Customer Management – Doing the Math Part 5

It’s one thing to have a solid sales strategy, but what happens after that? RETAINING your clients is key to making money.

My analysis of landscape and snow contractor profitability – based on 23 years as a consultant – demonstrates that retention of profitable customers is the primary driver of Net Profits. This is absolutely true. Nothing is more important than managing what you ALREADY have and keeping it year after year. This means the way you manage the people who manage your customers makes all the difference in terms of financial results.

Since you cannot manage what you cannot see, you need data to analyze, compare and direct the work of these key people. That is where landscape business management software provides the tool to accomplish this – using data to drive actions that produce results.

Let’s return to the idea of cascading business reporting to define how you should manage the people who manage your customers. We start with a Customer Management KPI, drill down to two function reports, and finally review four dashboards that monitor the activities essential to good client management (see graphic).

Client Management Cascade

 

Client Management (KPI):

This Client Management KPI provides a summary at a high enough level to gauge the metrics that define client performance. It provides information on recurring contractual revenues or RUM (Revenue Under Management) by company, by branch or by Account Manager, at the beginning of time period and at the end of that time period. RUM is a metric that can be compared to industry best performers and is essential to leveraging overhead expenses – the key to increasing Net Profit.

Account Managers are expensive and increasing their RUM matters. Yes, increasing RUM may mean taking on a few more accounts. But this can be accomplished with mobile business management software that has all the account information your managers need to work more efficiently.

This Client Management KPI provides business intelligence on your:

  • Retention performance – revenue lost (if 5% lost, 95% retention)
  • New account performance – revenue gained
  • Extra sales  performance – revenue upsells

This is essential for benchmarking and comparing with your budget, retention and upsell goals. To render all of this more actionable, you will want to “drill down” into two Function Reports: (a) Renewals, and (b) Upsells. These are the first two reports you employ in managing your account manager meetings to answer the eternal question: “How are we doing?”

Client Management Function Reports

The Upsell Report is a scorecard (very similar to the business development/sales scorecard from the prior blog post). It provides information on account manager sales activity relative to proposed and closing goals and proposed and closed actuals for each Account Manager.

 

Upsell

The Renewal Report provides a snapshot of RUM to be renewed – as well as all details regarding the contract renewal process (for example, a job report with hours and margins actual to budgeted), the renewal status and dates (such as statuses includingavailable to renew, renewal proposed, remaining to be renewed, and sold and already renewed”).

 

Renewal

 

These reports provide actionable information. But if you are like me and trying to create a client services culture as well as manage your bottom line (no mean feat), you will want more “drill downs” to truly understand the best tactics to drive these results and shape behavior. It is, in fact, true that you get what you inspect.

These added “drill downs” are the dashboards. Dashboards provide real time insight into critical account management activities. There are four required dashboards necessary to manage the account manager’s actions: Open Issues, At-Risk Properties, Open Opportunity and Service Delivery.

  • Issues – This dashboard indicates how you are managing “quality.” Numerous property issues can indicate great service, but can also indicate great trouble. Account managers should be addressing issues everyday as a source of satisfaction and renewal probability – as well as a source of upsell opportunities.
  • At-Risk – This dashboard indicates risk as a result of conditions changing on a property – things like ownership, management and crew performance to name a few. Changes in these and other items you define can put that property renewal “at-risk.” You should monitor changing conditions frequently to be proactive in addressing them. But you must have a business management software that can capture and “flag” this info for easy detection.
  • Opportunities – This dashboard indicates potential sales success. Just like the business development-open pipeline from the last blog post, you must know the dollars and closing probabilities for upsells in the account managers’ pipeline.
  • Services – This dashboard indicates services delivery plans and problems. For example, an account manager should know what services have been delivered, services to be scheduled and services behind schedule to manage customer expectation. This dashboard provides a tool for proactive management of client expectations, which raises your service level and your probability or renewal – not to mention the likelihood of increasing upsells.

CLICK HERE to see the four dashboards.

That’s it! These are the best Client Management practices using a cascading reporting structure for landscape and snow business management. The whole purpose of this is to build a better account manager and a customer service process that increases net profits. This is landscape business management in real-time, as it should be.

Next week… The Forecast Management KPI.

The Evolution of Aspire – Version 3.3

Since Aspire is proud to be launching Version 3.3 this week, we interrupt our regularly scheduled “Do the Math” programming to bring you a quick look at the new features of our latest product upgrade!

 

Being a part of Aspire is all about evolution: everything gets better with each new iteration. This applies to our company, your company, and most importantly, our software and support.

The Aspire Software Co. was founded in 2014 by Kevin Kehoe and Mark Tipton. There were only four team members in those early days. As a new start-up, the company made its home at the Economic Development Center in St. Charles, Mo.

Now, three years later, the company has evolved into a much larger team with its own office and a brand new version (Aspire Version 3.3) of its green/snow business management software.

Aspire Version 3.3 has some very important evolutionary changes:

Business Budgets       

                                   

3.3 allows you to set up your budgets by branch & division and roll those budgets based on “actuals” the software can help you manage in real-time. You can oversee all aspects of your budget in one place including overhead, cost of goods sold and revenue invoiced and/or earned.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

As you know from last week’s post – Key Performance Indicators are how you keep track of your budget items and identify variables that help you run your business better. With that in mind, 3.3 helps you keep your eye on the KPIs with new homepage configuration, new secure access to the information, and budget reporting tools already set up for KPI functionality. Just as a reminder, the Aspire KPIs include:

  • Overhead Recovered
  • Client Management
  • Profit and Loss
  • Forecast
  • Labor Efficiency
  • Sales Scorecard

Customized Forms

Most contractors must collect and report information for government entities (for example: chemical applications or DOT compliance).  Aspire now provides the ability to customize the system so that these forms can be completed in the field and reports generated automatically.

Mobile Time

Keeping track of your crews is one thing, but 3.3 allows you to produce a daily crew work plan – right on the mobile smart device they use to keep time and materials. This allows for better planning and less forgetting of things like supplies and equipment required to perform the work.

Real-Time Inventory

One of the hallmarks of the Aspire System is to have a live view of time and materials as the projects progress through the day. We’ve improved our real-time inventory tracking to monitor purchase variance (if purchase cost varies from standard cost or if that cost changes). We also equipped 3.3 to show this purchase variance in the End of Month report and allow you to update your purchase cost in bulk based on a rolling schedule (12 month or custom-defined).

Payroll Integration

In using Aspire 3.3. to help manage your payroll, you can now Export your numbers to your bookkeeping software, automatically have employee updates sent to Aspire for payroll purposes and, most importantly for this update, integrate Worker’s Comp audit reporting to help you and your employees save on premiums.

Let’s Evolve!

While we might not have an epic white beard or a boat called the Beagle, Aspire constantly pushes the evolution of our company and our products for the sake of your business.

And while 3.3 was just released, we’re not done looking to the future. This October, at the Green Industry Expo in Louisville, we invite you to join us at the release of Aspire Version 4.0.

Without giving too much away, let’s just say that companies will have even better features to manage construction projects, equipment, and snow – just in time for winter!

So how about it – are you ready to evolve your business with Aspire?

Reporting: Doing the Math, Part 1

This is the first in a multi-part series about the importance of business calculations and reporting in the green/snow industries.

“Do the math!”

This was my mantra for 23 years of consulting for clients. What I meant was any business plan should be based on information that is mathematically sound and identifies the key activities required to achieve success – be it in sales, margins, hours or profits. And whether you’re planting shrubs or pushing snow, doing the math behind the work is how you stay in business.

For example, in creating a sales plan for a salesperson, do the math. Start with the goal: let’s say it’s to sell $1,000,000 in new contracts. Consider the likely close rate – maybe 20%. That will require that you bid $5,000,000 in prospect volume.

Now, start asking questions.

“How big is the target prospect job size?” This is a very good question. “Whom should the salesperson pursue?” Let’s say the target size is a $25,000 annual contract (which, in my experience, seems to be the national average for many contractors).

Now we know that we need to bid 200 landscaping/snow management job sites. But how many prospects must be contacted to get the 200 opportunities to bid? Let’s say that 50% of the time, a salesperson calls a prospect who is open to a bid (This raises another good question – what is a qualified bid? But more on that later.) Now we have a number we can use: the salesperson needs to have a list of at least 400 prospect job sites that average $25,000 annually in land/snow contract value.

Math > Goals

Does the salesperson have this list? If not, how in heaven’s name can he/she sell $1,000,000 in new business? The simple answer is, it’s probably not going to happen. This is not a bad plan, it’s worse – it’s no plan. In doing the math, we realize that the key to success is not setting the goal. The key is determining what matters in the sales process and where to start. That is why we do the math!

Let’s add one more calculation: Let’s assume it takes eight calls to get a chance to bid. Now we know another important number: that 3,200 touches will be required to meet the goal. Divide that by 250 working days and we get 12 touches every day. Now we have marching orders: The salesperson will have to reach out an average of 12 times to prospects every single day.

Is this too detailed? Not really – but it is essential. Can the salesperson hit that goal? Absolutely – I’ve done it!

Math + Accountability = Reporting

Now that we have a plan of action, we need a reporting structure to monitor and hold the salesperson accountable. Our reports will likely include the following (from big picture to small – with an emphasis on managing the small picture):

  • Sales dollars closed
  • Bid dollars proposed
  • Bid number proposed
  • Average job size proposed
  • Number of prospects contacted
  • Number of touches (email, call, task, appointment)

These reports could be reviewed every day, week or month. Why would anybody want to do that? Of course, for accountability, but mostly to re-assess activity and coach for the right tactics. This is something every sales manager must do, no matter the industry. Reporting provides the information essential to achieving success.

Do YOUR Math

So it must be for running your entire business. What is the math essential for your company’s success? At the big-picture level, it will be measured (per my prior posts) in terms of growth and profits. How many properties are you caring for? How much are they paying you to do it?

And just like the salesperson, you need to do the math and create a reporting structure from big picture to small. The big picture provides the vision. The small picture provides the traction.

Here’s the reporting structure for running a green/snow/contracting business – from the BIG to SMALL picture (more on this in future posts):

  • Rolling Budget
  • Business KPI’s (Key Productivity Indicators)
  • Functional Reports (Sales, Client, Production, Finances)
  • Work – Process Management Dashboards

In these next blog posts, I will do the math starting with the Rolling Budget and drill all the way down to Work Process Management Dashboards. I call this process of creating a reporting structure “cascading.” We start high atop the waterfall and cascade it down to the river below where the actual flow of work happens.

Next: Tune in for Part 2 of Reporting: Doing the Math.

Future Vision: Service

Let’s look into the future and envision how software will improve customer service. This is important because customer service, not software, provides a competitive advantage. But, the right software can provide the platform you need to out-compete the other guy by delivering better service.

When it comes to service, your account managers are your most valuable assets. They are customer service personified. What the account managers do, how they do it and when they do it accounts for your clients’ experiences. Superior service produces results measured in dollars: renewals, referrals, upsells… not to mention goodwill and satisfaction.

Of course, we all want A+ account managers. The challenge is that there are only so many A+ account managers out there. There is a far larger pool of solid B+ account managers who, with the right tools, might perform like A+ account managers.

Is this possible? It is.

Breaking Down an A+ Account Manager

Let’s start with what makes an A+ account manager so valuable. In my experience observing them, there are five things at which they excel: time management, salesmanship, anticipation, responsiveness and economics.

  • Time management – This is the most critical skill because it provides the structure for the other four. Account managers are the busiest people in the company … and often the least productive. This is bad for you and worse for the customer because service suffers. Clients end up waiting for everything.
  • Salesmanship – This ability is the key to communication. What retains customers is their relationship with the people in the company – that relationship is built and maintained by account managers. The ability to listen and recommend increases the service value an account manager provides.
  • Anticipation – Providing communication and information that anticipates needs and prevents issues increases the service value your account manager provides. Remember the last time you sat on a delayed flight waiting for some news from the pilot? That’s how customers feel when timely communication is missing.
  • Responsiveness – Providing speedy feedback with fact-based solutions and multiple options increases the service value they provide.
  • Economics – Providing guidance on money decisions by demonstrating where and how the customer can best invest and spend their landscape dollars increases service value.

The key to increasing service is communication. The key to communication is information. Customers require it. They want to know when services and proposals will be delivered, when problems will be resolved, how their property should best be managed and how much it will cost. A+ account managers always seem to have the answers and an intuitive feel for communicating those answers when they are needed. B+ account managers can do that, too, with assistance from your software systems.

Providing accurate and timely information is central to both your customers’ experience and the AM’s performance, productivity and morale. Today – for too many account managers – the information the customer needs is not easily available … at least not without making the client wait while looking in several places for files, emails, documents and spreadsheets.

The Vision

How do you change this inefficient situation, which is frustrating for both customer and account manager, and make information available in one place all the time? Systems. Systems that today’s cloud-based integrated mobile technology can provide when you marry them with process and your culture. Let’s look at what I mean using an example of essential information in a single system:

All the essentials need to be on a smart device the AM uses in the field. This is just like the technology major package/delivery companies use to manage routes and tracking every day – except the platform above is designed for landscape AMs.

I could add more on that here – and will in future posts – but looking back to my prior posts, I described Millennials and Dinosaurs:

  • Millennials want function instead of formality
  • Dinosaurs want decisions instead of excuses

Today’s software systems are at the intersection of these two wants and needs. They promote the marriage of technology and decision-making that can raise your customer service game and develop your B+ AMs into A+ AMs. That’s the power of visibility and accountability that integrated systems can deliver.

This is the future. This is now. More on this next week.


THIS JUST IN: Aspire is proud to be included in an article on “Next Level Software Solutions” in Landscape Management magazine. Click HERE to take a look on LM’s website.

Future Vision: Service, Efficiency, Accountability, Visibility

You can’t manage what you can’t see.

Today’s business management software uniquely provides visibility that simply wasn’t possible when you were juggling spreadsheets, crew tracking devices and QuickBooks to run a business. Today’s business management software allows you to see what’s happening… NOW!

New Tools, Right Tools

Business management software is the tool that allows you to manage and lead – and not just a tool that is accountingcentric, but sales, service and productioncentric. The combination of integrated cloud data management and mobile technology makes information available to everyone (not just the accountants – God bless them; they work very hard). And real-time information is key, because it delivers better customer service, greater efficiency and personal accountability.

It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but business management software alone provides no unique competitive advantage. Read that again. Having a tool – like software – that no one else has is not nearly as unique as the way you employ it and integrate it into your culture. In other words, it’s how you use the tool to drive action that matters.

Delivering the Goods

We talk about the importance of culture, but what really is it?  In my mind, culture is a collection of accepted visions, traditions, beliefs and practices. Cultures are unique – if you travel to other countries, you know this to be true.

It is the same in business. Every company has a culture. But is yours the one you want? In business, a great culture delivers the goods. There are three goods that really matter: service, efficiency and accountability. These high-value deliverables are essential to success.

Vision and Insight

But how does software affect culture? Let’s go back to visibility – you can’t manage what you can’t see. If you can’t see, how can you act?

  1. Make a guess.
  2. Do what you have always done.
  3. Wait and see.
  4. Do the best you can, and fix it later.
  5. None of the above.

Any answer other than E is costly from a service and efficiency perspective – and worse, it confuses accountability. Nobody is responsible, because everybody is “doing the best they can.” Sound familiar?

If they can’t see it, how can you expect to manage it? A great culture starts with vision. Vision means to see – but see what? Seeing the information that drives the goods – service and efficiency. And it’s not just what you see that matters – when you see the information can help you correct mistakes before your team makes thousands of “A, B, C, D” decisions every week that could cost you customers and money.

That is the power of visibility. If you want everyone to see your vision, think about this: Vision starts with visibility, and visibility is essential to accountability – the third good in a great culture.

Next week, I’ll tell you how to start delivering the goods in your Green/Snow company, starting with Service.

What do Companies Want in Landscape Management Software?

In the face of new inventions and old challenges, what do landscape companies want in a software product?

From day one at the Aspire Software Company, we have designed our systems around what we know. Based on our team’s firsthand experience in the Green/Snow industries, we created the software to ease pain points for landscape/snow management companies so they can focus on what they do best.

But just as our products evolve over time, our industry is also evolving. New technology allows one person to do the work of three. Smartphones and tablets are everywhere. And mobile apps manage everything from route optimization to inventory management to drone scheduling. Yes, you read that correctly: drone scheduling. While we were popping wheelies on our zero-turn mowers, robots were quietly being taught how to mow grass, mulch leaves and spread salt.

Follow the Research

To gain insight on what landscape companies need from their software in these changing times, we turn to organizations like Software Advice. They provide research and user reviews on software applications, allowing readers to pinpoint the best software for their needs out of the seemingly endless sea of options. Aspire, in turn, uses their in-depth research to ensure our products surpass our clients’ needs.

Software Advice researcher Andrew Friedenthal surveyed hundreds of landscape business workers to see how they use software.

The results highlight the industry’s ongoing transformation:

  • Almost three quarters of respondents use specific landscape industry software to manage their companies.
  • Of those, almost half use it only sporadically, relying on other software programs to handle accounting, scheduling, CRM, human resources, etc.
  • Of the respondents who use industry-specific landscape software frequently, they most appreciate programs that already integrate billing/invoicing, landscape design, CRM, team management, work tracking, payment collection and scheduling/dispatch.
  • In addition, they wish their programs were better equipped to handle payment collection, proposal generation and accounting integration.

Long-Story-Short

This means that landscaping workers and managers are looking for an all-in-one program that seamlessly integrates billing, design, team management and overhead details such as maintenance, supply and HR.

In the words of Mr. Friedenthal himself: “To stay ahead of the competition, landscaping companies should try to find an industry-specific landscape management software which can also provide capabilities that are not as industry-specific.”

While we’re waiting for someone to invent a better lawnmower robot, this is good advice to follow.

Millennials and Technology: The Future

Allow me to change gears with this first in a series of posts discussing where technology might take us in the future in the Landscape/Snow-Ice industries.

The Future is in…Provo?

Last week, the Aspire Software team was in Provo, Utah, as a sponsor of the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) National Collegiate Student Competition. If you have not been to this annual event, you need to go. These kids are our future. We witnessed talent and passion. They are future salespeople, account managers and operation supervisors. And you need to know what they want in an employer.

We also observed just how unique they are. They are, in a word, Millennials. For more information on this, watch Simon Sinek on “Hiring Millennials.”

Technology Makes the Job

Why does this matter to you? Simple: their advanced relationship with technology is totally alien to many of us, but central to their career choices. In short, the technology and software you use can make all the difference in recruiting the best.

Don’t believe me? The Aspire Software Company has made an investment in the Brigham Young University (BYU) landscape management program. We donated our software and expertise to the faculty to use as a teaching tool in the business management curriculum. The results, judged by student and faculty feedback, are exceptional.

The faculty loves the teaching tool and the students love the technology. It looks and feels modern to them. They are naturals with mobile devices and learn it easily (unlike many older employees in landscape companies, but more on that in my next post).

Ditch the Desk

Think about it: one big reason they choose our industry is the opportunity to work “outside.” And like most of us on the business end, they despise administration and paperwork. So if your systems chain them to indoor work spaces and paperwork, they are out. They said as much to their faculty and to us this week.

It was eye-opening. Maybe we should all get out more often. So, if you are serious about having more student job candidates from whom to choose*, and having the best and brightest choose you, you must consider your technology investment and strategy as at least as important as your equipment investment and strategy.

Bottom line: Millennials want to work for companies with technologies that make business management quick, fun, real to them and functional. They don’t want to waste time searching for information they believe should be right in front of them.

It’s a brave new world.

 

* We learned that many landscape management programs at the community college and university levels are in danger of shutting down for lack of student enrollment. Why? Many of the other programs appear “sexier” in terms of technology to the students. They want mobile-compatible technology to use everyday and everywhere.  It’s pretty simple, folks. Which means, it should be a simple fix.

Do you want a software vendor or partner for your company? Part 2

Partners provide value to each other. When it comes to business management software, that is essential. You get service and the software partner gets feedback that can enhance your business.

So, what’s a partner?

The definition of partner is an association sharing a common goal.

Let’s use QuickBooks (QB) as an example. QB is not landscape business management software. It is an accounting system. I like it – it’s a fine product. But QB sells you a product, not a service. You pay a fixed price and you have to make it work the way you want it to work. That’s OK, but it’s not a partnership.  

The reason business management software costs what it does is the cost of service. In fact, the cost of the software, itself, is less than half the cost to your software partner. The majority of the cost is in the services, support and management they deliver to you. That is why price is only one consideration.  

What should you expect from your partner?

At a minimum:  

  • Industry knowledge and experience starting at the top of the company
  • Staffing levels to support you
  • Re-investment in the product to stay ahead of the technology and user curve
  • A dedicated professional to direct your deployment
  • On-going training
  • A support center
  • A help desk
  • User and peer groups

What services should your partner deliver for all-in pricing? You will want at least the following:

  • Help with data conversion and set-up of your work-flow*
  • Training and train-the-trainer for your team
  • Full integration of the software and ability to link it to other products
  • Easy to use mobile interface from anywhere
  • An actual person to talk to at a help desk
  • Documentation and videos
  • Data management**
  • All new versions and upgrades

Consider buying these lists of overlapping services a la carte. It’s not easy.

Here’s the value from just two of these services:

*Set-up of the workflow: Think about the way you estimate work now – your takeoffs, pricing markups and margins, assemblies and production rates, service and item catalog (labor, materials and equipment), contract language, etc. Now think about translating that yourself into a new system.

**Data management: Business management software is, in essence, a massively large database of transactions you create every day. A $3m company may create more than a million of these in a year… one million or more. Try managing that yourself on your servers. Since today’s systems drive so much data and the risk of crash and loss is too awful to contemplate, you want your partner to do this for you. This alone saves you money in hardware, people and consultants.

There is significant value delivered by the right partner. So do your homework. Make certain you understand what you get for the investment you make. This is more than a purchase – it’s more like a marriage.

RALLY CAP UPDATE:  I posted Spring is Sprung last time. True to form, it snowed this past week. Please subscribe and post comments in the space below.