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Creating Irrefusable Offers: Example No. 1


A relatively small manufacturer had several large accounts in its market. However, due to the firm’s smaller size, the large accounts were quite reluctant to buy from it. Apparently, the buyers were afraid that the smaller manufacturer would not have the capacity to deliver the large quantity orders on time.



By setting about to understand its customers and its market better, this small manufacturer was able to discover that, while the larger accounts bought in large quantities—in order to get the price-breaks associated with such large quantity purchases—the firms did not actually consume the large quantities immediately. Instead, they ended up warehousing them for some period of time.


Here is the customizable/upgradeable offer that got the smaller manufacturer in the door with these big accounts:


“Agree to buy from us in the same quantities you have been buying from our competitors (e.g., 250,000 units at a time). We will match the competitors’ prices for these items during an introductory period—so you can gain assurance that we can deliver and you are fully satisfied with the quality. However, since you generally consume these at a rate of about 50,000 units a month, that is how we will deliver them to you and invoice you for them.


“In this way, we will save you the costs and headaches related to storing and handling the excess inventory. Additionally, you may customize your delivery rate—up to double—for any given month with just an email or a phone call to (XXX) XXX-XXXX and seven (7) days’ notice.


“Once you are fully satisfied with our service and quality, you may upgrade this plan by a) adding more products to the purchase agreement, and/or b) increasing your purchase volume on any product at special rates.”



This offer turned out to be a win-win. It helped the customers improve their results while allowing the small manufacturer to do business with the larger accounts without having to make additional investments in production facilities. (It was hard for the small manufacturer to produce 250,000 units at once, but they could easily produce and deliver 50,000 to 100,000 units a month without fail.)



This offer provided additional benefits for the large manufacturers: By taking delivery and being invoiced for the smaller quantities on a monthly basis, the large manufacturers actually experience improved cash-flow.



Creating Irrefusable Offers: Example No. 2


A pasta-maker wanted to take over a supermarket chain’s ordering process by employing vendor-managed inventory (VMI). When the chain’s management balked at the idea, the pasta company developed its own irrefusable offer. The pasta-maker said that they would park a truckload of pasta on the lot of the chain’s distribution center. If, at any time, the pasta-maker failed to deliver on-time what the chain needed, the chain could take whatever was short from the truck free of charge.



This irrefusable offer gave the chain’s management and buyers the assurances they needed to move ahead with the VMI plan. The pasta-maker, however, was so capable that the truck did not have to remain in the chain’s parking lot for long.



Here, again, we see the irrefusable offer being constructed around Toyota’s definition of quality—the customer’s measure of the experience and improved results. Also note that this irrefusable offer was targeted at a market of one with a consciousness of the customer’s specific needs and concerns.



[To be continued…]




In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we introduced the following two diagrams as a pair:


From Failing to Leading.jpg

From Failing to Leading-2.jpg


This first is a generic statement of dimensions as “effectiveness” and “differentiation.” The second diagram restates these dimensions in terms familiar to anyone who has seriously touched upon constraints management or the Theory of Constraints. Here the dimensions are “Increasing Throughput” and “Breadth of Market through Irrefusable Offers.”



The concept was first introduced by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt in his book It’s Not Luck. Later he clarified by saying, that a Mafia offer is “an offer [your trading partner] can’t refuse.”



But what, exactly, is an “irrefusable offer” (aka: “unrefusable offer” or “Mafia offer”)?


Irrefusable Offers


The concept behind the “Mafia offer” or the irrefusable offer is that it is an “offer you make to your market—your prospects and [or] customers—to make them desire your products or [and] services” [Theory of Constraints Handbook, p.604] so much that they simply cannot refuse to do business with you. And, to be effective, the offer must be one that your competition cannot or will not easily copy.



Rephrasing that statement using Toyota’s definition of quality, it means making an offer where the customer anticipates an experience and results that far excel anything else in the marketplace. Getting to this point requires the CFO and COO to understand the various market segments that they serve in fresh, new ways.



A good starting point to is to ask: “What is some part of my market or industry has a unique need—or a unique combination of needs—that is not being met by any of our competitors?” In order to gain this insight, the CFO and COO should begin to see how they can blur products into services and services into products.




Between you and your target markets sit several “customizable” options—the augmented product. For example, your market may be office supplies—rather generic. But the way you deal with that generic market can become a dramatic differentiator and lead to the creation of irrefusable offers.


  • Product  - Consider the selection, quality and variety of your product offerings.
  • Connection – Consider that the experience of doing business with a sales representative in person is different from doing so over the phone; a paper catalog is a different experience than buying on-line; even the quality of the on-line experience can make a difference (e.g., What does your Web store remember about your customers’ preferences in products, delivery methods, and so forth?)
  • Speed – Buying a product that is delivered same-day is different that buying a product that is delivered tomorrow or next week
  • Other intangibles – Taking credit cards for payment is a different experience than custom billing; Offering payment terms on major purchases is different from a one-size fits all policy on payments; Personalizing products—colors, sizes, quantities, imprinting, etc.—all change the customers’ experiences and results; ad infinitum

    Un-Refusable Offers.png


Beyond those augmented product options, today’s sophisticated trading partners are looking for even more, and rather than seeing these as insurmountable challenges, the CFO and COO should be joining forces to find ways to make some or all of these things happen.


  • Customizable – More and more products and services are being made customizable to the customers’ specifications and desires.
  • Upgradeable – Customers almost always see more value in products where the life-cycle is extended through built-in or optional upgrades. Consider, for example, smartphones and other mobile devices where the operating systems are automatically upgraded with little or no user intervention. Consider those products now being offered with guaranteed trade-in values at the end of a normal lifecycle. Consider those products that a modular, where the customer can start with the “basic” (lower cost) model and extend the product’s capabilities over time by purchasing add-on functionality.
  • Online – Even greeting card companies are now offering “smart” greeting cards that are interactive with online services. This drives the customer experience into completely different realms when compared to the simple card-and-envelope. Consider the ability to now offer interactive online training to accompany a product or service purchase. The training need not be limited to only how to use the product or leverage the service. Why not consider customized training about how to best apply the product/service in a particular industry (for example) to increase profits for your customers?
  • Anytime access and response – Firms are now offering online knowledgebases to help their customers get more out of the products and services their customers buy. But some have gone a step beyond. Some firms now proactively monitor their customers’ online activities on their website and, when it seems the customer may be having difficulty finding the solution to their problem, a remote agent offers interactive real-time customer support 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Learning, anticipating and filtering – As your customers interact with your firm, your firm needs to be constantly learning so that your firm’s response will anticipate your customers’ future needs and filter out those elements that are clearly of little or no use (at present) to your customers. It is wonderful if a hotel chain places in the guests’ rooms a complementary snack for members of its rewards program. But it is even better if, over time, the hotel chain learns that a particular guest prefers chocolate chip cookies to peanut butter cookies and Perrier to spring water, so that no matter which hotel the guest visits, his or her favorite snack is always what is provided.



[To be continued…]




Now that we have laid the groundwork, let us begin our turn now to some specific strategies for uniting the CFO and the COO in common and practical actions. First, let us consider the proper priorities for action.


Priorities for Action


The CFO and COO should agree on the following general priorities for actions to be considered:


  1. Efforts to Increase Throughput, including efforts to increase revenues and/or efforts to reduce Truly Variable Costs (TVCs)     
  2. Efforts to Reduce Inventories (or investments) or demands for new investments     
  3. Efforts to reduce Operating Expenses



“Why this order?” I hear you ask.




The Detrimental Effects Cost-World Thinking




Let me begin by saying that this order is based on the solid assumption that most companies—especially at this present time—have already trimmed away obvious waste in operating expenses. And, while most CFOs and COOs are focused on the “cost-cutting” as the road to higher profits, this is almost never the long-term result.



A study done some years ago regarding Fortune 500 companies found a trend: Among companies self-assessed themselves as being “cost-cutters,” nearly 40 percent of such companies were no longer in the Fortune 500 a decade or so later. Clearly, the focus on “cost-cutting” is wrong on the face of it.



Consider this: Any company can successfully reduce its “costs” and “operating expenses” to zero. It the easiest and simplest of maneuvers to be carried out jointly by the CFO and COO. All they have to do is close the doors to the business, fire everybody, liquidate everything, and go home. It’s done!



But, if you think I am being overly dramatic, consider the fact that cost-cutting is—by it’s very nature—an action driven inexorably by the law of diminishing returns. If the CFO and COO successfully collaborate to reduce costs and expenses by, say, ten percent in year one; then it will be very difficult to reduce costs and expenses by even five percent in year two while staying healthy. In year three it may be difficult to eek out a two-and-a-half percent reduction in costs and expenses. Each successive year, increasing profits through cost-cutting becomes more and more difficult.



Too soon, despite their very best efforts, the COO and CFO focused on cost-cutting are soon cutting away protective capacity and damaging the ability of the organization to recover from the occasional attacks of “Murphy” (Murphy’s Law). This, in turn, leads to reduced revenues and higher marketing costs as customer retention becomes that much more difficult over time.



For all of these reasons, we must agree to put efforts to reduce operating expenses at the bottom of the list. And because increasing throughput has no theoretical upper limit and is not affected by the law of diminishing returns, efforts to increase throughput should remain foremost in the thoughts of the CFO and COO seeking unified actions for ongoing improvement.



Clarifying Throughput



As a reminder, our working definition of Throughput is not some generic concept of increases in volume or output. It is carefully focused on a financial formula that the strategic CFO should readily accept:



Throughput = Revenue – Truly Variable Costs



Where Truly Variable Costs (TVCs) are restricted to those costs that vary directly (not through allocations or some estimated factors) with changes incremental revenues. Typically, TVCs would be found in raw materials, subcontract or other outside services paid for on a batch or per-unit basis, commissions, piece-rate pay for employees, and little else.



[To be continued…]



A New Management Paradigm


Toyota’s success—despite Japan’s own significant recession in recent years—is attributable to management paradigms that differ significantly from traditional management practices in the U.S. Some of these are likely recognizable to you in the following table:



Traditional Paradigm


New Paradigm

Customer requirementsQuantityQuality – improved experience and results
Quality [1] improvementGenerally costly and tend to reduce productivitySaves money while increasing throughput
Internal competition (through reward systems)Produces conflict – a few win, but many loseSystem-thinking eliminates internal competition leading to improved performance
CooperationToo frequently leads to reduced competitivenessBrings improvement where many win – maybe, everybody wins
ManagementCommand and controlCreating a work environment that supports top performance of the system and ongoing improvement
WorkersSeek to satisfy or, at least, appease managementWork together with management to satisfy the customers’ demand for constantly improving quality
Worker evaluations and incentives [2]Increases internal competition and produces little long-term improvementEncourages better performance and ongoing improvement
PurchasingBuy almost entirely based on cost metricsBuy based on the system’s performance and build relationships with key vendors


Note: This table was adapted from work originally done by W. Edwards Deming.


[1] In the table above, we are employing the term “quality” just as it is described in the text [see Part 4]. However, the term “customer” may be an internal or an external customer. Work to improve quality coming from a vendor is an effort that improves the firm’s experience and results. Similarly, improving quality coming from operation ‘A', which hands off to operation ‘B’, improves the experience and the result of operation ‘B’ as the “customer” of operation ‘A’.


[2] With regard to “evaluations and incentives,” we are referencing the traditional individual performance metrics taken within silos of operations, rather than on the performance of the system as a whole.


All Profit Lies Outside Your Organization


Inside the four walls of your business, everything over which the CFO and COO have direct control can contribute nothing but cost or expense to the bottom-line. Every opportunity for making money lies outside the organization and, therefore, outside the direct control of management and executives.



You can make more money by buying smarter—raw materials, services, et cetera—thus reducing truly variable costs (TVC) and increasing throughput. And you can make more money tomorrow than you are making today by selling smarter to existing customers, new customers or both.



These actions can have other affects, as well. The affects are depicted in the figure below.



FIN Link Actions to Financial Goals.jpg



A side-affect of buying smarter—what you buy, from whom you buy, how (delivery terms) you buy, and when you buy—is reducing inventory. The wonderful side-affects of reducing inventories—when done wisely as a result of system-thinking—are improved profits, higher ROI, and faster cash velocity.



You probably recognize all of these factors as improvements—improvements you would like to see, perhaps.



The new management paradigm unifies the CFO and COO by turning the organization from it navel-gazing introspection to a recognition that the customer is the most important part of the production line. No matter how you fine-tune your company’s internals, if the internals are not focused on the externals as the only source of profits, you are far more likely to create internal friction and heat without actually lighting a fire that will produce increased throughput and profit.



One of the advantages of the accompanying figure is the systemic clarity—the inherent simplicityit delivers. It helps CFO and COO begin easily translate financial goals (i.e., net profit, ROI, and cash flow) into day-to-day actions (i.e., increasing throughput, reducing inventories and reduce or hold the line on operating expenses while support significant growth in throughput). [Note: For organizations that don’t have to deal with inventories, per se, the “inventory” may be broadened into “investment” or demand for capital investment. For example, if it is possible to reduce, defer or eliminate the need for an investment in new office space, then that would qualify as a “reduction” in the demand for new investment.]



[To be continued…]

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