6 Ways to Ensure Strategic Planning Success

strategic planning

A company’s strategic plan is only as effective as the process that goes into creating it. If the approach is too rigid, hierarchical or only serves as an empty exercise, it’s unlikely the business will in any way benefit from the process.

If on the other hand, a company approaches the strategic planning process as a way to explore the opportunities (and challenges) facing it and its industry in the years to come, the results can be genuinely beneficial to everyone involved—from senior management to employees and anyone else affected by the eventual outcome.

Here are suggestions on how best to mould the strategic planning process to get the most from your expenditure of time and resources:

Make a top-level commitment to the process. The most effective way to guarantee a favourable experience is by signalling the CEO or business owner’s full commitment to the process. Find an opportunity for the business leader to describe the value of strategic planning to everyone within the organisation and to talk about how each employee contributes to its eventual success. This sends the message that planning is key to the company’s future growth.

Review and refine your personal vision statement. Strategic planning represents a prime opportunity to review and change your personal vision statement. As we’ve noted elsewhere, “In a privately-owned business, the strategic plan for a company is not based solely on the assumption that the company’s goals and vision are to maximise profit. The strategic plan for your company must begin with your personal goals and vision.” As times and circumstances change, your vision might change as well.

Put together a great team. The more diverse your planning team is, the more diverse perspectives the process will generate. Ideally, says strategist Michael Girdler, “the team should include representation from anyone that can impact the plan or be impacted by the plan: in short all employees.” Enlist the efforts of “various departments of your organisation—marketing, sales, and operations [and] evaluate the inclusion of vendors” as well.

Find a comfortable off-site venue. Regardless of the savings, you might find in staying onsite, generally speaking, strategic planning sessions are more effective when set away from the workplace. It’s not just getting away everyday office distractions; a fresh, different location helps participants stay focused on the purpose behind your efforts—thinking in an intensive manner about where the business is going and how you plan to get there.

“Test-drive” challenging scenarios. As part of the process, roll out five or six scenarios (both those likely to happen and those less likely to occur), based on how your business will probably fare in the coming year. Are you prepared for a sudden acceleration in sales? What if, conversely, you lose a major customer or two? Devise contingency plans so you’re better prepared for the unexpected.

With a plan in place, invite feedback. To truly succeed, your strategic plan must be embraced by the entire organisation. Remember, your front-line staff—as well as those in other departments—often have valuable insights into product quality, customer service, etc. By gathering employee input, the final document will be richer and more effective in the long run.

“Consistent communication can keep everyone on the same page,” notes strategist Cara Ong, “and prevent conflicts from occurring before the official strategic and operational plan cascades down from senior management.”

Want to learn more about sales management and training? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!


What to Include in Your B2B Marketing Plan

B2B Marketing Plan

Nowhere is the celebrated “buyer’s journey” more relevant than with B2B companies and their customers. With the vast array of digital resources at their command, these customers embark on the journey by conducting extensive research, comparing companies and exploring social media—sometimes well before they make direct contact with the business they’re most interested in.

As a result, B2B companies need to “up” their marketing game, in order to be ready when the buyer’s journey leads to them. Here are tips for key elements and action steps for a marketing plan that keeps your business “top of mind” for current and prospective customers:

Focus on your core audience. Some businesses try—and generally, fail—to be all things to all customers. An effective marketing plan should focus on a clearly defined customer segment, so as to avoid diluting the appeal and effectiveness of a company’s key products or services.

Tailor content to meet that audience’s needs. The type of content you offer to customers (website, blog posts, articles, white papers, etc.) is a crucial element of any marketing plan. This, in turn, means thoroughly understanding what drives your customers—their needs, desires, pain points, etc.

“You need to know how your buyers like to buy and what they respond to,” notes Forbes contributor AJ Agrawal. “This will put you in the best possible position to sway them to making a purchase.”

Creating a comprehensive buyer’s persona to help with both marketing and sales leads is one highly effective way to ensure you’re hitting the right note in your content efforts.

Refresh the content and design of your website. Remember, the buyer’s journey almost always includes a visit to your B2B website. It’s in your company’s best interests to ensure that a consistent and appealing marketing message is built into virtually every page on that site. Don’t let old material or an unchanging homepage discourage potential interest.

As always, your site must also be user-friendly and informative (meaning, little or no fluff!), with a focus on how your products or services benefit the customer, as opposed to making your company look good.

Commit to a strong social media presence. Buyers will usually check out your company’s presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other industry-specific social networking sites. If you’re not already doing so, 2018 is the right time to commit to an in-depth social media marketing strategy. This can include:

  • Using social media to gather data on customer preferences
  • Becoming an industry thought leader through high-quality, customer-focused content
  • Engaging in two-way communications with customers and prospects
  • Monitoring online discussions of your industry

Your B2B marketing plan should specify the kinds of social media initiatives and activities planned for the new year and, ideally, assign this key responsibility to an individual or team with experience in this area.

Write a plan that’s clear and accessible throughout the company. While assembling the B2B marketing plan, keep in mind that shifting industry conditions may require a re-examination of basic ideas and strategies throughout the coming year. Consider assigning a knowledgeable team member with the responsibility to review the plan on a regular basis—identifying those elements and marketing goals that still make sense to pursue and refining other strategies that may have been rendered irrelevant by new market conditions.

The “marketing environment is always dynamic,” notes marketing technology expert Anita Brearton. “Create your strategy and plans in a way so you can adjust quickly to changing marketing conditions and customer requirements.”

Want to learn more about marketing and planning for your business? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!



Create a Planning Team for Decision-Making

Heads or tails
In a small or medium-sized business, it’s common to be the only one making decisions about every aspect of your company—thus the saying, “it’s lonely at the top.” No matter how large or small your business is, being the sole decision-maker for the company can be difficult and may impede your company’s success. It can become challenging for one person to constantly think of better ways to improve the business or make sure he or she has the most innovative ideas. Having the contributions of a planning team will help your company grow and become more successful, and should be an essential part of your strategic business plan.

Planning teams are comprised of your company’s top executives from each of your functional departments. The goal of the planning team is to have candid discussion on all business planning and action items essential to moving your company forward—from resources to operations to company strategy. Our corporate planning team follows the Business Builders Blueprint process and has experienced great success utilising it. Busines Builders Blueprint provides a structured and organised framework for your team to productively discuss and plan the strategic direction of the company.  The Strategic Plan element is only one of 10 different elements in the completed Blueprint. Other elements include Business Diagnostic, Personal and Company Vision, SWOT analysis, Strategic Differentiation, Company Values and Brand, Accountability, Financial Performance and KPI suite. Remember: always make sure your planning team stays in alignment with the owner’s personal and business vision.

Once you decide to implement a planning team, it is imperative to have established guidelines before the first meeting and to continue to follow these guidelines at each meeting. Reviewing them before meetings will help keep your planning team focused on the group goals. For example, we use “TABenos” as our communication guideline. TABenos represents communication defined by honesty, respect, trust and openness with yourself and the other planning team members. This specific guideline enables each member of the team to experience an environment conducive to idea sharing and exchange.

Here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind when forming your planning team:

  • Stay focused on the main issues
  • Avoid solving/micro-managing
  • Avoid interruption as much as possible
  • Inform the employees who are not on the planning team about plans and progress, as well as the necessity and importance of having planning team meetings
  • Never cancel your planning team meetings unless absolutely necessary
  • Meet as frequently as you can. Our team meets weekly, but at a minimum, you should meet once a month.If you can’t meet on a monthly basis, you should always schedule meetings, at the very least, once per quarter
  • Occasionally invite other project managers to the meetings to update the planning team on various projects, as necessary. This gives team members a sense of contribution to the company.

To ensure each planning team meeting is productive and time-efficient, revisit the rules and guidelines often. Also, spend time with individual planning team members to make sure they understand the value of a planning team and how their individual contributions help to foster a positive planning team experience. When conducted effectively, a planning team can be and should be inspiring and be liberating for the business owner and team members.

Jason Zickerman is President and CEO of The Alternative Board


4 Ways You’re Unintentionally Sabotaging Your Productivity


The Alternative Board conducted a productivity survey of hundreds of entrepreneurs to discover how business owners are really spending their time. While 76% of business owners reported above average time management skills, 85% admit to working over 40 hours a week. Do these results mean that business owners are not admitting to their time management shortcomings? The answer most likely is no.

The hidden culprit is the productivity killers that business owners don’t even notice they’re wasting time on.

Today’s post seeks to unearth these time wasters and provide solutions for avoiding them. By making the actionable changes found below, business owners will be able to cut down the time spent working in their business, so they can devote more time to long-term strategy, as well as their personal lives.

1. Working below your pay grade.

productivityA huge detriment to your productivity as an entrepreneur is wasting time on duties that can be outsourced – particularly day-to-day administration. These easily delegated tasks are very often what’s keeping you IN your business rather than allowing you to work on it.

With so many outsourcing and freelancing solutions available, hiring an assistant to take over these roles no longer requires a full-time salary commitment. TAB Member Ron Loveland, CEO of Summit Business Solutions, recommends small business owners delegate administrative tasks to a virtual assistant. “When you go from doing everything yourself to affording an administrative person, there is a crucial step in-between,” says Loveland. “With a VA, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you have enough work for a person. They only charge you for hours worked, and if you go through a company like UpWork, they will take care of the W-9 form and any IRS reporting.”???????????

TAB member Jay Eastland, Owner of Engineered Solutions of Georgia, advises that business owners devote their efforts to cultivating new strategic relationships, leading with vision, solving problems, and engaging with employees and customers. Otherwise, you’re wasting time, “running errands, writing cheques, or trying to develop the website.”

2. Reactive Management

TAB’s time management survey also revealed that business owners are spending almost 20% of their time on tasks that are urgent, but not important. Waiting for a crisis to address gaps in your business is a guaranteed path to working IN your business for extended periods at a time – distracting you from precious long-term planning.

One way to stay proactive is by ensuring you have a team in place for anticipated growth rather than hiring as you grow. “If you’re like most business owners, your organisation has developed almost haphazardly. You’ve hired who you could when you could, usually in response to your most immediate capacity crisis – your most urgent need,” says Jeff Whittle, President of TAB Metro Dallas.” His solution? “Make hiring a priority – not a crisis. Ignore it, and you’ll end up with a jumble of ill-defined positions being filled by people not truly suited for the jobs they’ve been given. Get it right, and you add a new gear to help propel your business to the stratosphere.”

3. Resisting Technology

productivityWhile technology may temporarily slow productivity as you and your team adjust to it, the long-term benefits are indisputable. For example, the Alternative Board’s 2015 cloud survey proved that 95% of business owners rate their satisfaction with cloud technology at or above average.

TAB Denver West President Blair Koch agrees “technology is crucial in our world today.” She recommends business owners adopt Dropbox for accessing important files, Streak for tracking email opens, Evernote for organizing customer notes, CamCard or Scannable for uploading business cards, and Salesforce.com for keeping track of customer relationships.

4. Poorly Managed Meetings

Ineffective meetings are notorious time wasters in the business world. To improve meeting productivity, TAB Member Rick Maher, CEO of Effective Human Resources, suggests limiting meeting invites to those specifically involved in the topic of conversation. “The biggest mistakes leaders make when they hold a meeting, especially in a group setting, are they focus or discuss issues that only affect a small number of people. It leaves the rest of the team twiddling their thumbs, and the value of the meeting is lost rather quickly.”

The Alternative Board UK’s Jo Clarkson adds, “If your meetings are valuable, well run, and achieve the planned outcome, people will make it their priority to turn up! Schedule regular meetings well in advance, so there’s no rescheduling and no excuses.”

Improving your productivity begins with identifying where you’re losing time. Be honest with yourself and admit when you’re being stubborn and when you’re refusing to let go of the reins. If you can’t quite pinpoint where you’re losing time (but know you’re losing it), other business owners – who have been there and done that – can help.

The Alternative Board puts you in touch with fellow business owners in non-competing industries who face the same challenges you do every day. Their experiences of overcoming obstacles very often hold the answers to your business’s biggest setbacks. Contact a local TAB board if you’d like to meet with other executives who can help you identify time wasters, boost productivity, and advance your business.


91% of Business Owners Could See Higher Revenue Using a Strategic Plan  


The Alternative Board (TAB), the world’s largest franchise provider of peer advisory boards and business coaching services, released the results of its quarterly, third-party Small Business Pulse Survey – and the results are surprising. Although 76% of respondents say they believe having a written strategic plan increases overall business performance, 91% don’t have what they consider to be an “excellent” plan. In fact, 22% have no written strategic plan at all. While the majority of business owners are expecting the economy to improve, they admit they’re not in the best position to capitalize on it.

“There are many business owners who do not have a good strategic plan. They’re missing opportunities – and they know it,” says David Scarola, Vice President of The Alternative Board. “The time investment required to write and regularly review strategic plans pays off big in the form of increased sales revenues, higher profits and more opportunities.”

When asked what they feel the most significant benefit of strategic planning is, 66% of business owners say it helps them identify and seize new opportunities (as illustrated by this infographic). Moreover, respondents agree that continually reevaluated business plans are most likely to improve revenue growth, profit and marketing effectiveness. Despite the fact that business owners know the benefits of having written strategic plans, only 40% rate their own plans as “good” or better. The primary reason CEOs aren’t writing or reviewing their business plans? Lack of time.

“The complaint that your company ‘does not have time’ is proof that you need to invest time for this,” says Allen E. Fishman, TAB’s founder and best-selling author of The Alignment Factor. “The reality is that strategic business plans have been proven to save an enormous amount of time in every industry. And time, as we all know, is money.”

To get a clearer picture of who was surveyed: 65% are family-owned business owners. About half of those surveyed are members of TAB – this segment of the study group overwhelmingly review and adjust their strategic plan quarterly. By comparison, the non-TAB members felt an annual adjustment was sufficient. Those looking for a measurable result of the benefits provided by TAB’s strategic planning template might point to the fact that 56% of the entrepreneurs who belong to TAB plan to add to their full-time sales staff this year, compared to just 34% of non-TAB members.

“The most recent survey results validate our long-held belief, based on over two decades of working with thousands of small- and medium-sized business owners, that having a strategic plan to guide their business is critical to achieving success,” says Scarola. “It’s in the business owners’ best interest to have a good plan that is reviewed regularly.” However, only 16% of business owners currently review and update their plan on a monthly basis.

The TAB survey also asked questions regarding how small business owners feel about the economy, which led to some interesting answers. While the economy may be stronger overall than it was a year ago, this sentiment varies widely by country. An impressive 73% of U.S. small business owners indicate that the economy is better than it was last year, while only 48% of British and 45% of Canadian CEOs feel the same way. Optimism is high among all survey respondents, though, with 66% anticipating an improvement in their local economy over the coming year. Even more telling, 77% polled expect higher sales revenue and 75% predict an increase in profits.