Change in profitability - investigation framework

Edited on Jun 12, 2021
2 Answers
Anonymous A asked on Jun 12, 2021

Hi guys, I am bit struggling with approaching "change in profitability" questions. I see these differently as change in absolute profit, since the drivers could be a bit different. I am trying to come up with some thinking framework to capture how to investigate these cases (similar to declining Profits = declining Revs or inclining Costs or both).

Anyway, if speaking directly about decliling PROFITABILITY (not absolute profit), I was thinking that I could approach it as follows:

Declining PROFITABILITY can be cause by

  1. declining PROFIT/product
    1. declining REVENUE/product (=PRICE)
    2. inclining COST/product
  2. change in PRODUCT MIX (towards less profitable products)

So the question is, is this MECE approach or am I missing something important? 

Thanks a lot, folks!

Overview of answers

  • Upvotes
  • Date ascending
  • Date descending
Best answer
Content Creator
updated an answer on Jun 12, 2021
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

You're "kind of" MECE, but I don't like having 1 huge bucket of "all my revenues are falling and all my costs are rising", and then having just "product mix change". These ar enot on the same plane at all!

Lookup total contribution margin. This is what you're really looking for. That said, please enjoy the below reading :)


You need to understand the industry + company context from the prompt itself to figure this out...cases and case types cannot be have to adjust every single time!

Example: LOOKING FIRST at Economy/Industry

In my Hot Wheels case, you're a Korean OEM with falling profits. You operate in the US and Japan. The FIRST thing you have to look at here is the general market AND how competitors are doing. Otherwise, you will never learn that US OEMs are doing well in the US while Korean OEMs are NOT doing well in the US. Then, you'll never solve the crux of the case which is that transport times+costs are prohibitively like (Just in Time delivery is the #1 product characteristic).

If you don't look at economy/industry first here, you will not solve the case in a time effective manner.

Example NOT looking at Economy/Industry

Take my "Chinese Airline During Covid" case example. We know that the airline is in trouble due to covid. We can make the deduction that this is caused by a reduction in demand. As such, we don't really need to look into rest of market/industry

So, we want to "repair" existing revenue streams as much as possible. So, first let's see what we can do. Then, whatever "gap" is remaining, we want to fill it with alternative revenue streams. Finally, whatever we can't make up for, we have to fix through cost cutting (ideally cutting unused capacity). See the logic here?

And it'll change every time based on the case itself...think critically!


Volume Down: Competition reduced prices or improved their product (outcompeting you), competition just launched effective marketing, regulation has slowed you down, economic decline, environmental disaster, tarrifs, suppliers disrupting your production, your product no longer applies to the customer (i.e. decline has been happening for a while)...and so on and so forth...

Price Down: We're in a price war, costs have gone down so we're realising this, regulation has created a price cap, we ran a discount program

Variable Costs Up: Raw materials costing more, inefficient contracts, ageing workforce, deteriorating workforce, regulations, quality control

Fixed Costs Up: Recent large investments



Remember, you need to apply your revenue improvement ideas to the specific case at handYou cannot be generic.

That said, some major ways companies boost sales include:

  • SAAS (software as a service)
  • (Relatedly) Subscription revenue
    • Get people onot subscription plans (i.e. Netflix)
  • Behavior-changing "memberships" - i.e. Amazon Prime
    • When people enter Prime membership, they actually actively spend more than they did before
  • Bundling
    • I.e. sell a few things together
  • Radiation
    • Sell products similar to the current one
  • Low-price entry
    • Get someone in with a super cheap/good deal, then, now that you have them as a customer, sell additional, higher-margin products (insurance companies do this, for example)



In general, for determining cost issues, you need to break down the problem into a tree/root-cause analysis and ask the highest level (but specific) questions first! In this way, you essentially move down the tree.

How do you identify where to look? Well, you need to look into whichever of the following 5 make the most sense based on where you are:

  1. What's the biggest? (i.e. largest piece of the pie...most likely to change the end result)
  2. What's changing the most? (I.e. could be driving the most and most likely to be fixable)
  3. What's the easiest to answer/eliminate? (i.e. quick win. Yes/No type of question that eliminates a lot of other things)
  4. What's the most different? (differences between companies, business units, products, geographies etc....difference = oopportunity)
  5. What's the most likely? (self-explanatory)

Major Costs - Areas to Cut


  • Rent
  • Labour (salaried employees)
  • Transport (if we own the trucks, etc.)
  • Capex
  • Utilities (for the office, warehouse, etc.)
  • Cbsolescence (wrong word...this is amortization/depreciation)
  • Stolen objects (but shocked you heard this in a case)


  • Labour (hourly employees)
  • Transport (if we pay a company per load)
  • Fuel/truckers (if we own our own trucks etc. for transport)
  • Utilities (if you need more energy to make more widgets)
  • Raw Materials (why wasn't this included? Big one to miss)


Was this answer helpful?
Anonymous A on Jun 13, 2021

Hi Ian, thank you for extensive answer. However I still feel that if we strictly differentiate between decline in PROFITs (Revs - Costs) and decline in PROFITABILITY (Profits/Revenues) then for example we can rule out "volume down" factor from the equation. If I sell you 1000 products with profitability 20% or just one product with profitability 20%, my overall profitability EOY is still the same = 20%. However it significantly impacts my PROFIT in absolute values.

Anonymous on Jun 13, 2021

I would say that if you the case states that company has issues with profitability I can first find out how does it relate to absolute value on PROFITS. There are 2 options - PROFITS decreased, PROFITS increased or PROFITS remained the same. All of those could be related with PROFITABILITY decrease. Based on the answer, I would move with either R-C framework (for PROFITs declined case) or the one I stated above (PROFITs remained the same or even increased). Does it make sense or is my logic flawed?


Content Creator
replied on Jun 12, 2021
Accenture, Deloitte | Precision Case Prep | Experienced Interviewer & Career Coach | 15 years professional experience


You can improve your framework.

Have a look at these threads for plenty of discussion on similar question.

Was this answer helpful?
Jakub on Jun 13, 2021

Hi Adi, thank you for your answer. However most of those posts are debating about PROFITs in absolute values whereas I see PROFITABILITY as a bit of a broader issue that could be even case if PROFITs are increased. So I still have a feeling to look at this problem a bit differently, but not sure how to incorporate it properly in typical revenue framework.

Ian gave the best answer


Content Creator
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep
Q&A Upvotes
100 Reviews