reward reps on margin dollars from customers that lose money on a
true, CTS basis, which motivates them to work against management who typically
gets paid on profits. And, in the long run, the sales reps are hurting
themselves - and all stakeholders including
suppliers - by destroying profits that could have been reinvested in the
business to strengthen and improve it.
Here are the solution action steps:
the two weakest reps and the one Best Rep to create one, combined, large
territory comprised of 100% of each territory’s accounts for a total of 300%.
let the two weak reps go and assign the best rep to the top 30% accounts out of
the combined 300% to create a new territory that has:
b. Far fewer total accounts than Best Rep
had before, but typically with about 50%
more gross margin dollar volume to maintain and unknown, upside margin
potential to crack.
Rep is than put on a salary equal to his W2 total from the previous year (no
real pay cut or downside risk) along with a “positive, delta PBIT” bonus. The rep
must improve the total PBIT (profit before interest and taxes) from all of the
assigned accounts to receive a big percent of that change (“delta”) Next year,
the rep will still be on the same salary base – perhaps with a raise – but must
once again achieve a new, “positive, delta PBIT” for another bonus. We are now
paying the rep for “penetration” and “total cost-to-serve” optimization not
just “maintenance” of margin dollar flow from accounts that may have been
inherited. And, we have lowered the total sales cost as a percent of the margin
dollars being maintained for an instant cost-savings, profit line contribution.
270% remaining accounts are carefully analyzed and put into at least two piles:
1. Some are so small, dying and not
even in our best niches of customers to serve that they are sent a letter
dictating our new minimum orders, and unbundled fees for doing business. We are
happy to sell any customer, but always on a profitable basis. Most may leave,
however, to go to either a competitor that unknowingly will provide traditional
distributor service for which the costs exceed the margin contribution or to a
retail-store, business-model supplier that can make money while serving them.
We will then have excess fulfillment cost slack to either lay-off or let it
flow into better service for our remaining accounts that have a profitable
2. Some will have positive upside potential
that warrants a new type of alternative marketing experiment orchestrated by a
new, young, different skilled person than the two reps that were let go.
3. Other piles? Depends on the channel
and the distributor portfolio.
overall, rep-territory rationalization process can be repeated multiple times
within a large sales force. Going from 10 reps to three best reps serving only A-accounts
is, at the extreme, a possibility.
A SUMMARY OF THE FIVE NEW SOURCES OF PROFITS
1) The B-D accounts that leave will
take some margin dollars with them, but the firm can track the declining,
transaction activity to know when to lay-off the slack-fulfillment-capacity
costs that are 1.5 to 2 times the lost margin total for an immediate profit
2) The B-D accounts that respond
profitably to our new alternative marketing service, along with new minimum
order size conditions, may grumble. But, on average they will buy 20 to 40%
more due to more frequent and cost effective marketing attention. They will also
increase their average order size and/or pay (higher) freight charges. They will
all become profitable, or they will have to be demoted to “C” or “D” account
service, price and terms just as frequent fliers are if they reduce travel. The
increased volume will offset the lost margin dollars from the departed, but on
a new profitability stream basis. And, the transaction activity costs for this
second group will also drop creating yet more slack to lay-off or redeploy.
3) The two laid off reps’ total costs
greatly exceed the cost of the new hybrid marketing person to yield an
immediate cost savings to grow profits.
4) With the new comp plan, we
immediately lower the sales cost as a percent of historical margin dollars
5) And, the Best Rep captures another
20 to 100% more profitable volume from the new A accounts inherited from the
weak reps within 3 to 9 months.
WHY ACT NOW? HOW?
Our current and likely-future economic conditions dictate that many
distributors must stop trying to grow the top line without good CTS analytics that
will in turn change sales force training and incentives. We need to stop the
chronic bleeding from the three factors covered in this article and start
paying reps in a bottom-line way which aligns them with management and their
own long-term, economic interest.
If downsizing, upgrading, re-orienting and re-paying the sales force
seems to be too overwhelming a challenge, then write down the reasons for
resistance and discuss the underlying assumptions in light of:
math exercise above.
we are currently paying reps for the actual customer profitability in their
respective territories. (Warning: many big hitters have net losses for the
we are in our industry’s life-cycle. Territory reps on commission used to be
prevalent in distribution channels which switched to “integrated sole supply”
buying like drug, grocery, hardware and hospital supply. They were replaced by
salaried consultants that lead replenishment installation teams. These new
sales reps serve annual sales volumes that are typically 10 to 20 times greater
than the old-way reps. Is our channel moving some percent of the way towards
what the biggest volume channels have already done?
is our next best alternative plan to solve the problems identified in this
customer profitability reports every month and continue to score the losses
from: biggest 1% losers; C and D customers; and each sales territory. Repeated
exposure to and discussion about true customer profitability results builds new
understanding and courage to act.
If measuring customer profitability to cure all three problems and to
pay incentives on “positive delta PBIT” is an informational challenge, fear
not. Any distributor can subscribe to Waypoint Analytics: a web-based,
profit-play strategic information service that will allow instant analysis,
tracking and re-compensation plus support with many more of my “radical profit
improvement plays”. The service can be installed with 5 to 10 business days and
return an instant, big positive ROI. Inquire about the next free, 1-hour
©Merrifield Consulting Group, Inc. - Article 4.11