Surviving Your Biggest Order Ever
As a CEO and senior executive in a growing technology company, your fondest hope and worst nightmare can be a runaway success. For a growing technology company, be it in IT, web-based services, or product design and manufacturing, the first instance of runaway success typically comes in the form of a big order from that customer you’ve been pursuing for quite some time.
So, you’ve landed the biggest order ever, bigger than anything your technology company has ever done.
The best thing is to act as if you do this kind of thing all the time.
Here’s why: The only way for a technology company to grow as a result of delivering on the ‘biggest order ever’ is to be simultaneously getting another one.
This means that the sales guys need to stay out there selling, the administration folks have to keep running the day-to-day processes, and senior management must continue managing the whole business. Otherwise, if everybody is completely focused only on the ‘biggest order ever’, the company will be back to square one once its delivered.
This also means that the right type and quantity of resources must be dedicated – fully dedicated – to delivering the big order. Most of these resources will be new ones, human and otherwise, likely both permanent and temporary. The humans will be the most important ones. By adding dedicated resources, the business will grow its capacity to deliver. And, all of the company will best learn what it means to operate at its new, larger capacity.
Adding resources always means spending money in amounts beyond normal for the company. But, they are normal amounts in the new scale of business. Not spending the money will guarantee failure – the company simply won’t deliver what the customer has ordered or, worse, the company delivers but the customer doesn’t accept the product, claiming it is deficient.
Speaking of money, small companies often get caught in cash flow problems when trying to deliver on big orders – bills from vendors flow in, payroll demands go up, but payments from the customer are always too slow to come. Negotiating realistic payment terms before taking the order is critical. If the payment terms weren’t well negotiated, go back for better ones. Be honest with the customer and be reasonable in what you ask for. Customers worth having will work with you to make sure you don’t crash financially. Remember, they picked you and need you to succeed so they succeed as well.
Which brings us to the all important delivery date. There it sits looking simultaneously like the day you get the pot of gold (if you deliver) and the day the world ends (if you don’t). Funny thing about delivery dates, especially for complex, technology-based products – they always slip, often as not because of conditions created by the customer. You can count on almost every critical customer decision to take longer than the customer wants it to. And, your progress will be correspondingly delayed. You’ll blow past a milestone or two yourself, so be ready for that. In all cases, the key to successfully delivering a big order according to any kind of schedule is to maintain constant, formal communication with the customer about progress, issues causing delays, and anticipated changes in delivery. As with money, be honest and reasonable. If you’ve messed something up and can’t fix it immediately, come clean quickly. And then do whatever you have to do to get back on track.
A small technology company will actually thrive on a ‘biggest order ever’ by carrying on business as usual – where usual is defined by the new, larger scale of the business. Dedicating the right people to delivering, while the rest of company carries on with the day-to-day business, is the key to making the ‘biggest order ever’ a stepping-stone to further growing a technology company.