22 December 2006

Now would be a good time to plan

Today is our planning day. Standing back from the business to take a more strategic view of what we have done over the past 12 months, the extent to which we have achieved the targets we set ourselves, the areas where we have failed to achieve targets and what we plan to do going forward. The good news is that this year has been great groundwork and we start next year pretty close to capacity.

We plan because we believe that the investment pays back during the year. Outside the planning cycle, we don't waste time considering whether an idea is on strategy or not because each of us is in close agreement about what our strategy should be during the year. Many small businesses complain that they 'never have time to plan' - they never will have unless they make the time available.

We think through what it is that we want to do, whether we need to adapt our positioning statement to reflect what that new vision is and how we are going to resource it. Of these, the overall strategy and the positioning statement are the most important. A positioning statement is never going to be used in customer facing situations, but it underpins almost all sales and marketing activity. Who are you targeting? What is the nature of the product or service? What is the value proposition of the product or service? What are the real benefits that clients and customers will enjoy as a result of buying your product or service? What makes you different from other suppliers of similar offerings?

Thinking through benefits is non-trivial. Benefit selling is a subject in itself – there’s only room for a brief caveat here: don't assume that the benefits that attract you will attract all buyers, and don’t assume that all buyers want the same benefits. In B2B selling, you often sell to a group (a committee or the board), each member will (possibly secretly) be looking for different benefits. The secret of successful selling is to discover the benefits desired by each individual. In positioning we have to bet on the most likely benefits desired by our target audience, but that’s not what you do in one-to-one selling.

What's your positioning? If I asked your colleagues and customers, would they be able to construct a positioning statement about your business, based on what they know about you or could find out about you? With that thought I should stop writing and give you time to think through what your plans are for next year.

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