Developing a Successful Strategic Plan

May 29, 2010

I thought I’d provide some guidance in an area where I get lots of questions, plus there is lots of information (too much) available to help businesses but not typically expressed in a language that they can act quickly and simply on.

This is predicated on the business having an idea about what its Products/Services are, and what are the basic profiles of likely purchasers of these Products/Services.

OK … now that you’ve developed your Marketing Plan, you need to put it into action through the Strategic Plan and Sales Plan.  The processes of Strategic and Sales Planning is completed via 11 key building blocks.

1.  Potential Problems and Company Objectives:

First spot and rank the Potential Problems in your Company Operations.  Some examples of the areas that need to be analysed:

  • Cash Flow;
  • Market Changes;
  • Competition;
  • Costs;
  • Distribution;
  • Productivity;
  • Staff Turnover;
  • Market Regulation;
  • Market Acceptance;
  • Product/Service Pricing;
  • Quality of Offerings;
  • Customer Experience Management;
  • Capital Management;
  • Control Systems and Facilities.

With your Problems identified and ranked in importance and severity, you can develop Company Objectives you aim to obtain.  These Objectives should strive to minimize and manage the identified Potential Problems, while emphasising your Company’s Strengths.

2.  Risk Analysis:

Building on your Potential Problems identified in Section 1, this Analysis produces Expected Risks.  Look at Litigation Threats, Liabilities, Regulatory Issues, Major Risks and Problems and answer the following questions:

  • When are Problems plausible to occur?
  • What is the Expected Monetary Value of a problem if it occurs?
  • What can you do to mitigate the potential risks and problems?
  • How will you deal with these problems?

The last part of the Risk Analysis looks at how you can turn these problems into opportunities.

3.  Company Strategies, Tactics and Operational programs:

First develop your Strategies, then the relating Tactics and next the resulting Programs of work.

  • Strategy is Focus.  Strategy consists of key factors that distinguish your Company and are most expected to contribute to your success.  It is important that your Company Strategies complement each other so you are not sending your business in separate directions.
  • Tactics are used to implement strategies and relate to a specific Strategy.
  • Programs are specific business activities which have concrete dates, assigned responsibilities and highly-developed Budgets.  Programs relate to one/more Specific Tactics of a Specific Strategy.

4.  Sales Strategy:

It is important to remember that sales close the doors (deals) which Marketing opens.  Sales are dealing directly with your Customers.  Develop the Sales Strategy as it specifically relates to the Marketing Strategies you have already articulated.

If you’re trying to sell something that you haven’t developed marketing strategies around previously you will just waste time, confuse and alienate customers and burn-out your sales team.

Describe and develop the different sale methods and channels you will use to sell your Products and Services.  Determine your Sales Goals and your Sales Process.

You will also need to develop an effective Salesperson Training Program and suitable Compensation Structures.  You should also look at order processing optimisation, sale milestones expectations, price maneuvering, sales leads generation, distributor roles; credit and collection policies; how Internet, social media and viral channels will be utilised; and so forth.

5.  Sales Programs:

After developing your Sales Strategies, it is time to define the Sales Programs, which will address how your Sales Strategy will be implemented.  Once implemented, you should have systems in place to measure the implementation of your Sales Strategy and support your sales efforts.

6.  Strategic Alliances and Joint Ventures:

Define your Keystone Strategic Alliances and Partnerships.

Identify and develop Co-Marketing and Co-Development Opportunities; Sales Commissions and any Product/Service Agreements.

Is the fate of your Company tied to another Company?  Explain how these Alliances help your Company and any inherent risks that have to be managed.

7.  Operating Budget — Rolling Monthly Outlook (Yearly Basis):

The Operating Budget is a Planning and Control Mechanism which also helps you develop the Sales Forecasts.

It should be on a Rolling Basis 12-month basis, including Forecasts and Actuals.

Rolling Basis means after each quarter you re-Budget for the next 3 months, based on the Actuals for the last 3 months.

The Budget should be 12 months forward looking, as well as Financial Year YTD figures.  You should have Targets and Actuals so you can track results and adjust throughout the year as necessary.

Your Operational Budget should directly reflect your Strategic Planning Goals.  Determine whether it is best to use a Top-Down, a Bottom-Up or Blended approach for your Operational Budgets.

Ask yourself:  How will your Budget be used as a Control Measure?  How will your Budget be used to judge Company, Management and Key Employee Performance?  Your Budget is a valuable tool to use for Employee Management, Education and Delegation; Managerial and Executive Goals.

8.  Sales Forecast:

Using your newly developed Sales Strategy and supporting Programs, plus your 1-Year Operational Budget, you now need to develop a 5-Year Projected Sales Summary Forecast.

This Forecast will then be used to develop your Detailed Profit & Loss Statement in the Financials Section of your Business Plan.

If you’re an existing business, you can show your Historical Sales Trends going back 2-3 years, and how this trend will continue/improve based on the new (or revised) Sales Strategy.

It is VITAL to show how you will attain your Annual Sales Targets, and the Assumptions that have been used to develop the Sales Forecast.  The key here is create a Sales Forecast that is achievable and also believable.

It is also very important to show how your Sales Forecast relates to your Market Analysis, Target Market Segments, Sales Strategy and Marketing Strategy.   This ensures your Marketing Plan is a direct influence on your Strategic & Sales Plan, which then keeps everything (and everyone) focused on the Company-Wide Strategy.

9.  Milestones Table:

Your Future Company Goals, Milestones and Strategies, along with your Marketing and Sales Program rollouts need to be measured and managed.  The key way to do this is to define milestones for each key event/outcome, as well, as intermediate milestones that get your business towards the key outcomes.  As a guide, if an event/outcome is more than 9 months away you need to have at least 2 intermediate milestones to track against (that way AT WORST you’re 3 months behind if everything is totally off track, rather than 9 months behind if you didn’t have the 2 intermediate milestones).

For each Milestone Event you need:

  • A Qualitative Description – what does the milestone look like;
  • A Quantitative Description – a measurable number that validates you’ve made it;
  • Start and End Dates;
  • Budget Numbers;
  • Individual Manager, and Department, Responsibilities;
  • Dependencies on other internal (or external) groups to meet the Quantitative measure.

    10.  Control Mechanisms:

    What Mechanisms for Control of each critical Skill and Resource are available to you?

    Is direct ownership necessary for your Resources and Skills or can they be Outsourced and at what discount/premuim?

    What contractual incentives/penalties do you have at your disposal with your critical Resource/Skill/Service Providers?

    11.  Strategic Planning Advisors:

    Strategic Planning is such an important part of running a Successful Business, you NEED to retain a competent team of Professionals, Advisors, Experts and Consultants.

    An Experienced Business Consultant can be a very important part of your Strategic Planning Team, ensuring your Strategic Plan is not just effectively developed, but most importantly, effectively implemented throughout your Company Operations.

    The key here is that good Advisors have a very broad set of knowledge and experience, particularly in terms of what works and what doesn’t.  Why make the mistake somebody else has already made, when you can avoid the mistake and still get the benefits of the learning that would have come from the mistakes.  It will save you buckets of time and money.

    After your Strategic Plan is implemented, an experienced Business Consultant can also help you ensure the Strategy stays on track, reaches its goals and is adjusted as necessary due to market changes and unforeseen problems.

    IN SUMMARY:

    Some key things to remember, as a cheat-sheet if you like, to get successfully through this sort of a process as quickly (but effectively) as possible.

    Products and Services Development:

    1. Market Analysis and Segmentation
    2. Market Trends
    3. Market Growth
    4. Competitive Analysis, Positioning and Edge
    5. Marketing Strategy:  Positioning, Pricing, Promotion and Distribution Strategies
    6. Marketing Strategy Profit and Loss Projection
    7. Marketing Programs

    The above equals an Effective Marketing Plan.

    From the Marketing Plan, you then move through these steps:

    1. Strategic Potential Problems and Risk Analysis
    2. Company Strategies,  Tactics and Operational Programs
    3. Sales Strategy
    4. Sales Programs and Alliances
    5. Company Operating Budget
    6. Sales Forecasts
    7. Milestones and Control Mechanisms

    The above gets you to a Successful Company Strategic & Sales Plan.

    Once you have the Strategic Plan and the Sales Plan, you can build a believable set of Financial Forecasts.

    With all of the above in place, you not only have a bit of a clue about what you need to do, but have a comprehensive set of plans, actions and measurements to take the entire business forward to your financial targets.

    As the saying goes “If you Fail to Plan, then you’re Planning to Fail !!!!”.

    Feel free to contact us if you want more information, or specialist assistance in this area.


    Success Leaves Clues, So does Failure

    May 15, 2010

    I’m regularly asked questions that come down to “how come they can do …… and my business doesn’t seem to be able to ???”.

    This leads me to the question … Why do some businesses achieve great success, while other seemingly similar businesses struggle forever?

    My own answer to this is to look for the trail of clues that indicate why a business has (or will) succeed, or conversely why a business has (or will) fail.

    The reality is that even though there are many businesses out there with great products and excellent services, they never seem to get beyond survival let alone achieving stellar performance.

    Below are 5 critical mistakes that will kill your business’ chances of attaining above-average success.

    I see these every day in businesses looking to sell, or raise capital, so I can say with great conviction …. If you make any of these 5 critical mistakes, your business will achieve average performance at best, and likely create a trap where you end up working long hours for mere survival, or even eventual failure and bankruptcy.

    Feel free to read on and check to see where you and your business are at.   Be honest with yourself when looking at these common, but highly-detrimental, mistakes.

    1.  Short-term focus

    Most SME business owners are focused on short-term survival rather than long-term success.  Typically, short-term cash requirements become the driver for most things that happen in the business.

    If this short-term requirement is constant, the future development needs of the business are totally neglected.  This also leads to feast and famine as the business pipeline is managed for next month rather than next quarter or next year.

    This also tends to create transactional business rather than long-term relationship business.  The cost of acquiring transactional business is 4 to 5 times higher than acquiring relationship-based business.

    If you’re spend more than 10% of your time, as a business owner, putting out fires then you’re sealing the long-term fate of the business …. and it won’t be a good fate.

    The only way to stop this sort of problem in the long term is to work on prevention in the short term, at least you will know that at some point “it will get better”.  This means taking time out to analyse what’s going wrong and planning what needs to be done to achieve the long-term goals (as well as eliminate the things going wrong).

    You need to become proactive instead of reactive if you want to achieve real success.  You need to define what that success looks like and then develop a plan to get it.  Then go out and make it happen.

    As Yoda says “Try, there is no try.  Do or Not Do”.

    2.  Haphazard advertising

    Advertising decisions in SMEs are commonly made based on how busy everyone in the business is.  The corollary being “let’s do whatever is easiest”.  The signs are:

    • There is no defined marketing plan;
    • Advertising is initiated when sales slow down and stopped when sales pick up;
    • Advertising is usually tactical/opportunistic rather than strategic.

    This endlessly reactive cycle just tends to keep the business operating around the same level of sales (survival).  In turn, this level becomes the limit to the future success of the business.

    Smaller, struggling businesses tend to react by using price as their main competitive strategy.  This sets up a knee-jerk approach to price setting and sales/marketing activity, creating a response from competitors that ends up damaging everyone’s profits and cashflow.

    Marketing is about communicating to the market the distinctive reasons why your company’s products should be the logical choice compared to competitive offerings.

    Successful companies determine their strategic advantages over the competition and then proactively communicate the value of those advantages to the market.  More often than not, this style of marketing allows them to sell at higher prices than their competitors because they’re focusing on what customers really value.

    3.  Ineffective delegation

    You can’t grow your business without delegating work to someone else.   THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.

    However, most business owners would prefer to do the work themselves rather than learn how to choose the right people, set them up with the right systems, then motivate and nurture them.

    Partly this is a trust issue, but mostly this is a control issue.  You just need to learn to hand the steering wheel to the Universe over to somebody else for a while and focus on the areas of your own business where you can significantly increase the capability/competitiveness of your business.

    The trust/control issue is commonly caused by the business owner having expectations of employees that are not communicated clearly – therefore they don’t get the results they expect.  The outcome will always be frustration followed by the assertion “you just can’t get good staff these days”.

    The best managers know clear interactions between people and good relationships are essential to productivity, so they develop effective communication processes.

    These include job descriptions, operations manuals, work instructions and appraisal systems to ensure that expectations about an employee’s role in the business are effectively communicated and understood and that the employee’s performance results are fed back and effectively worked through to the satisfaction of each party.

    Delegation can then occur without frustration and antagonism, and everybody is clear about what/why/how/when leading to a highly-productive and positive work environment.

    4.  Ineffective control

    Many business owners/managers are so focused on getting the work done that they never stop to check how efficiently it is being done or whether performance levels are improving/deteriorating.

    Running a business without performance indicators is like walking across a highway with a blind-fold on (you just wouldn’t do it would you ???).

    Some business owners/managers don’t even know what their financial position is from month to month.  That’s like guessing how much fuel you have left, then being surprised when the car stops.

    Many businesses stay at the level of growth where the business owner can physically see/check how hard people are working.

    This method of maintaining control is self-limiting, because it puts a self-imposed cap on business growth.  However, it is often also ineffective because activity and productivity are not the same thing.

    Staff have a tendency to try to look busy, even when they aren’t working hard.  Many managers are then lulled into a false sense of security by visual checking.

    Without real performance measures that identify actual levels of productivity, operational costs and relativity to targets, a business has no real controls.  Making this critical mistake almost guarantees that it will be impossible to achieve above-average success.

    5. Doing it all yourself without looking for help

    Significant achievement always involves help from others.

    In small business it has long been accepted that you need external professionals for preparing accounts and dealing with legal matters.

    However, it is also becoming commonplace to bring in specialist skills to work on improving specific business functions (eg: Strategy, Marketing, Sales, HR).

    Running a successful business requires effort, and the effective leverage of everybody’s time.  It is unusual to achieve without a significant amount of mentoring/guidance from people with the right experience and expertise.

    It is accepted practice in all sports and almost every elite athlete uses a coach to provide external guidance and tips to improve performance.

    The best business owners also accept this principal and look for advice whenever they can.  It seems that only the poor performers try to go it alone and think they have all the answers themselves.

    Conclusion

    If you make any of these mistakes in business, your performance – and the businesses performance – will suffer and you will most likely tend to spend your time struggling to survive, or at least working longer hours than you want to get where you want to go.

    Success leaves clues.  Successful businesses operate in a different way from most average businesses …. that is why they’re successful.

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to find out how they do it and how you can eliminate the mistakes that keep you trapped in a business that is a continuous struggle and a constant source of frustration ?.

    Feel free to talk with us if you want to break out of this “Cycle of Despair”.