The next time the strategic planning season is upon you, don’t do what most smart, well-meaning people do.
My experience has shown me that most people confuse the words “strategy” and “wish.” They’ll bellow decrees of how 2018 will be the year we increase sales, or boost recruiting, or retain more customers. Sounds great; who doesn’t want to do any of that stuff?
But it’s not a strategy.
Difference Between Wishes & Strategy
Wishes usually encompass only the “what.” They answer the question, “What do you want to see happen?” Wishes don’t bother with the execution side of it; that’s some genie’s job.
In our minds, we’re our industry’s Patton; the field general who makes stuff happen. In reality, we are Geppetto, wishing upon a star, hoping the blue fairy shows up and taps our Pinnochio on the shoulder.
Ask the Right Questions
But what keeps wishes from becoming a reality is that we rarely bother to answer all the other questions because they haven’t even been asked. We hope the wish grows legs and figures out everything else on its own.
Contrary to popular belief, you have a lot of control and influence over this kind of stuff. You just have to be thorough in asking the right questions.
Here are a few to get you started:
- Who is gonna make your wishes come true? Good marketing starts with the market, not the marketing. Are your current customers going to make things happen? Are certain segments going to be responsible? Are there specific folks out there who aren’t your customer yet that should be? Once you answer this question, the others become much easier to answer.
- Why are you wishing for all this stuff in the first place? When you’ve been entrenched in your company’s culture for months, years, even decades, it’s way too easy to take your mission for granted and completely forget the reason you’re in business. So back up a second and ask these questions: Why are we in business? Why do our customers love us? Why do customers leave us? Why do we bother? Why are we better at what we do than anyone else?
- How will you make your wishes come true? Once you know why you’re wishing, what you’re wishing and who’s gonna make the wishes come true, then and only then should you talk about how you’re going to do it. This is actually what strategy is: the “how you’re gonna do it” part of your plan. To start, keep this at a high level. How will we increase sales? How will we keep more customers? Notice that strategy answers add prepositional phrases that start with “by.”
“We’re going to increase sales.” = a wish
“We’re going to increase sales by supporting our northwest sales leaders more through events and coupons.” = a strategy
“We are going to be more innovative.” = a wish
“We’re going to be more innovative by hiring five specialized experts in product development.” = a strategy
- Where will your wishes come true? At this point, we’re nearing the tactical stage of your planning. This can be geography or media-based. Where will you focus your efforts? In Oregon? Online? In the field? At the office? This can be closely related to the “who question,” but it goes a little further. It could look like… “We will improve our customer retention by increasing interactions on our Facebook page.” The Facebook page is the “where.”
- When will your wishes come true? OK, the default answer should not be Dec. 31st. Start adding some deadlines to your wishes. Are your tactics seasonal? Event-based? Or do you simply need to set a date so it gets done? Does your wish become irrelevant after a certain date?
- Repeat the how, where and when. Once you set certain strategies in place that define how you will make your wishes come true, you then have to figure out how you’ll accomplish each strategy. So, apply questions 3-5 to each specific strategy. This is deep into the tactical phase, where all the details start coming together. How will I set up my events and coupons in the northwest? When must we begin promoting these events? Where will each individual event take place
- How much is going to cost? It’s only at this point that you can put together a realistic budget. But I bet you don’t do it this way. I bet you take a shot in the dark at your budget first, because there’s a hard due date for it, and then figure out what you can do with all that money. That’s stupid. Figure out how much money it’s gonna cost to do all this stuff to make your wishes come true. If you don’t have enough money, see if you can cut anything in step #6 without greatly sacrificing the end result. If not, you’ll have to forego one or more of your wishes. It sucks, but that’s how it goes.
There are many more questions you could add. The real point here has little to do with the specific question and more to do with the fact that you’re taking the time to ask and answer them.
They will help you shape a more realistic, more accurate plan. It’ll keep you from simply wishing.
About Brett Duncan
Brett is a founding partner with Strategic Choice Partners, and an experienced executive specializing in marketing, communications and digital strategic consulting.
He worked for his first direct sales company two days a week while still in college packing shipments in their warehouse from 5 until midnight. He began at the entry level of the marketing department at AdvoCare, International in 2002, rising to the position of marketing manager before he left in 2007. In 2009, he joined Mannatech as Sr. Director of Global Online Solutions. He was then promoted to Vice President of Global Marketing in 2011.