What’s Your Plan?

So often we get caught up in our success or the crisis of the moment. We are reacting to everything that’s happening around us. We forget to ask ourselves, “why are we doing this?” We lose sight of our goals or we don’t update the targets. Without that awareness and ability to change and adapt, we can’t be successful.

Here’s the best part: a business plan doesn’t have to be in-depth in order to help guide you. There’s no need to think that building your plan is an overwhelming task that demands huge time or resources to develop. But the plan should include some fundamental elements, including understanding where your business comes from and the strategies and tactics you will execute in order to succeed. You’ll never know if you’re making a wrong turn or wrong investment if you don’t have a plan to benchmark.

Way back when, in the days when you first started selling, life was pretty easy. You’d grab a prospect list and, one by one, begin calling names, starting with the letter A, of course, at the top. Customers were eager to meet with you to hear what new services you had to provide, which would make their company more profitable. You knew it all back then. You were a leading sales rep, one who manufacturers sought out because of your talent and expertise in the field.

Over time, you built relationships with these contacts, slowly transitioning from the “getting to know you” stage to business partners, and now you’re friends. These are the “customers” with whom you now golf, exchange birthday cards, attend holiday parties, and know each other’s spouses and children. You have essentially taken a potential business lead and customer and turned this person into a buddy.

Now you’re scratching your head and wondering why sales calls are so hard and tedious. What made you unique years ago is now run of the mill. Superstar VARs or others selling on price have crept into your territory, grabbing your business. Internet purchasing simplifies ordering replacement parts or accessories via the Web. While your customer may value your relationship, it’s easy to save time by using the Web. Deep down, you know you can no longer act like “just a sales rep,” and need to think like a business person. You need a process and plan for overcoming changes and a way to anticipate these changes and reinforce your business value. Consultants and business planning books/templates can be overwhelming. Where do you start?

You’re already working lots of hours in the day; creating a time-consuming plan might not be a wise choice. Instead, create a business temperature check – a basic plan that helps you chart your course and determine what obstacles and benefits are in your path.

1. Create a basic plan. Let’s take a step back and think about your core beliefs and values. What vision do you have for your business? What type of company are you trying to be or become? How do you want your current and future customers to view your business? Your answers to these questions will bring your vision into focus.

2. Determine why your current customers are working with you (or looking elsewhere), and create a plan to retain them. You’ve invested time and expertise with these folks. It’s OK that they have become your buddies. Now you need to grow and nurture that special relationship into something fruitful for all.

Chances are, your manufacturer never asks you to share your business plan or marketing strategies. If asked, do you even have those in place? If not, why should your customer want to invest time and money with you? If you applied for a loan with a bank, the bank would ask you for a copy of your business plan as part of their investment strategy. Why are your manufacturers or customers any different than a bank? They’re investing in a partnership with you too. They want to know what your plan is to determine whether or not they want to work with you.

3. Take a holistic approach to finding out who you are. Look at yourself and your business and locate the gaps in your approach. It is challenging and sometimes a bit unnerving to admit to your weaknesses, but this is a fundamental business requirement. You must do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis on yourself and your business in order to maintain and then grow your customer base and bottom line. What are your strengths? Play those up. What are your weaknesses? Find partners and build relationships to bridge those gaps. Where are the opportunities to grow your business? Often, these lie in correcting the weaknesses. Who or what are your major threats? Don’t be fooled. Doing a SWOT analysis on yourself is tough, but the results will be eye-opening and help provide focus for advancing your business.

4. Spend time writing down your goals. With the fast-paced change in today’s world, it pays to re-evaluate the road you’re following. Will it lead you to success or a dead end? Write down some realistic goals. Try to identify key traits that are unique to your business – things that only you can provide and determine how you can leverage those to increase your uniqueness in the market. What makes you unique in today’s market? Write it down. On paper, you may shockingly realize that you’re not that special or maybe you are, tell your story in the best way possible. Write down all the key opportunities you may have. What kind of promotions and ideas do you have that your customers would be eager to invest in? Manufacturers will look to you as the chart maker, to be in tune with the marketplace and will want you to help them see the trends coming before their competitors do. They will seek out VARs who have good channels and prosperous networks, and they will weed out those who suck up time and energy (like long, personal sales calls) that don’t bear results. It’s not just about the sales call and status quo selling anymore. You’re a smart business person. You need to focus on profits and not allow yourself to be swept up in the emotional aspect of the business.

Bottom line. Step back. Re-evaluate and make a plan. Determine what your manufacturers need and what services you have that will help them. Capitalize on your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. Then use your newfound sales tools to dazzle your existing customers again like you did years ago. Deepen your customer relationships and new leads will follow.

A dedicated marketing professional, Michelle Kabele has been helping technology companies develop award-winning channel partner programs and marketing strategies for over 10 years. Michelle has worked extensively with small businesses throughout North America.

Michelle has an MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Evanston, Ill.)

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