The $1000 bill

Philippe Marmara

From time-to-time, CEOs ask me the 1000-dollar question: What more can I do? How can I dramatically improve my results?

I remember having posed the same question to Doug Ivester, then chairman of The Coca-Cola Company, when I was presenting my annual business plan. His answer came as a riddle: “Philippe, imagine that you have hundreds of banknotes on the floor at your feet and that I give you only one minute to take as much money as you can: What would you do?... Take the 1000 dollar bills!”

Very simple but so effective. So how do we translate this into business realities? Here are some tips:

  1. Identify your biggest opportunities in terms of customer reach and value: It is intriguing to see that in many companies we do not take time to understand the fundamentals. Where is the best equation between revenues and profits? How does my organization focus on this equation? How much of my time, money, and effort is spent on this equation? On the other hand, how much effort do I put into activities and programs that are much less rewarding? In other words, how do I combine the best of revenue growth management and route-to-market?
  2. Understand your company core: Every company has been built on a specific product, a specific offer which has made its fortune. To give an example, Coca-Cola sells hundreds of beverages but its main business by far is the Coca-Cola soft drink. Take your eyes off this one and you create mayhem… Grow it, and the numbers are huge. But even within that brand franchise, what is the most value-added proposition for the Coca-Cola system? What is theT ideal combination of package, channel, occasion, customer, and pricing? How do you get your organization to focus on this very winning formula? This is where the 1000-dollar bill comes from.
  3. Change and adapt your thinking: What, who, where, how and when. This is evolving fast. Not only do we need to understand where to focus relentlessly but we also need to adapt the organization and the offer to a fast-moving consumer and customer transformation. I was recently running a workshop with a great coffee business in the US. We looked at the evolution of coffee sales in e-commerce. E-commerce represents today close to 20 % of grocery sales in the US! Can we remain on the outside? Can we just sit and watch the train go by? But dealing with e-commerce requires a very specific set of what-who-where-how, and when. A significant transformation without taking your eyes off your core.
  4. Rethink your competitive framework: Are you fighting against a competitive product, a set of new consumption occasions, a potential innovative go-to-market approach, such as e-commerce, or a share of wallet in such a tense economic environment? Who is your real competition today? The latter is one of the most fundamental questions you can ask in any sector where your company is evolving.
  5. Renovate your segmentation and your route-to-market: Where do consumers, shoppers, and customers go today to satisfy their needs in terms of products and services? Is my company capable of identifying these new points-of-purchase and points-of-consumption? Am I capable of reaching them efficiently with my route-to-market system? In today’s fast-changing environment, this is one of the key questions at the table of every CEO. Agility in understanding and evolving is a pre-requisite to stay afloat and start to win. For this, you can develop eyes and intelligence that are today much more powerful than ever.
  6. Execute relentlessly: Focus, focus, focus… The words of Lionel Benizri, CEO of Data Essential, in a very convincing and exciting demonstration on How to scale up a business that I attended a few weeks ago. This is exactly the point. Companies lack focus and strengths when they are about to enter into a transformation, execute a key strategy, or scale up rapidly. And time is of the essence. Imagine marketing as a laser, not a lot of strength but, aimed properly, having the capacity to cut a diamond!