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StrategyOct 02, 2018

Strategy & Operations: Helping Companies Drive Strong Business Performance

Kevin Erickson and Ben Grotta

At Credera our competitive advantage is our people, our values, and our experience—sound familiar? We often joke about how consultants (ourselves included) love to talk about strategy without clearly explaining what strategy actually means to us. Here’s the thing: Once you get past the buzzwords and the 200-page PowerPoint decks, strategy is just the answer to one question—how do you position your organization to ensure long-term financial success?

Now comes the harder part. This is far from a simple question. Every company has different considerations that inform how you answer this critical question, so every company’s strategy is distinct. Generally speaking, an effective strategy must synthesize a variety of inputs, clarify what matters and what does not, and provide guide rails for how a business should operate. The company’s competitive ecosystem, customer base, finances, organizational model, and so much more inform strategy.

A strategy is not a mission statement, nor is it a 12-month roadmap. It is not a person, a process, or a technology. It is not something quite that tangible. Rather, strategy is a collection of approaches and artifacts that share a common DNA. Think of it this way. Taken individually, neither a vision, a go-to-market approach, a strategic planning process, nor an operational plan are a strategy. But when viewed collectively and informed by a common objective and context, they are.

A good strategy must also be achievable. Despite what MBA programs and lectures and core business texts may claim, a smart strategy by itself is not enough. To achieve the goals illustrated by strategy, organizations need operations. In order to reach an objective, you need to both choose the right objective and effectively work toward it. Strategy and operations are intertwined—neither will succeed unless the other is in place.

credera’s approach to strategy & operations

So what sets our approach to strategy and operations apart from our competitors? Besides our insistence on a holistic definition of strategy and the necessity of effective operations, we believe a successful strategy delivers certain results that help a business run smoothly. An effective strategy:

  1. Helps grow and scale.

  2. Clarifies market opportunities.

  3. Sustains profitability.

  4. Delivers measurable results.

  5. Leads to action.

  6. Is supported by technology.

Taken together, these pillars outline an approach to strategy and operations that is flexible, active, and technically sound. The vision behind a brand can (and often should) be grand, but the strategy encompassing it and the operational approach underpinning it needs to be practical and incremental. So, in the spirit of practicality, what do each of these pillars mean?

help grow and scale

Companies can talk about disruption, innovation, and customer experience all day, but what really matters when setting and achieving a strategy is the bottom line. Yes, these concepts are important and help deliver profits, but they are means not ends. When Credera works with clients to create a strategy and reach the associated goals, we focus first and foremost on what determines whether a business is successful—its ability to grow and scale.

Growth looks different for every business. Some need to add new lines of business to stave off competitors, while others need to grow user bases to evolve their business model. We partner with our clients to define exactly what aspects of growth matter most to them, and then build concrete plans that ensure this growth is both feasible and sustainable. This is the difference between growth and scale. A company that grows merely expands, but a company that scales builds upon what already makes it great to deliver something new and exciting that can survive for the long term.

For instance, when we developed an ecommerce platform for Pep Boys, we emphasized features that supported Pep Boys’ core offering—individualized, in-person service. Early features like service appointments and tire purchases provided a blend of digital and in-person services that developed a strong foundation to build an entire ecommerce capability. The platform helped Pep Boys reach a massive new audience and meet their specific needs, while also doubling down on what already made the brand successful. The end result was not just growth, but sustainable growth that could be maintained over time.

clarify market opportunity

One of the most important characteristics of effective businesses is their agility—the ability to identify and take advantage of opportunities in their competitive ecosystem. Often, these opportunities are presented within the context of markets. They could be capturing an emerging customer base, leveraging a new innovation, or solidifying a hold on a core demographic. This may sound like a simple challenge, but consider that nearly every company in a vertical will be evaluating and responding to the same opportunities. This is why clarity is key.

Some companies will act as if every opportunity is urgent, requiring an immediate response. We believe the best approach, however, is to systematically evaluate, prioritize, and focus on the opportunities that provide the most growth potential while also reinforcing a core competitive advantage. While our engagements with clients encompass a wide variety of roles and project types, one thing is consistent—we are always engaged as strategic advisors. From ecommerce implementations to design sprints, we take the time to understand the entire value chain of our clients, from customers to suppliers, so we can help them maintain focus on the opportunities that matter most.

In one recent engagement, we partnered with our client to build a roadmap and start up a program to help them transform their business model in just 18 months. The program included IT development, new website features, new analytics and business reports, and revised sales and marketing practices, and required involvement from several teams. The sheer size of the program meant we had to work diligently with the client to constantly prioritize the work that was most critical to the primary goal of the program – retaining customers and increasing their lifetime value. This is the case in all of our projects, large and small. We help our clients focus on what makes the largest impact for their business.

sustain profitability

Every strategy and business plan has, or at least should have, a series of core key performance indicators (KPIs) used to determine whether it was successful. At the end of the day, however, these KPIs matter primarily because they impact profitability. If there is one thing that every strategy we develop has in common, it is a careful consideration of revenue growth and cost savings. User growth, conversion rates, efficiency gains, and other common metrics are important, but only in their impact on the bottom line.

When looking at growing revenue, we focus on two primary engines—building new business units to expand revenue streams and better engaging customers to maximize existing revenue. Our revenue-generating engagements frequently hinge on building exceptional digital experiences, but also encompass enterprise-wide programs to build new revenue streams or revise business models. Our work with Pep Boys encompassed both—we partnered with the automotive provider to build their first ecommerce channel, delivering over $100 million in new annual revenue through improved customer acquisition and satisfaction.

The other side of profitability is of course cost. We understand the connotations that typically arise when consultants start talking about cutting costs, but the fact is there are several avenues for reducing costs apart from reducing headcount. For instance, we partnered with one of the largest staffing companies in North America to develop a more efficient payroll process. Through a combination of new applications, new and revised business processes, and dedicated change management, the project resulted in nearly $3 million in annual savings.

deliver measurable results

While delivering sustainable profits is the mark of a successful strategy, revenue generation and cost savings are not the only KPIs that matter, and are often difficult to precisely attribute to a strategy or program. A strong strategy focuses on the bottom line but also establishes key metrics that ladder up to profitability and continually measures progress against those metrics. Measuring progress in this context is not something you do after the strategy’s time horizon is reached; it is something you do consistently as part of standard business operations so you can refine your strategy and change course based on performance.

Credera considers strategies successful when we achieve the results we set out to achieve. As a firm with strong footprints in analytics and business intelligence and ecommerce, we design strategies with results in mind. And not just any result… results that actually relate to a client’s desired competitive positioning and advantage. Maintaining focus on goals that represent the greatest potential requires developing project and program-specific KPIs that align to this objective.

For example, when Triumph Business Capital, a leading invoice factoring firm, hired Credera to develop a custom accounting and workflow solution, our shared objective was to build a scalable platform that allowed Triumph to expand their operations efficiently. With the new system in place, Triumph was able to increase the size of their portfolio without significantly increasing headcount and relying on manual processes to manage new accounts receivable. Working towards a specific measurable goal, such as increased throughput per system user, helps teams prioritize features consistent with the overarching business strategy and measure their impact over time.

lead to action

Strategies may often seem set in stone—at some organizations they literally are. At Credera, we believe a strategy needs to be flexible to succeed, and its operations must allow for constant iteration and a reasonable degree of course-correction. The saying ‘no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy’ may be melodramatic for business concepts, but it articulates a fundamental truth of strategy. No one knows with complete certainty what features, business models, and decisions will work out and which will not. Rather than trying to predict the future, an effective strategy operates under a ‘test and repeat’ philosophy that establishes resiliency and provides room to maneuver.

Credera’s preferred method of testing business concepts to validate effectiveness and iterate where necessary is the design sprint. Based on a concept popularized by Google Ventures, Credera’s design sprints are intensive five-day sessions focused on answering critical business questions through rapid prototyping and user testing. Rather than spending thousands of dollars and several months gaining alignment, defining requirements, and developing a new feature or model, design sprints deliver a working prototype that can be tested with real customers before major investments are locked in. In one design sprint with Fabricut, a leading fabric wholesaler, Credera validated an upholstery customization prototype with real customers and developed an implementation plan to take the full product to market.

support with technology

Similar to how strategy and operations enable one another, technology is a critical component of successful strategy and operations in today’s increasingly digital world. Effective IT systems that allow companies to move nimbly with new features and customizations are a competitive advantage. The best product ideas are nearly pointless if implementing them requires a complete technology overhaul that may last years. On the flip side, companies that recognize the value of effective technology foundations understand the importance of maintaining systems as part of ongoing operations and including technology considerations in business strategies.

Credera’s hybrid management and IT consulting model means we inherently grasp this distinction. Our technologists understand business strategies and considerations, and our business consultants are core parts of our technology implementation teams. Beyond emphasizing agile development methodologies and modular IT systems that allow for greater flexibility and longevity, we frequently work within existing technology constraints to deliver new features. At National Geographic, we built a new mobile app using Nat Geo’s existing hardware and software (eliminating new license fees) to increased mobile usage 65% and received a perfect score from Google’s Go Mo site. Likewise, we built a new business intelligence platform at Interstate Batteries that transformed a 60-year-old sales process using the company’s existing technology investments.

credera’s strategy & operations capabilities

As these examples and core pillars demonstrate, Credera’s strategy capabilities help organizations define their strategies, and go a step further to help them operationalize strategy and implement roadmaps to unlock new capabilities across people, process, and technology. Strategic thinking must be employed to overcome obstacles, navigate competing priorities, and respond to new information on every project, from customer loyalty strategies to system implementations.

Though nearly every project has a component of strategy and operations, Credera’s strategy and operations-oriented engagements are led by a dedicated Strategy & Operations service area. This group is composed of senior leaders with several years’ experience at startups, major brands, and professional services firms. Furthermore, the service area incorporates a range of key capabilities or offerings to ensure we can meet the needs of the marketplace with confidence and experience:

  • Growth & Corporate Strategy: Analyze market expansion, internal growth, and scaling opportunities.

  • Customer & Marketing Strategy: Develop customer strategies to improve marketing, customer experience, and loyalty.

  • M&A Strategy & Integration: Identify divestitures, acquisition targets, and long-term integration plans.

  • Operational Effectiveness: Identify opportunities to reduce costs and improve operational efficiency.

  • Program Leadership & Organization Change Management: Provide program leadership, organization design, and transformational change adoption.

While our strategy and operations work is oriented around these capabilities, we understand that every business challenge is unique and therefore cannot be adequately addressed by plugging in an offering to match a client need. Our approach to strategy and operations engagements is holistic, in that we use every relevant tool at our disposal to overcome challenges. Rather than anchoring on a defined classification of engagement, we seek to understand the issue and the context from which it arose, then determine the best approach for working through it. Our breadth of capabilities and underlying offerings means we have more tools at the ready to deal with the most complex challenges.

conclusion

Now more than ever, companies must separate themselves from their competition. To do nothing is the most dangerous strategy of all. Consider your organization and its trajectory. Look beyond budget constraints and resource demands, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your company need help defining where it will play? How it will win?

  • Does your company have slowing revenue growth or increasing costs?

  • Is your company suffering from customer churn or facing challenges with a less than desirable customer experience?

  • Does your company have potential mergers and acquisitions (M&A) targets or need to think about post-M&A integrations?

  • Does your company have the right organization structure to support its business strategy?

  • Does your company struggle to execute on its strategies?

Credera’s ability to assess the marketplace, identify growth opportunities, and shape the organization to best realize these opportunities will help companies answer the fundamental business question: How do you grow top-line revenue and reduce costs in order to improve profitability? Credera will be a value-add partner to clients through our thought leadership and our technology expertise, which is vital considering how technology is constantly reshaping most industries. Credera provides an experienced perspective that brings clarity to complex situations. We see through the political, technical, or process “noise,” identify the real issues that need to be solved and work with our clients to develop practical and actionable plans to execute the strategy and drive value.

How is your organization doing with strategic planning and operational effectiveness? What challenges are you facing? Reach out and let us know how we can help.

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