Fletcher & Company – Work Stories
In our Work Stories series, we highlight examples of our recent client work. Today’s work story covers a recent project where we assisted a leading laser optics company in finding and analyzing new market opportunities. We’ll call this company OpTechCo.
Industry: Laser Optics
Ownership: Privately held
History: Founded early 2000s
HQ: U.S. (Midwest)
OpTechCo was created in the early 2000s by a group of PhD laser optic physicists. Since its creation, the majority of OpTechCo’s success has been with research grants with various branches of the U.S. government. While the grant research funding provided an initial business foundation, OpTechCo was keenly interested in leveraging its expertise and intellectual property to develop commercial products that solved important industrial problems. To support this effort, OpTechCo brought in Fletcher&Co. to train its staff in the best practices of searching for attractive market opportunities.
The search for financially compelling market opportunities is not a process with a step-by-step formula – e.g. follow these steps and you’ll get this guaranteed outcome. That said, there are proven best practices based on many decades of business research and experience. The search for market opportunities is a mix of capabilities including business skills, marketing expertise, analytical skills, judgment, persistence, and discipline. During this initiative, OpTechCo was concurrently evaluating a number of potential product/market ideas.
The search process training was broken down into 3 distinct phases:
Phase 1: Strategy
The training emphasis in the first phase was building skills to strategically assess OpTechCo’s core competency, unique expertise, competitor offerings and it’s target audience. The training objectives were identifying market niches where it could fill a market void or solve a unique problem.
Phase 2: Discovery
The training emphasis in the second phase was building the internal skills necessary to lead a marketing research initiative. The training objectives were identifying the target audience, designing an interview script, and conducting the research interviews.
Phase 3: Evaluation
The training emphasis in the third phase was developing the internal expertise necessary to evaluate the financial merit of each market opportunity. The training objectives were establishing financial metrics for assessing opportunities, building an evaluation methodology, and evaluating each opportunity on its financial attractiveness.
During the course of our work together, OpTechCo narrowed its focus to one particularly attractive industrial problem that fit very well with its technology. With training assistance from Fletcher&Co., OpTechCo evaluated the competing solutions in the industry, segmented the market and identified a target audience. According to OpTechCo’s CEO:
“Doug worked with me and my leadership team to analyze and develop strategy for an exciting market opportunity for our company. Doug’s approach was well planned and leveraged the thoughts and practices of the leading experts in market research, product hypothesis, customer interaction, and competitive strategy. Doug added his own valuable thoughts and ideas specific to our particular opportunity. Our regular discussions were fruitful and enjoyable. By the conclusion of our project, we had developed a sound strategy and pathway forward for our future product offering.”
In our Work Stories series, we highlight examples of our recent client work to help others understand the work we do. Today’s work story is a recent Market Opportunity Analysis that we performed for a technical B2B services company. We’ll call this company TechServCo to protect its identity.
Industry: B2B Technical Services
Ownership: Privately Held
History: Founded circa 1990
HQ: U.S. (East Coast)
Geographic Scope: Worldwide
Since the 1990s, TechServCo has provided technical services to the U.S. military on large, multi-year contracts. When TechServCo was awarded its first contract, it was a young startup working to gain a foothold in an industry with established players. Over the past 20 years, TechServCo has chipped away at the leading providers’ market share, and has recently become the preferred vendor for the U.S. military for the services it provides. In mid-2015, TechServCo’s new CEO made it a top priority to diversify into other industries.
TechServCo began exploring opportunities in the private sector, including the oil & gas, maritime, and electric utility industries. After conducting its own internal analysis, it was decided that the electric utility industry best fit the company’s expertise. As TechServCo’s CEO and leadership team weighed the pros and cons of entering this new industry, one persistent question nagged at the team: “Was entering this market a smart financial move?” In order to help it answer this important question, Fletcher&Co. was brought in to assist in analyzing this new opportunity.
The scope of Fletcher&Co’s work was to understand the following:
- The Market and its Regulation
- The Customer’s Needs and Decision Making Process
- The Competition and Barriers to Entry
- The Size of the Market Opportunity
In the process of conducting an exhaustive research of publicly available information, we identified several dozen key industry experts at the following organizations:
- Electric Utilities
- Trade Associations
- Think Tanks
- Regulatory Agencies
Over an 8 week period, we interviewed many of these key experts to gain a deeper understanding of the industry’s dynamics. Through these conversations, in addition to our own economic analysis, we identified the size of the market opportunity, the key customers, the key decision makers, how customers selected technical service providers, the top competitors, the barriers to entry, and the key success factors.
Fletcher&Co. presented the interim findings to TechServCo’s CEO every two weeks during the duration of the project. At the completion of the project, Fletcher&Co. presented the conclusive findings to TechServCo’s executive team at an offsite strategy retreat. TechServCo has decided to move forward with this new opportunity and is sending its sales team to the leading industry conference in Q1/2016 to meet with prospective customers. Having spent considerable time with TechServCo’s CEO and his leadership team over the past few months, Fletcher&Co. has complete confidence in their ultimate success at entering this new market, and accomplishing its strategic goal of diversifying its customer base in the coming year.
Doug Fletcher was the keynote speaker at the 20th anniversary 2015 Optec Conference at Montana State on September 15, 2015. His presentation was titled, The Path To Success – Marketing Strategy for the Technology Entrepreneur. Optec is the annual Optical Science & Engineering conference sponsored by the MSU Optical Technology Center (OpTeC), with support from the MSU Vice-President for Research and Economic Development, the City of Bozeman, and the Montana Photonics Industry Alliance.
The key message of Doug’s talk was that successful commercialization of technology requires a strong marriage between great engineering and smart marketing. In his presentation, Doug dispels the following commonly held myths:
Myth 1: Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
Myth 2: The best product always wins.
Myth 3: Great business ideas start in the R&D lab.
Myth 4: Marketing = Advertising
And offers the following key takeaways to commercialization success:
Key Takeaway 1: Begin with a clear marketing strategy.
Key Takeaway 2: Success = great engineering + smart marketing
Key Takeaway 3: Invest as much time and energy into marketing as you do to engineering.
You can view Doug’s presentation slides here.
Many will be surprised to learn that Southwest Montana has become a national hub of photonics and laser optics companies with the highest per capita concentration in the U.S. Currently, there are 28 photonics and laser industry companies in the greater Bozeman area employing over 500 employees. There’s a lot going on in MT in this exciting growth field due to the strong collaboration between Montana State University and talented startup companies. It’s a great success story for Montana’s economy and is positioned for strong growth in the coming decades. If you’re interested, you can learn more here.
In our Work Stories series, we highlight examples of our recent work projects to help others understand the work we do. Today’s work story is a recent ‘Go-To-Market’ strategy project that we worked on with a B2B financial services company. We’ll call this company FinCo to protect the confidentiality of the actual company.
Industry: B2B Financial Services
Ownership: Subsidiary of a $1B parent company
History: Founded circa 1990
Location: U.S. (West Coast)
In 2014, FinCo expanded their business into the NW U.S. Their entry into this new geographical market was a ‘soft launch’ – a trial balloon. They were pleased with the early successes they had in this new market. After 12 months of relatively modest investment, they were ready to make a larger investment in this market and make a larger, formal launch of their products and services to prospective customers in this region.
Fletcher&Co. was brought in to help with FinCo’s ‘go-to-market’ strategy. The scope of our work was:
- Gather lessons learned – Talk with early customers and channel partners in the NW to learn more about how FinCo’s early entry was perceived: what went well, what they did best, how they were unique, did the parent co’s brand resonate with the NW audience, etc.
- Brand Strategy: Decide whether a new brand identify made sense in the new market.
- Marketing Strategy: Determine who were the best target customers. What product niche FinCo best served. How was FinCo unique and compelling.
- Marketing Message: Develop FinCo’s elevator pitch. In a simple few sentences, clearly articulate what FinCo did best, who they served and how they were unique.
- Marketing Collateral Plan: Determine the appropriate marketing collateral that FinCo needed to communicate their message to prospective customers. Digital, hard copy, advertising/PR, etc.
The conversations I had with the first year’s customers and channel partners were incredibly insightful. We learned that FinCo was well respected, and filled an important niche in the NW B2B financial services market. We learned what customers valued most about their services, and what they thought of the parent co’s brand.
Over the next two months, Fletcher&Co. worked closely with FinCo’s CEO and senior leadership team to craft their 2015 ‘go-to-market’ strategy. Ultimately, we decided that a new brand name would be beneficial in this market due to misconceptions some people in this market had with the parent co’s brand. We determined the specific characteristics of their target audience, identified the specific products and services that served this regional market, and crafted their marketing message. In the latter stages of our work together, we identified the optimal marketing collateral items that would help in their business development efforts. And, we chose an advertising agency to assist them in building out their digital and hard copy collateral portfolio.
Sometimes, team’s just ‘click’. When this happens, great things can be accomplished and the work is highly rewarding. This project was one of those times. FinCo’s senior leaders and Fletcher&Co. worked exceptionally well together. The collaboration was open, honest, creative, data-driven, and highly productive. I have great optimism for the success that FinCo will achieve as they expand their market scope into the NW U.S.
Industry: High-Tech, Electrical Equipment Contractor
History: Founded circa 2000
Location: U.S. (East Coast)
In mid-2014, our client – we’ll call them PrivateEquityCo – was in the process of acquiring a high-tech, electrical equipment contractor on the East Coast (U.S.). In this effort, Fletcher&Co. was hired to assist PrivateEquityCo in their acquisition due diligence efforts.
In private equity acquisitions, all information gathering by a prospective buyer is typically at the consent of the seller. In other words, the seller must agree to share any confidential company information. The first phase of the project began when I met with the seller at their home office to outline a plan for gathering customer satisfaction data from their top customers. The plan involved speaking directly with approximately 30 customers at Fortune 500 companies to determine their overall satisfaction level with the contractor. After spending a day with the CEO of the seller, we gained permission on the due diligence initiative including the scope of the project, the target audience, and the time line. This was an important milestone, as the CEO could have declined our due diligence research efforts if he had become uncomfortable with any aspect of the process.
Over the course of the next 4 weeks in Phase 2, Fletcher&Co. interviewed by telephone a sampling of top customers to better understand the electrical contractor’s strengths, weaknesses, and general performance in fulfilling their work activities. At the conclusion of the interview phase, we analyzed the results of the customer interviews and prepared/presented a final report documenting the comprehensive findings.
The overall customer satisfaction level of the electrical contractor was exceptional. We identified several key hot buttons in regards to customer needs. We also learned some important information as it related to future growth opportunities. The net result of the due diligence initiative was that the customer base of the electrical contractor was on solid ground, and PrivateEquityCo subsequently acquired the electrical equipment contractor following the conclusion of our project.