As we approach the holidays, marketers shift their focus to their plans for the New Year. Have you made a final review of next year’s marketing plan and budget? Have you started your planning for next year? Do you have a strategic checklist?
Every organization has a different planning process and objectives. At the end of the day, your marketing plan execution is likely tasked with creating demand for your products, building your brand, and driving earnings and new business growth. A well-thought out plan will help you achieve these results. To assist in your year-end planning preparation, I am sharing a strategic checklist of key planning steps that can help align and focus your team on achieving your strategic goals. While you may have already completed all or most of these steps, this strategic checklist may prompt an opportunity to enhance your current planning and preparation.
Understand Your Market and Your Competitive Position in the Market
- Define and assess your market, your competitors, and competitive position. Many companies use a SWOT analysis for this step. Another method is to use market data to prepare an assessment of recent market performance versus competitors and market share trends among your target customers.
- Define your primary and secondary target customer. Know why they do and do not buy from you. You cannot effectively plan if you do not understand your customers. If you do not know your target customers and their motivators, an earlier priority in 2015 should be to conduct research on who they are, what they value, and why they choose you or your competitor’s products or services.
Ensure You Are Focused on the Right Goals
- Define what success looks like in the new year. It is likely that different members of your team have different objectives and a different idea of what a successful new year should look like. Hold a discussion with your leadership team to define what success should look like for your organization by the end of next year.
- Define, align on, and approve your SMART goals. The term SMART for goal setting has been used for many years. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. It is often good to also consider goals that are challenging and specifically grow your business. Build on the previously step to “define success” and turn your definition into your SMART goals. When setting goals, make both earnings and new business growth top priorities—you cannot grow your business if your only focus for next year is on cost reduction.
Along with setting goals with your leadership team, make sure your strategic checklist covers the success metrics and measurement system you will use to track progress to your goals.
Ensure Your Team Is Truly Aligned to Your Goals—and with Each Other
- Stop to make sure your leadership team is truly aligned to these goals. If your leaders are not fully aligned on a single vision of success and the same goals for the next year, the odds are they will spend more time on their own priorities than working to achieve the organization’s goals.
- Specifically discuss how you will respond to risk in growth initiatives. New growth initiatives will seldom succeed if all are not aligned on risk tolerance and how your team will respond to failure. Take time to talk to make sure everyone is really on board—resolve concerns if they are not.
Ensure You Are Working on the Right Initiatives
- Identify the strategies that will likely be most effective to achieve your goals.
- Select your top 3 strategic initiatives. These initiatives should tie to the achievement of a company strategic goal. Focus your strategies on leveraging the purchase drivers of your customers. Develop strategies for your goals that drive both existing business and new business growth. Abandon strategies that have not been productive in prior years.
- Identify what you will NOT do next year. If an initiative does not sell more, cut costs and/or tie to a strategic goal, you are likely wasting your time putting it on your to-do list. This could be the year to stop working on legacy initiatives. Don’t repeat an initiative just because it is something you have always done.
Ensure You Have the Right Resources to Win—and Invest Them in the Right Place
- Ensure you have enough of the right people and funding to do the job. Every team wants more resources. Every team believes they could be more effective with more people and funding. Realistically assess your resources. Plan your year to succeed with the resources you have vs. creating a plan that will overtax your team all year. Do fewer things better.
- Put the right people in the right jobs. If you want to achieve new results, sometimes that means changing who is leading key initiatives. It can be especially important to put the right team leaders in place leading new growth initiatives. Align the skills, experience, and relationships with the jobs to be done and then empower your team to lead and achieve.
- When possible, budget to task and not to a number. Identify what your strategic initiatives will cost in order to succeed. If budget cuts are needed, trim entire initiatives rather than trimming quality and effectiveness of each to keep everything on the project list.
- Build your budget using three categories: strategic initiatives, new venture initiatives, and tactical initiatives.
- Strategic initiatives are top priority initiatives that grow your existing business and enable you to achieve your strategic goals. This is a strategic investment in the near-term health, growth, and competitiveness of your organization. These investments should not be cut except in extreme circumstances.
- New venture initiatives are investments in entering new markets, launching new products, or testing new marketing approaches. These are the strategic initiatives that drive long-term growth of your organization. It is important to always include funding for testing and development in this area to promote long-term growth opportunities. These should not be cut if possible, but could be delayed in timing if there is a strong need to reduce spending.
- Tactical initiatives are programs or events that have only short term volume impact. Every budget likely includes some of these. Often, these can be cut or reduced in cost and not have a material impact in achieving your organization’s goals. This should be the first place to cut costs if spending must be reduced when budgeting or during a mid-year spending cut.
If you allocate your budget across these three categories, you are more likely to focus your resources on the most strategic programs and initiatives and limit investment in areas that have little impact.
- Develop a budget milestone review process for continued funding of new venture initiatives. Make success criteria and timing for milestones realistic to support new business growth. Review progress at key milestones and do not add significant new investment if key success criteria cannot be met.
Is Your Team Implementing Its Strategic Checklist?
Hopefully, your organization is already implementing most of these planning steps on your strategic checklist. If not, consider adding new steps to your process. If needed, an outside advisor can help you boost the effectiveness and impact of your planning process. With thoughtful planning and great execution, you will have a very prosperous New Year.
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