“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower
So, your business is stuck at some revenue level, you’re launching a new business, your business is growing slower than the rate of your market, you’re ready to hand off the baton for your business to the next generation of leaders and say ‘gone fishing’ – these are all real-life examples of the challenges that any (every) business leader faces every day. Inevitably, this discussion can be distilled down to an objective of increasing revenue. Easy to say and hard to do, but it generally leads to a discussion about marketing spend and the allocation of that spend.
One of the most common comments made by C-leveled clients is, “I need a new website.” We always employ the time-tested quality concept of the ‘5 Why’s’ when a client says this:
C-LEVELED: Why? (Why #1) CLIENT: Our product or service is relevant to a variety of different companies, and we should be selling more.
C-LEVELED: Why do you think that, are you missing opportunities? (Why #2) CLIENT: I think so, but I’m not sure where to focus.
C-LEVELED: So you believe you can be selling more, but you’re just not sure where to focus your sales efforts? CLIENT: I guess that’s correct. We need to prioritize before doubling-down on a market?
C-LEVELED: I know that you’re eager to get started, but if we take just a little time to fine tune your positioning in your market(s) by crystallizing ‘what you’re marketing’ (i.e. your differentiation), ‘where you’re marketing’ (i.e. market segmentation) and how you’re going to reach customers in those markets (i.e. channel strategy), then the likelihood of success increases, and the probability of wasteful spending decreases.
Generally, it requires no more than ‘3 Why’s’ to identify the most highly leverageable issue(s) that will have the greatest impact on achieving the goal of increasing sales. That’s bang-for-the-buck thinking, which begs a requirement to plan a growth initiative.
P-L-A-N isn’t necessarily a four-letter word that implies a lot of intellectual work without an actionable benefit in the day-to-day operations of a business. Most marketplaces today are dynamic, inhabited by competitive sets that are continually shifting. Constructing and applying a static plan in an environment like this is silly, and a waste of time.
What works very well is a plan that can shift along with the external forces faced by an organization. That is the outcome of a planning process that collaboratively identifies several key strategic fundamentals and the actions and tactics required to achieve those objectives:
- The two to three key pains in a market or sector that your company is addressing.
- The painkiller that your company delivers to alleviate those pains.
- Integrating those pain points and your differentiations to define a competitive landscape where you can compete with a degree of ‘white space.’
- A market segmentation and prioritization that is sufficiently homogeneous to support tactical marketing tactics and executions.
- Channel strategies that are aligned with the market segmentation and priorities.
- Financial targets (and or KPIs) to ensure that success or failure can be measured.
- All wrapped in a mission-based focus that describes the business at a strategic level.
This approach to planning is akin to erecting ‘strategic guardrails’ that serve to define actions that should and should not be pursued, and it supports rapid experimentation and feedback for various marketing executions and actions that will reveal exactly where a company should focus. It’s flexible enough to react to what is derived from customer interactions day-in and day-out and integrate the shifting dynamics that are a standard feature in so many markets today. It also serves to identify discrete marketing actions to take in a way that avoids ‘shotgunning’ (that’s expensive) with marketing dollars and time, with the hopes of ‘hitting something’ without constraint or measurable expectations.
So why the opening quote? So often, people point to historical plans and the deviations therefrom as proof that planning is a waste of time. It’s certainly appropriate to back-evaluate a plan. It’s especially relevant to do so in the name of improving on your ability to predict the future. But what clinical retrospection doesn’t show is the value gained from a management team working together to lay out the plan to tackle the future, to approach business building with a collective sense of purpose and focus.