After college at BC, I went into the Peace Corps returning to the world from Tanzania three years later to face the reality of finding a job. A couple of twists and turns, and I found myself working as a purchasing expeditor for Honeywell as the company attempted to shift from manufacturing and selling heating systems into what was then called the first "mini-computers". It was a brave attempt that failed when a little local company called Digital Equipment did it better. Most of the time I've come to learn that the phrase "first mover advantage" is a startup myth more often eclipsed by the truer phrase that "most pioneers get shot in the back."
Rule #1: The plan is the planWhat I learned from my drill sergeant Purchasing Manager at Honeywell as Rule #1 was...
"the plan is always the plan", and if I ever thought differently, all I had to do was refer to Rule #1.
I studied what sounds today like meaningless differences of "plan", "goals" and "objectives", and yet during my time at Honeywell, career at Becton Dickinson, and 9 startups, the distinction of planning terms was important to the management fabric of the company.
Questions such as...
- what's the intent of a sales forecast compared to the sales plan?
- is the sales plan the sales quota or the sales forecast or both?
- does Marketing's plan meet Engineering's timelines?
- does Marketing's plan for leads meet Sales' plan for revenue?
- are management's metrics, the same as the board's?
- are comp plans aligned on plan, budget, quota or something else?
These and a myriad of other seemingly mindless questions are unimportant...until they become very important. When that happens, and especially now in these very uncertain times, we too often waste a tremendous amount of time and energy creating frustration everywhere simply because we failed to communicate and fully agree on the content and the timing of our planning process.
Planning Language is critically important right now!
I don't really care what you call your planning process or the terms or the rules that you use, but you should for the purpose of clarity, expediency and most importantly to create more of a human bond of among your various team members...especially now!
- There needs to be common language not just for management but for all the employees that when various terms are used, they mean whatever you designate them to mean.
- An operating management plan should be shared with everyone in the company from directors to associates, keeping whatever you decide to keep as confidential, but even then, you need to consistently explain what you're planning to do, how you're doing it, and what the results are.
- Plans need to be for the business as a whole and each of the critical sections of the company from Sales to Marketing to Engineering to People to Operations and everything else including culture.
Why culture? We work closely with Hubspot, where currently 71 of my own alums work, and I believe that a key component in their fast-track success as a consistent Best Place to Work in a highly competitive and noisy market is their highly detailed and very well communicated Culture Plan.
At this time in the annual planning rhythm
As we cross the Labor Day bridge from summer into the fall, typically this means that either the CEO or CFO kicks of the annual planning cycle while dusting off last year's memo on work to be done, timelines and responsibilities. All of which typically ends up with a draft plan being submitted to the board sometime in November to engage them in the setting of the 2021 goals/objectives/plans to be formally voted on in early January as the final results for the year are trued up.
All of which sounds "neat and tidy", except in 2020 and 2021 !!!
- six or eight months into this, all we really know is what we don't yet know
- we've learned to adapt and how to survive in our businesses that could survive
- we've also followed the harsh realities of finance and had to abandon other businesses
- we have not yet experienced the unknowns of returning to work and school in the fall
So, what's it all mean to me this september & October
- The clock of the rhythm of the business cycle continues to advance.
- We still need to plan, and we still need to forecast the basics of sales, people, and money.
- Plans are still expected to have all of the details, metrics, timelines...and commitments!
12 recommendations we've been using for 3 months
- Begin the planning process by first aligning management around "Base Assumptions"
- Create 10 Base Assumptions for a 120-day plan-just list them 1 through 10.
- Define just 1 assumption on the timing of the virus and just 1 on the economy.
- Focus your expertise on what you can control, and it's not the economy or the virus.
- Make the other 8 assumptions driven by what you specifically expect for your business.
- Provide outward-facing assumptions for your market/s, customer growth, and retention.
- Make inward-facing assumptions on expense, product, and Sales & Marketing innovation.
- Rise above the noise and provide strong leadership about the unknowns.
- Jump down into the weeds and focus on activities and battle planning, not strategies.
- Be human with a clear tone and a singular voice as to what you plan to do.
- Do not attempt to plan 2021. It's simply going to be wrong and is a total waste of time!
- Repeat this process in late November looking out into March. In March, forecast June.
For a few NEW ideas:
- We've just updated our free ebook on "Writing the Winning Business Plan". Written for companies with revenues between $25 million and $250 million and also for startups planning for venture capital. We continue to experience thousands of annual downloads, and I'm looking forward to using this as my course book again for my MIT class this fall. While reading this, if you have any questions, just connect to set up a quick call.
- Since we believe strongly that true success in any business needs to have the very best in Marketing and Sales processes, tools, and people, we're very excited to be part of two upcoming informative, highly tactical and fun events. Dial in and connect to these highly tactical and timely events:
Providence Chamber of Commerce Sales Boot Camp-6 Strategies for Success
Two full mornings on September 21st & 22nd plus individual call-in times later that week.
Hosted by our close friends at the Chamber. Very low price, very high value! Check it out!
Selling & Marketing in a Covid World
9:00-10:30, September 22nd.
Hosted by our close friends at Katz, Nannis & Solomon. Very high value!
HAVE A GREAT Week SELLING!
This is the week for all the marbles!
If at any time, you have a need for a confidential sounding board in business planning or for Sales or Marketing, just connect with me at any time. Text or email me, and I will quickly set up a call.
I'm a pretty good listener. Obviously, no cost for a call or two; just an opportunity to listen intently and make a few recommendations based on decades of experience.
Be safe, positive and have a great week!