(Originally posted spring 2012)
Stand out from the crowd. Don’t be a sheep!
In my previous blog, I looked at the importance of having a strategy firmly focused on the needs of our customers.
In this blog I’ll be looking at how that translates into creating actions and daily work-plans.
But most importantly, my intention is to gently remind everyone:
Review your Strategic Plan. It's a vital document.
So, with a clear sense of what we can offer that is irresistible to our customers – we also need to make sure that it stands apart from the offerings of our competitors.
I’m sure that most people reading this blog are familiar with USPs (unique selling points) or the need to differentiate (if not, leave me a comment and I’ll expand on it). But even when managers are familiar with the idea, these question easily get skipped:
“How can I differentiate my product/service in a way that’s not easily copied?”
“What have we invested in that would make it hard for competitors to catch-up?”
Examples of the investment that underpins a USP may be:
- A product which is really different (ideally patented).
- A superior service with a unique system to deliver it.
- Better operational efficiency and effectiveness.
- The best trained people.
- The most highly rated brand.
Any USP that can easily be copied doesn’t stay a USP for long – and then all you can do is compete on price and reduce your profits.
Any business, large or small, that wants to differentiate itself has to be set-up to deliver that USP better than anybody else!
It also needs to consider developments in the wider environment that it operates in. Again, I’m sure the readers of this blog are familiar with SWOT analysis: the Strengths and Weakness of the business (internal factors) against and Threats or Opportunities from wider environment (external factors).
Then the overall marketing led strategy needs to be converted into operational plans. The overall objectives of the business need to be broken down into financial objectives and all the operational objectives that will deliver the strategy: sales and marketing, product/service delivery, finance, legal, admin, HR etc.
From there, objectives and targets are broken down into projects to achieve them, with defined stages and milestones (agreed points at which those stages are complete) – and then into smaller tasks and actions.
I’m aware that this blog isn’t a comprehensive guide to Strategic Planning. There are countless weighty books on the subject. My intention here is to serve as a reminder to the countless SMEs that are too busy working their businesses that it’s essential to review and renew their Strategic Plan.
The Strategic Plan is the document that allows all other decisions to be made wisely:
- What to focus on and what to drop
- How to prioritise time
- Who to hire and who to retire
- What relationships to develop and which to diminish
So to recap again. Having a carefully thought out Strategic Plan is vital. It’s the primary task from which all other activity should flow.
Selectivity is a key leadership skill – and that can’t be done without clarity on what we’re trying to achieve, why and how.
Strategic Planning is the thinking that needs to be done to save us from running around like busy fools.
If you haven’t looked at your plan for a while, or updated it for over a year, now is the time to sit down and do that essential thinking with your top team.