To set the tone, I thought it would be best to hear from some of our greatest thought leaders on the subject of planning ahead:

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” – Henry Ford

“A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” – Confucius

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers

This past week I met with several business owners who are in the midst of developing their marketing and sales strategies for 2011. I was impressed that they were actually taking time to do so. Given that most business leaders, including our President, took a shellacking in 2010, there is a strong temptation to just keep your head down and focus on closing as many deals as possible before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. The problem is, if you wait until January to start planning for the new year, you can easily waste the entirety of Q1 trying to figure out what to do for that year (which by then is well underway).

From a sales standpoint, there is certainly plenty of time left to make a positive impact on 2010. In fact, I once worked for a company that was accustomed to bringing in several million dollars worth of business in the last few hours of the last working day of the year. It was always right down to the wire, but we always got it done. Yes, there were some big bluebird deals that had an impact, but it was the detailed planning in the prior year that gave us the tools and resources we needed to be ready for that last day.

Here’s how it worked. During the first two weeks of November the sales managers and marketing teams would huddle together in conference rooms for a few hours at a time analyzing what did and didn’t work that year, and what we knew we could count on in the coming year. Everyone had to answer tough questions about their budgets and forecasts, but it forced us to be realistic, commit to specific goals, understand where our business was going to come from, and most importantly it forced us all to agree on specific goals for the coming year. If you haven’t had these conversations yet, I encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What went well this year?
  • What did not go well?
  • What are your team’s key drivers?
  • What are your team’s key metrics?
  • How did you measure up to these metrics?
  • What risks did you face and how did you overcome them?
  • What are some of the specific factors you will be facing in 2011?
  • What are the specific opportunities you will be facing in 2011?
  • How are you going to prepare for these risks and opportunities in 2011?
  • What assumptions are you making about the market in 2011?
  • What assumptions did you make about your offerings in 2010? Still true?
  • What assumptions did you make about your company capability in 2010? Still true?

Sharing and discussing the answers to these questions will not only help build consensus among your team, but also help reveal the cornerstones of your 2011 marketing and sales plan. As you complete this process, remember that your plan should be measurable, and include specific strategies, dates, deadlines, metrics, and basic projections, plus a review schedule. Reviewing and revising your plan based on specific performance metrics is crucial. The goal is to keep the plan alive, and be open and prepared for change if needed.

On that note, I will leave you with one final quote heard just a few days ago:

“It requires me to make some mid-course corrections and adjustments.”
– Barack Obama