Business Planning – Lessons from the past

Google “Business planning & Military Strategy” and you will get a raft of examples of people using Military Strategists and other historical figures as inspiration for the way they approach the subject of planning & strategy in a business context. I therefore thought, at this time of year, where people are returning from Holiday & planning for the future, it would be worth sharing some of these

Tactics without strategy is just noise before defeat  Sun Tsu Chinese Military Strategist around 600BC

In these days of fast moving technology,  love the fact that we can still learn from 2500 year old wisdom! and learn we can. In too many small businesses being busy is seen as a measure of success. and its true if you are finding success, you will most likely be busy. But it is also possible to be a “Busy Fool”. Having a plan which sets out what you are trying to achieve, and outlining what you are doing to achieve this gives you a benchmark against which to assess your activity. Ask the question: “Is my activity actually bringing me closer to my goal, and if not why am I doing it” Is a great way of making sure you are focusing on activities that are delivering value.

Plan ahead - It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark Richard Cushing, Prelate in the Catholic Church in the US – 1940s

The quoter may be a bit obscure, but I love the quote! Anyone running an SME, will recognise the issue of feast or famine – too often business swings from being crazy busy with business coming in from every direction, to a situation where you wonder where  the next job coming from. In my experience one reason behind this is when busy, too many business forget about planning & marketing, so when things change & get quite, they are unprepared and business dries up. By making planning for the future a regular part of your day to day management process even when you are busy, makes it more likely that “when the rain comes” you will be ready, or more likely, your planning will lead to continued success & growth.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy Helmuth van Moltke Head of the Prussian Army  - 1880

Of all, this is my favourite. One reason I hear for not planning is that things change, and you can’t predict the future, so why try. It’s true, when you plan you do so based on assumptions of the impact of your actions, and how others will react. However, you can be  certain that your assumptions will be less than 100% accurate, but that is not a good reason not to plan. Rather than being a rule book, that once complete must be followed to the letter, a good business plan should be flexible, and open to change. In implementing your plan, you will start to test your assumptions, and things will happen that you had not even thought of. When this happens, the plan and future activities need to be adapted to account for the new information.. Rather than being a detailed document that once written, sit on a shelf gathering dust. A good plan is a living document, that is made, implemented, reviewed and adapted on an ongoing basis.

Local Radio Business hour

BSA Marketing regularly input into the business hour on our local radio station (Tameside radio) – This topic formed the basis of this weeks business hour. You can listen online here. If you would like to find out more about how we can help with your marketing planning, you can get in touch here.  

We almost lost our Google Partner status and we are delighted

We got an email from Google recently informing us that we were about to lose our Google Partner status – The reason,  not that we had, under performed or let certifications laps, it was simply because we were delivering for the clients and making their Google Advertising more efficient. Let’s take a look at this in a bit more detail: The client in question was spending 4 figures per month on Google advertising, and whilst cost effective, they felt it could be more efficient. They therefore asked us to review the account and make recommendations. As a result of this, once we had implemented the recommendations, mainly focusing keywords, and increasing quality scores by focusing of adverts & improving landing pages, we were able to reduce cost per enquiry by over 50% whilst increasing number of enquiries coming through via Goggle Advertising. As a result, the clients spend with Adwords was more than halved. It was this reduction, that put our partner status at risk. The fact is, we delivered for the client. Something that is infinitely more important to us that our partner status with Google, so we are delighted with the result.

What is Marketing? Let’s get back to basics.

OK, you have a business and you are confident you are good at what you do. You have resources. How do you consistently and effectively use these resources to generate sales revenue and put cash in the bank? As I discuss here, many SME businesses see the answer as Sales Leads. You can see why this is. Most businesses have a pretty good conversion from a lead to a sale. It is a process they control so effectively, sales leads mean sales revenue – easy! However, there is a problem. Where do the leads come from? Historically there have been many companies (BSA included!) who have offered services to generate leads. Based on our own experience in the 1980’s & 90’s (pre-internet you note!), these lead generation processes can work, but typically things aren’t quite as straightforward or sustainable as the client might like! Since 2000 the march of the internet has seen some decline in the range of direct lead generation services. Instead, we have seen the growth of the ‘digital marketer’. While there are undoubtedly myriad success stories (arguably Amazon, recently valued at over $1Trillion, is a digital marketer at its core), at the other end of the scale there are businesses who have applied internet tools to the lead generation demand. Interestingly most of these don’t offer to generate leads!  Probably the single most common service offering is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) where by tweaking your website (and other things), it appears high up on search ranking. You are then left to join the dots…

Good Search Ranking -> People Find My Website -> Enquiries & Leads

Again, all very well in theory but not necessarily so great in practice. This article shows an experiment we did a while ago which proves the point

So, while targeting lead generation directly can work to some extent, typically the outcomes are less than satisfactory and challenging to sustain. What can be done? In a word: Marketing!

Back to basics

To repeat my opening paragraph: OK, you have a business and you are confident you are good at what you do. You have resources. How do you consistently and effectively use these resources to generate sales revenue and put cash in the bank? While most business owners jump in with a requirement for Sales Leads – immediately creating a challenge of where to get  them,  may I suggest a more complete and actionable process A sales revenue generation process:

  1. Communication with target markets to build…Awareness and Confidence
  2. Sales Promotion to an aware and confident audience to generate…Leads & Enquiries
  3. Sales Negotiation & Close with qualified leads to secure…Sales Revenue

From my comments above, you will see many businesses trying to jump straight in at #2, the Lead Generation process. However, by going in cold, with no prior awareness or confidence from potential customers, generating leads becomes much harder. Furthermore, the lead generation process is happening in your timeframe, not your customer’s. Most people buy when they want to, not when you want them to! The key to sustainable sales revenue is Right Product/Service + Right Time + Right Place By adding #1 Communication to the process you gain 2 advantages:

  1. You build awareness of your company, your products and your services in the minds of your potential customers – and with this awareness come confidence that you can deliver.
  2. When a potential customer decides they need what you offer, they already know you and have confidence in you. Product + Time + Place all come together

This process is Brand Building (even if you are a sole trader, you have a Brand). This is Marketing…

Marketing Basics

To effectively add a Marketing Communications to your Sales Revenue process, there are 3 elements:

1. Define your business proposition

What is it that you do? Most important, how do you make life easier/better for your customers? Just because you think your business proposition is great isn’t enough. Your customers need to agree! Don’t just thank about what it is that you do – listing the features. Consider how your proposition helps your customer – the benefits/value you deliver. Appreciating the difference between Features and Benefits is vital

2. Understand your audience

To properly understand the benefits and value you deliver, you need to understand your target audience of potential customers. Simply taking the line ‘Anyone could be my customer‘ doesn’t help. By focussing on specific sectors or groups makes it easier to target your communications to their specific circumstances or needs. Even if you could sell to anyone, by splitting your market into groups and targeting highly relevant communication to each group makes it much easier to engage with them. Anyway, there are ALWAYS some potential customers who are easier to sell to than others. Remember: Your market is more important than your business. If you can’t identify a market where you can show you can deliver real benefit and value, you have no Business

3. Effectively Communicate

You have your carefully crafted Business Proposition and you understand your Audience and the real benefit you deliver to them. Now you simply tell them! OK, there’s a bit more to it than this but in essence, you should tell stories that demonstrate how your potential customers can benefit from doing business with you. Remember to:

  • Show people you really know your subject – a reliable expert
  • Focus on benefits rather than just features.
  • Show you deliver real, tangible value.
  • Use testimonials and case studies as a great way to build trust and credibility

There are many tools you can use to get your message out, from websites, social media and email to networking, telemarketing and even door knocking! You won’t (and shouldn’t) use them all. Pick the tools where you feel most comfortable and which best meet your needs. Whatever communication tools you select, make absolutely sure your messages are consistent across platforms and media. Nothing destroys credibility like uncertainty. If your customers are getting inconsistent messages from you, how will they know what to believe? Pull these elements together then just do it! This process builds awareness and credibility and with this, your Brand Value – a great platform to launch your Sales Promotion. Get it right and you will have an audience that understands what you do and how they can benefit from doing business with you. They will also have trust and confidence that you deliver on your promises. Get your marketing basics right and they will come. Not always and not all the time, but they will come.

Sales or Value – What is your focus?

As we enter the significant ‘business-window’ between the end of summer and Christmas, it is a time when we pick up projects with clients and look to develop marketing plans for the coming months. This involves numerous meetings and discussions and I was intrigued to find a common theme arising. Many (if not most) SME business owners, when asked about their primary focus for business planning, respond with the same answer time and again.

More Enquiries and Sales!

“If I generate more leads then we will be able to convert them into sales and all will be fine.”

The focus is on More Sales. However, I often hear business owners talking about a cycle of feast and famine. A push on sales development can drive an increase in revenue. However, while fulfilling that business, eyes are taken off the sales process. As a result, the flow of enquiries dwindles and revenues decline. Then the whole process has to start again!

Think outside the ‘Sales’ box

Don’t get me wrong, sale revenue (well, profitable revenue!) is vital to delivering short-term success. But, rather than focussing purely on securing sales, you can also focus on delivering value? I believe focussing on the value you deliver (and ensuring that your customers and markets understand and appreciate this value) is at the heart of marketing. Even better, it can be a powerful way of driving sales. Let’s face it, if someone knows you deliver real value that they can benefit from – and trusts you to deliver to them and meet their needs, there is no reason for them not to do business with you.

Build your brand value

So, building strong, sustained relationships with markets and customers, you become known as a reliable, professional expert in your field, a natural point of enquiry when someone is looking for the products/services you supply. You aren’t just selling, you are building your brand. It was announced today that Amazon has just hit a valuation of $1Trillion. They haven’t achieved this milestone by focussing on selling a lot, they have focussed on making sure they deliver genuine and groundbreaking value and benefit to their markets. Another example is RyanAir. the company has recently announced that even carry-on baggage will incur extra charges.  Inevitably they received negative press about this – but they don’t care! People still know that if you want cheap flights across Europe, RyanAir is a leading and competitive option. Ultimately they deliver what people want so people keep buying! OK, your business might not be Amazon or RyanAir but the same principles apply to you. Ensuring you deliver real value and benefit – and making sure your customers and markets know this – is the best way to build Brand Value – and strong Brand Value is a great platform from which to sell! OK, so you want to focus on Value as well as Sales. What should you do? Here are 2 key questions to ask yourself:

1. Do I have a joined-up strategy?

There is no Business Magic Wand! Don’t just try a single approach in isolation hoping it will be THE ONE, then drop it when it doesn’t really give you what you are looking for the try something new only for the same thing to happen again! A well-considered and joined-up strategy which brings together the core elements of your company and identifies messages demonstrating the real value benefits you can offer to your target markets is more likely to deliver consistent results. To give your approach the best chance of delivering, it is important to have a plan which takes a joined-up strategy and allows different activities to work in harmony and be effectively controlled and managed.

Take time to develop a strategy

Creating a realistic, practical business development strategy is a vital step to building business brand value. Demonstrating a well thought through strategy will build the confidence in your brand.

2. Do I have a realistic action plan?

The best strategy in the world is a waste of time if you don’t do something about it! If you want to build brand value through your strategy, you need to communicate and engage with your target customers and markets. I talked at the top about the cycle of business development feast and famine. Not having an action plan is another driver of this cycle as you tend to only do something when you think about it, when you notice. If you are busy, you are less likely to notice! An action plan sets out who is doing what and when to ensure your marketing communications happen and you talk to your markets.

Don't just act when you think about it - set out an action plan

Sometimes you just get too busy and something has to give. When this happens, it easy to let your efforts lapse.  It is simpler to forgive yourself than trying to get forgiveness from your customer (which doesn’t help your brand either!) Conversely, regular communication with your customers and markets, delivering relevant messages with useful and interesting content means people get to know you, and the right content helps them to engage with you, to understand what you and your company are about. As this understanding grows and they see it fit with their own needs, your brand becomes established.

Delegate, delegate…

Maintaining regular communication is where delegation can make the difference and having an action plan is central to effective delegation. An action plan should set out what needs to be done, by whom and when. Part of setting out your plan will be to make sure the person or people tasked with doing the job have the knowledge and capability to do it. If not, you will have to do it differently this time but maybe you have highlighted a training opportunity – and a well trained and capable team is a valuable element of sustained business brand value,

Use technology

Technology has revolutionised SME marketing. E-mail and other social media platforms can be great ways to engage with your market and with the host of support tools that are available, you can – when you have time – schedule tasks forward to happen later  – when you are busy! You can even drive market communication from your mobile when you are out and about allowing you to make use of time that otherwise might be wasted. So, my initial question was Sales or Value –  What is your focus? Hopefully, I have set out here that the answer is not one or the other – but both, working together in a joined-up way. Value focus builds the platform that can deliver consistent sales revenue.