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Five Metrics that can help Maximize Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Potential from Existing Business

Five Metrics that can help Maximize Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Potential from Existing Business

For a business or sales manager, the last week of the quarter is a very stressful time. Push for that last-minute sale, run after the documentation for sales orders and contracts, and make sure that all the steps in the book to bill process happen smoothly – it is a race against time. The scope and degree of these activities may vary from company to company based on the setting of quarterly or annual targets but the end objective is usually the same – maximize the revenue, margin and cash flow potential. Cash is always king and any additional revenue is generally welcome, as long as the bottom line targets are met. But extra revenue, margin and cash flow that can be uncovered and pulled out of existing fixed costs is very valuable because it tends to flow straight through to the bottom line. This is where business operations can play a critical role in identifying sources, plugging gaps and putting in place processes to prevent revenue and cash flow leakage that leads to financial under-performance.

Given the timing, today’s blog post is focused on the metrics and areas that act as indicators to these quarterly business objectives. I have been called a “gold-digger” and a “revenue shark” by my bosses (and I take that as a huge compliment :)) and so here are five of my secret sources that help me uncover hidden treasures and meet the stretched targets specifically in the services business:

Metric #1 – Unbilled Revenue:

What:  Revenue that has been recognized in previous months/quarters but has not been billed to the customer.

Why:  Mainly due to

a)    Lack of confirmation/approval  on milestones in Fixed Price projects from customer on billing

b)    Lack of confirmation/Approval from customer on time sheets in T & M projects

c)    Milestones not in sync with efforts in Fixed price projects – we are burning efforts faster than we bill

Impact: Cash Flow (Collections/DSO) Target


Metric #2 – Unearned Revenue

What: Revenue that has been invoiced to the customer but not earned, accrued or recognized.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Advance billing in Fixed Price projects based on a milestone such as Contract Sign off/PO received/etc

b)      Lack of Information on man months spent for the revenue in the project

c)       Milestones not in sync with efforts in Fixed Price projects – we are billing the customer faster than we are spending the efforts

d)      Man-months and/or Total project value for the project not updated or re-baselined in case of fixed price projects where revenue is calculated on the basis of percentage completion – we thought we would be spending x no. of man-months at project start but actually need lesser amount of man-months to complete the project OR the total project value has changed (+/- CRs) and man-months has not been updated

Impact: Revenue and Margin Targets

Metric #3 – Deferred or Unrecognized Revenue

What: Revenue for which we have spent efforts (tagged as billable) but has not been recognized or earned in the period in which efforts have been spent.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Lack of documentation needed as per US GAAP or other accounting guidelines – no signed SOW/contract/PO

b)      Orders received but not reached finance or accounting folks

c)       Project not created/updated in financial systems

d)      Billing inputs not received by Finance in terms of how many man-months spent and where

Impact: Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Targets

Metrics #4 – Resource Utilization Dips

What: Dips in Percentage of the actual revenue earned by assets against the potential revenue that could have earned.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Real increase in buffer or bench

b)      “Hidden” resources in fixed price projects

c)       Missed billing for resources in T & M Projects

d)      Incorrect tagging or time tracking of resources

Impact: Revenue, Margin and Cash Flow Targets

Metric #5 – Static Backlog

What: No change in Difference amount (i.e. Backlog) of the Value Booked and the Value Billed/Recognized of an Order over a period of time. A healthy backlog is a good sign but it has to be serviced quickly or the order may get cancelled and the backlog will disappear taking away the revenue potential with it.

Why: Mainly due to

a)      Slow ramp-up of internal resources for T & M projects

b)      Delays in project schedule for fixed price projects due to skill unavailability, etc

c)       Delays in hiring

d)      Gaps in understanding of customer expectations

Impact: Revenue and Margin targets

Some of the terms above may seem purely financial in nature but business operations in service companies must look deeper into these numbers in order to discover and monitor the root causes of the variations. The variations in the above metrics are an indication of broken processes and work flows within the organization maybe due to lack of integrated systems or communication gaps or discipline. Fail to understand the significance of these metrics and you will fail to reap the benefits in the shape of maximized revenue, profits and cash flow that arise from the tracking and root cause corrections of these metrics.

I would love to know and learn from you. What terms or metrics do you use to monitor and improve the performance and efficiency of your organization? Where have you found revenue, margin or cash flow leakages in your work? Which of the above metrics would you want to know more about ?

Business Operations Performance Metrics: Gross Margin – Five Steps to Improve your Margin

Business Operations Performance Metrics: Gross Margin – Five Steps to Improve your Margin

~~The success combination in business is: Do what you do better and do more of what you do. David Joseph Schwartz ~~

Margin improvement – this phrase usually conjures up images of budget cuts and lay-offs – and strikes fear in the hearts of the toughest managers.   But it really does not have to involve any of these things – costs reductions though important should not be used as the only lever in any margin improvement strategy as you soon run out of cost reduction options.    Gross Margin (as I wrote in my earlier post on key performance metrics) is the mother of all metrics and the quickest way to determine if your business in on track or not   and acts as an early warning system to put in place margin improvement initiatives. So, a quick definition of gross margin:

Gross Margin (%) = (Net Sales – Cost Of Goods Sold)/Net Sales

The gross margin represents the   percent of sales that the company keeps after incurring the direct costs associated with producing the goods and services sold by a company. The levels of gross margin may vary dramatically based on the nature of business (products or services, manufacturing or retail, etc.) but the principles and strategies behind improving margins boils down to two things – increasing your sales and increasing your operational efficiency to   bring down the cost of goods sold.

Thinking through some such initiatives that I have been involved in and noting what worked and what didn’t, these are the five steps that I came up with that I believe are critical to the success of any margin improvement initiative:

Margin Improvement Step #1: Customer profiling or Knowing your best customers – It all starts with the right data that gives you the information that you need, in this case a profile of your customers (or customer segments) that gives you a view of where your profits are coming from. Pareto’s principle applies here too; around 80% of your profits would come from 20% of your customers (or segments). Now you have identified where to focus your energies on – sell more in high profits areas and less in the low profit ones. This will also help in reducing the cost of sales that arise from keeping alive or going after customers where you are consistently not making any margins.

Margin Improvement Step #2: Order to Cash process or Leaving no money on the table – Take a close look at all your internal business processes and systems that are in place to book orders, bill them and collect the cash. Where are the revenue leakages – do you have a method to track unbilled and deferred revenues and plug these?  Are invoices being raised in time or are customers being essentially financed by you? Do you have policies to regulate and control warranties, refunds, credit notes, etc.? Little things add up to a big dent into your margins over a period of time.

Margin Improvement Step #3: Pricing Policies or Enabling your Sales force Effectiveness – The quickest way to increase the gross margin is to increase prices. Even a 2-3% increase in prices brings in a big jump in margins and the people who can do this are the sales team. So are the sales people in the company aware about the linkages in pricing and margins? Is there clear communication and transparencies in how pricing is done within the organization and how it translates into bottom line for the company? Are there tools that can help sales make better decisions by giving them access to real-time data on profitability?   Making key stakeholders aware of the tools at their disposal and how their actions impact the outcomes is a big step forward in any improvement initiative.

Margin Improvement Step #4: Operational Excellence or Reducing inefficiencies – This is all about doing more with less and driving performance improvement through the smart use of metrics. Look at all areas of waste and inefficiencies  – space that is not being used, people that are not being utilized, advertising that is not working, projects that are out of control, inventory that is gathering dust, supply chain expenses, travel costs, etc. Translate this into a plan with measurable outcomes and deadlines and assign clear ownerships.

Margin Improvement Step #5: Rewards and Celebrations Or Creating a Customer-focused Culture – Tie the incentives, awards and rewards that you give to your employees clearly with the margin goals. Tie Sales bonuses with the levels of margin that each sale brings in and not just the revenue. Celebrate early wins to reinforce the importance of the margin improvement initiative. Positive reinforcement works best here.   Research shows that companies with a customer-focused culture that consistently deliver value beyond customer expectations grow at rates that exceed industry averages. Customer Focus is a profit strategy and the way to achieve long term profitability is to build and sustain the culture of customer focus within the organization

What steps have I missed ? What business operation metric do you use to measure margins?   What has worked for you in improving margins? I would love to learn from you.