Most small business marketing (as well as mid-sized business) efforts seem to be floundering in today’s post recession market. Many are barely hanging on—just making it week-to-week, while others are doing remarkably well; considering the chaotic economy and changing market trends.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of decision makers, representing B2B, B2C and not-for-profit companies. While many issues were raised, the primary difference, I discovered, between struggling organizations and those thriving has to do with the existence and use of strategic plans to help guide their way. In virtually every instance, organizations making the Forbes “list of 100 Most Admired U.S. Companies” and Fortune Magazine’s annual list of “Best Places to Work,” place a high priority on creating and using strategic plans. For the most part, organizations with poor performance are scrambling, implementing and trying to manage tactics with no strategic plan. This is an example of what I call “ready-fire-aim.”
“If you have no strategy, how do you know what tactics to employ?” asks Walter Wise, a Business Success Architect at BPI Strategy Group in Boston. He suggests that “without a plan, the outcome of failure is predictable. Many companies fail to plan properly, but none ever plan to fail.” Others agree, like Peter Ross, Senior Consultant at Capgemini in Charlotte, NC, who says “objectives and strategy are essential before implementing tactics. Determining the strategies will help achieve the objectives – break down the strategies into actionable steps (tactics) that will get you there. This approach allows you to assign “owners”, track progress, and measure success – all while helping to make certain tactics remain in support of objectives and strategies.” Janine Soika, MBA – Channel Marketing Executive in the Greater Denver Area, sees this more of a balance issue. She says, “Clearly you must know where you want to go, otherwise how will you know when you have arrived? But should you plan your trip in 2 weeks or 10 weeks from now? I opt for action, so chart your course, pick the best way to get there and go! Define your strategy, establish benchmarks, measure your progress and make course corrections as needed. Take action! In today’s market you need to be nimble and quick.”
I recall hearing one of my business professors, in grad school, pounding it into our heads that, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” However, when you can measure the level of effectiveness, it is easier to see what is working and what’s not. My friend and colleague, Paul Davis of NextStep Marketing, Charlotte, NC, says, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
We know how difficult it is when you spend all your time working “in” your business and don’t take the time to work “on” your business. You must expect that your company will react accordingly. Bottom line… no increase in value. There are many ways to get off the crisis management treadmill. If your organization doesn’t have the time or intellectual capital to create a strategic plan from within, then you should consider a strategic planning consultant. This will bring “fresh eyes” to your organization. A consultant will ask the questions that need to be asked and deliver a plan that’s been created in collaboration with the owner and organization.
Physician and Corporate Wellness Director Chris Hawley from Modesto, CA says that “Investing the time to create strategies before jumping to tactics insures a quality heartbeat for the business. It also helps owner/managers enjoy the journey, working smarter not harder.” Sr. Business Development Professional Chris Craven of Charlotte, NC takes a stronger position, “Without strategic plans you are doomed to fail,” he says.
Finally, Michael Oddi, Chief Marketing Officer at KSL Media in LA, advised that we consider the perspective presented by Seth Godin in his book, Poke the Box, “Sometimes companies suffer from planning overload and never implement their strategy. The most successful companies are driven by individuals who aren’t afraid to push the go button.”
Alan Adler is an executive coach, speaker & author.