Fast growth US CEOs look back with heartburn

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Though winners in e-business, the quarterbacks of America’s fastest growing companies are uneasy at the prospect of looking at their game films, according to a new PricewaterhouseCoopers’ “Trendsetter Barometer.” Most are concerned that early on they didn’t adequately explore all the varied options, risks, uncertainties, interdependencies and related issues.

Anxious about possible shortcomings, they will be compensating with a sophisticated new e-business offense for next year. A host of needed improvements have been identified, led by better marketing and business planning.

E-business has been a winner for the 74% of America’s fastest growing companies that have already embraced it. This includes the 42% transacting direct sales over the Net, expecting to generate 12.1% of this year’s revenues online; and the additional 32% that will achieve 16.9% of their revenues from showcasing their wares online, and completing the final sale offline.

But, even with this high level of participation and revenue coming in, discomfort is rife. When they look back at the portfolio of enabling projects and processes for their e-business, 69% of “Trendsetter” CEOs cite important concerns.

Overall, their greatest heartburn, mentioned by 43%, lies in not fully exploring the options available at the time of launch.

Next in importance is concern about not having fully delved into the related risks and uncertainties, mentioned by 34%.

This is followed by not having a good way of valuing e-business projects, 31%; not adequately addressing the needs of their customers, 26%; and not monitoring their e-business’ enabling portfolio adequately or often enough, 25%. In each instance, those with concerns in service businesses outnumber their counterparts in the product sector.

“While it’s clear that e-business is posting great numbers on the scoreboard, a number of CEOs, particularly in service businesses, still feel uneasy because they rushed into it,” said H Lee Durham, operations partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ middle market advisory services. “Their need for speed may have been justified by a very valid concern about the field quickly becoming too crowded. But now, they can’t help but look back and wonder if, in the process, they made all the right moves.

“Service businesses outnumber their product sector counterparts in e-business, 53% to 38%. And, they’re generating 22% of their revenues from e-business, versus 9%, respectively. The service CEOs have to be asking ‘how high is up,’ and meanwhile their product sector counterparts must be asking themselves why they didn’t mover faster.”

So, how are “Trendsetter” CEOs planning to improve the effectiveness of their e-business over the next 12 months? Highest on their list are: better marketing and business planning (cited by 73%); improved ease of use or access (67%); better market research, including benchmarking of competitive sites to discover what works (65%); better design, for greater impact (64%); better advertising and promotions (63%); and better technology (62%).

“These changes amount to more than simple backing and filling,” said Durham. “The CEOs have looked objectively at their current efforts, and have developed a long list of ‘to do’s.’ Each item on their list is of high importance. And there is little spread in magnitude from the bottom to the top. We can expect big changes, including a higher level of sophistication, over the next 12 months. Look for service businesses to again lead the way.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ “Trendsetter Barometer” is developed and compiled with assistance from the opinion and economic research firm of Business Science International. It interviewed CEOs of 441 product and service companies identified in the media as the fastest growing US businesses over the last five years. The surveyed companies range in size from approximately $1 million to $50 million in revenue/sales.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Global

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