The benefits of strategic planning are many, but the planning process itself has its own rewards, according to a recent article by Dan Beaulieu, president of D.B. Management Group LLC. The excerpt of his article below describes how companies can benefit by taking the time to develop a strategic marketing plan:
Does your company have a strategic business plan? How about a formal marketing plan? Does your team sit down together at least once a year and hack out how you did this year and what you plan to do next year?
How often do you really sit down with your team and talk about the future? Chances are you spend most of your time together talking about running your daily operations. But how often do you put these issues on hold and talk about your business, your future and your vision?
This is the one key factor that differentiates the good companies from the great companies. If you don’t take the time to reflect on where you’ve been and plan on where you are going, then you are not doing your job, says Mr. Beaulieu. Your team will never be solidly united and your company will never be great.
Planning does not have to be tedious; it can be a lot of fun. During the planning process, your team members will discuss their visions for your company. Try to get your staff to open up to focus on what is going on outside of your company; that is what really matters. Try to get them to focus on what current and potential customers want. Make the sessions as open and productive as possible. Make sure that you allow a decent amount of time for this exercise and that you are completely isolated, ideally at an off-site location.
All of your first reports should participate in these sessions, even HR and accounting. They have ideas, and they need to be part of the future as well. The sales manager should bring input from the sales team. As the number-one customer advocate, the sales manager needs to bring the customer to the table.
To make sure that the discussion goes in the right direction, Mr. Beaulieu likes to use a series of questions about the company. What kind of business are you in? Why should people do business with you? Also ask about your products—today and in the future—and about your competition. These questions, when answered intelligently (a short-answer essay test, not a true and false test), will generate the basis for your strategic sales and marketing plan.
Here are some of the benefits you will derive from this exercise, besides having a good plan for the future:
• You will unite your team.
• You will have a common vision. By developing this plan together, everyone will feel ownership of the plan and the direction the company is taking. Do all of your disagreeing in private, and once your team emerges from the planning sessions, it will be one team, one plan, one vision.
• You will have woven the flag for the entire company to follow. People follow messages and ideas rather than money and other incentives.
• You will have a well defined company. You will know with clear insight where you’ve been and, most importantly, where you are going.
• You will know your message and be able to communicate to the rest of the team, your sales reps, your customers and your marketplace.
• You will have a great way to measure your progress. Part of developing a good plan is setting goals and then measuring performance against those goals. You will have put in place a successful process that you can use over and over again, year after year. Mr. Beaulieu is a proponent of the idea of having quarterly updates to check on how things are going against the plan you developed.
Make sure that you stick to your plan, but keep it flexible. Try to develop a plan every year. The first year will be the toughest, but the second and third years will be the most dangerous with the temptation to get lured into the “ditto” mindset. This will happen when you start hearing yourself or your teammates say things like, “We covered that pretty well last year; there is really no reason to cover that again this year.”
Treat every year as a new year. Build on the previous year’s plan, but please do not dilute the quality of your brainstorming session this year because “we already did this last year.” Give this a try this year.
Mr. Beaulieu is a marketing expert who helps companies boost sales with targeted strategies, tactics and communication plans. After working as a top sales executive for three major fabrication companies, he now heads up D.B. Management Group. For more, visit www.dbmpcb.com.
Source: Beaulieu, Dan. “Benefit from Sales and Marketing Plan!” www.dbmpcb.com.