Do You Know the Margins for Your Product Lines?

That sounds like a straightforward question and most businesses in the country can say yes to that question. But I find that a large percentage of telecom companies don’t know the margins on their products.

There are a number of reasons why it is important to know your margins.

  • You need to know if you are selling any product at a loss. It’s okay to consciously have a loss-leader product if selling it always also sells more profitable products. But it makes no sense to sell a product that loses money as a single product. If you have products that lose money you need to consider raising the price or stop selling the product.
  • You should be trying to sell what makes you the most bottom line. All too often I see telecom companies push products that get them a lot of revenue but not much margin.
  • Without knowing your margins you can’t understand where you need to cut costs. While raising rates is one way to increase margin, cutting costs can have the same effect.

Regulated telcos are very used to having separations studies performed that define their access costs. But these studies have no practical value to management and tell you nothing about your profit margins by product line. And many CLECs and cable companies have never done any kind of cost study.

There all kinds of studies that can be done to look at your margins. The most common are:

Fully allocated fully distributed costs. In these studies every cost in the company is distributed to products. Done properly these studies will define your gross margin (revenues minus direct costs of producing a product), your net margin (the margin after also allocating joint and common costs), and net income by product which will look at depreciation or a surrogate cost of the network layered onto your other costs.

Incremental costs. The large phone companies have historically produced TELRIC or other forms of incremental cost studies for state commissions. These studies do not calculate margins in the same way as a fully distributed cost study. Rather, they look at the incremental cost of producing one unit of the product. The main purpose of these studies is to prove that you aren’t selling products below cost, but otherwise they have very little practical value for management.

Luckily it is a very straightforward process to understand your margins. A fully allocated fully distributed cost study can be as simple as a spreadsheet that allocates every cost in your ledger to products using some logical allocator. The whole key to getting believable results is to develop the best allocators that you can find for the way your company operates.

CCG has done these kind of margin studies many times and we don’t see them being offered by a lot of other consultants. There are a ton of companies that do separations studies or TELRIC studies, but not nearly so many who do straightforward cost accounting studies that management can use. Once you have a good margin study on hand then management can begin to understand how costs affect your profits. As an example, you can quickly see what will happen to your margins if you hire a new employee or if the cost of your Internet backbone goes down. That kind of basic information is vital if you want to maximize the bottom line. Knowing your margins lets you concentrate on those things that will have the best impact to the bottom line.