Does your company’s business plan always tend to have the same approach—the annual plan is based on growing sales and profits steadily through incremental line extensions, a variation on last year’s promotions, or low risk geographic expansion? Is your planning process often more about controlling costs and risk than driving significant growth?
“Growing sales 3-5% in our key product segments combined with some targeted cost cutting will allow us to achieve our financial goals.”
Does your annual business planning process fall short of generating breakthrough ideas that could achieve real next step change in growth?
If you are hitting your financial targets year after year, staying on the current plan could make sense. It could be the right fit for your company. But for others, if you are not growing as fast as you or your stakeholders would like or if your competitors are out innovating you, it could be time to consider a fresh approach.
It may be time to invest in new product or marketing innovation, but the first innovation you may want to consider is in your planning process. Sometimes an organization’s commitment to its annual planning ritual can be a constraint to achieving significant year-on-year growth.
As a strategic growth consultant, I often see companies that either have not identified or pursued new opportunities or have created enough of their own roadblocks that they cannot achieve their growth aspirations. They are so used to planning incrementally that they miss key opportunities to transform their company and achieve breakthrough growth.
Looking back on your career, have you worked for companies that:
- Just updated the promotional calendar each year to align with last year’s events?
- Only developed and launched new products that were close-in line extensions because the risk of failure was lower—but often just ended up cannibalizing existing sales?
- Defined their market segments so tightly that there was little room for growth?
- Spent time and money each year just to churn customers with competitors—with the real results being lower prices, lower margins, and modest, if any, share gains?
If these are familiar scenarios, let me share three planning steps to try this planning cycle to help you identify potential new approaches to accelerate your success. They include:
- Revisit what made you successful—What insights from your success-to-date can be applied to drive new growth with new products or new markets?
- Redefine to create new advantage—Change the definition of your market to allow you to change how you go to market.
- Remove the barrier—What is holding you back from achieving greater growth? How will you remove both internal and external barriers or change the game so they no longer constrain you?
Here are some examples of how to achieve next step business growth when reviewing different components of your business plan:
Who you are selling?
- Revisit: Which customer segments value your brand and your products? Why? Are there other similar customer segments that would also value your brand for the same reasons (e.g., travel gear vs. camping gear)?
- Redefine: Is your market defined too narrowly? Can you expand the definition of who you are selling by redefining your market. Either expand up or down the supply chain or expand to include other segments in the larger category that includes you (e.g., breakfast buyers vs. breakfast cereal buyers).
- Remove: Remove barriers to purchase by being available in new channels, in new forms, or at new price points (e.g., develop a special pack that will help you gain distribution into new retailers or add ecommerce as a sales channel).
What you are selling?
- Revisit: The benefits and attributes that differentiate you vs. the category you compete in (e.g., easy-to-use, stylish, unbreakable).
- Redefine: What are adjacent categories where you can apply these same attributes to introduce relevant new products that go beyond line extensions to your core market.
- Remove: Remove resistance to launching into new categories. Put together a new product development team that combines brand experience and product development strength with fresh innovative thinking. Do not include people who are locked into old biases and approaches that could limit the potential of your new innovations.
How you are selling?
- Revisit: How are you engaging, educating, exciting your target, and how do you close the sale?
- Redefine: How do you disrupt your target customer in new ways to enable them to clearly see the differentiated value in your products versus competitors.
- Remove: Remove your own sales prevention processes that create friction for customers trying to do business with you. Take a fresh look at how easy or hard it is to buy from you.
Before you introduce these planning steps, look at your internal planning team. Do they view the planning process as an opportunity or a burden? Do they take delight or dread being on the company’s annual planning team? Is it time to bring some fresh perspective onto the planning team by including others beyond department heads and your finance staff?
This is one set of tools to energize your planning process. If you are on calendar year timing for your fiscal year, your planning process will begin soon. Look at how you can infuse your planning this year with new energy and some fresh thinking. If your company’s planning team is resistant, consider bringing in someone from the outside to help your team take a fresh look with the help of an outsider’s perspective. This could be the year you develop the plan that changes the future of your company!
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