Deborah S. Fell is a Chief Outsiders CMO and results-generating, strategic marketing and growth executive based in Washington, D.C. She helps large and small B2B and B2C organizations clarify positioning, turn around mature brands and create critical foundations for new brands to drive revenue and share. With a passion for listening to the customer and leveraging insights, market analysis, experience and instincts, she helps clients sharpen strategies and gain traction on a new road map for growth. Visit ChiefOutsiders.com.
At some point in history, when the first caveman took on a business partner for their fledgling wheel manufacturing business, it became necessary for them to complete a business plan.
After all, how would our cave-bound friends decide who was responsible for construction, supply chain, sales and marketing, and testing?
We can only hope that in those simpler times, business planning consisted of a couple of grunts and a handshake. Today, the business planning cycle has taken on a life of its own. Except for the grunts, pretty much the entire process has been transformed into a rigorous set of meetings, a forest’s worth of documentation, and enough headaches to cause a measurable spike in Advil sales in your locality.
What started as a way to make a business more efficient has instead become a life-sucking logjam laden with unclear metrics, disconnected statistics, budget and staffing arguments — and a final deliverable that hardly anyone is convinced is actually reflective of your business realities.
Strategy Without Execution is Hallucination
Strategy without execution happens in the best of business environments all the time. Don’t worry — there are meaningful solutions to stale business planning that you can adopt today.
Here are five such ideas that I have found can support true, real and insightful planning, and perhaps reduce your company’s reliance on pain relievers:
Focus on the Customer — Instead of Yourself
When developing your business plan, put your focus on the customer first, instead of how the customer fits into your company’s strategy. How can you get your product or service into your customer’s lives and meet his or her needs? When your focus is on the customer, it’s easier to see what you need to stop doing as well, so you can spend your valuable resources on making necessary changes.
By the way, the shifting, digitally charged marketplace has changed the way your B2B customer picks their vendors — by the time you make first contact, they are, on average, 57% of the way through the decision-making process. On the B2C side of things, consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages each day. Your brand, its messaging and its products need to resonate deeply to have impact in a cluttered world.
“If You Want Something New, You Have to Stop Doing Something Old.”— Peter F. Drucker
Challenge your team to bring deep, resonant insights about your customers to the planning table, to ensure your plan glows brightly with these findings. If the voice of the customer is not the centerpiece of your plan, you may be missing an opportunity to create fans and deeper brand connections.
“Insights are like big fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch big fish, you’ve got to go deeper . . . ”
Understand Your Competitors More Deeply
There is a tendency to focus on what competitors have done or are doing, including how many staff members they have, what percentage of the market share they possess, and other pieces of data that you think you can quickly and easily use to chalk them up against your own company’s performance.
This may have been acceptable in the past, but the process has changed, and the future is no longer predictable when looking in the rearview mirror. Add a new question into your planning process, and ask your team about it all year long: “If you were your competitors, what would you be doing to beat you?” The fact is you are either disrupting or being disrupted.
Engage a Cross-Functional Team, and Hold Them Accountable Throughout the Year
If you actually want to bring your plan to life and accomplish your goals, this needs to be more than a once-a-year exercise (as many plans are). And, if your departments are left to plan and operate in a silo, you will spend time and money in planning and execution for far less results, than if you instead focus on ensuring collaboration and integration.
The planning journey can begin at any time during the year. Your marketing leader — or a professional marketing consultant who has expertise in leading planning sessions — should facilitate planning and support you in your efforts to keep the team energized.
No single department should come to the budget table and then subsequently head off to do their own thing. Marketing in particular should be representing the voice of the customer, and should insist on playing a key role in fostering the brand experience.
Make Sure Every Single Member of Your Team is Invested in Your Company’s Growth Vision and Goals
All of your closest stakeholders and partners — both internal and external — should have visibility into your business plans, and they should see how the work they do fits into and contributes to the outcome. Make this a continuous part of your process throughout the year.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, the authors note that only half of the executive team understands how priorities and initiatives fit together — a number that drops to 15% if you talk to the teams that manage the front line. Make sure you’re clear that the “secret sauce” is inspired, excellent execution. Competitors may be able to copy your playbook, but excellence and integration in execution is differentiated, because so few even focus on it.
Execute, Communicate, Update and Adjust (and Repeat)
Flawless execution may be an impossible goal, and it’s likely not even what customers care about. They want the intention along with honesty and authenticity; transparency and trust. They want their problems to go away, and their dreams to come true. They want new things to work from the start, and they want the broken things fixed. If you can do half of that, customers will love you and forgive your imperfections.
Funny enough, these are all the same things your team wants: timely and honest communication of the status, accomplishments and failures of the plan. It lets the team know leadership is purposeful, and that the work they do is designed in as part of this purpose. It lets them know that they are spending most of their waking hours in support of something that matters. When the team trusts in — and is inspired by — the CEO, and when leaders talk not just about wins, but failures, employees become not only engaged, but fired up.
“Strategy is a commodity, execution is an art.”— Peter F. Drucker
While strategy is by no means a commodity, inspired, excellent execution is rare. If your plan has unintentionally involved too many of the big blunders above, and remains a dusty document, burn it publicly at your next town hall. Just kidding — but do dust it off early in the New Year and begin a market-based focus.
Here, you can develop deep, relevant insights about your customers, employ a bold strategic focus on the priority markets and products/services, and bring it to life with a strong execution plan. No matter what the time of year or where you are in your business cycle, there is no time like now to have a robust, actionable “Plan for Growth,” driven by a fired-up team.
It’s time to leave the Cro-Magnon era behind. C&IT