Thursday, January 29, 2015

Believer, Skeptic or Psychoplanner, Part 2

Part II – Planning Must-Haves

Every step of the plan has a due date - when we say we will get something done in the future, the future rarely happens in our lifetimes. However, when we say we will get it accomplished by 3rd quarter and set milestones for the January, March, May and August, results take place.

Every step of the plan has a single person responsible for its completion – committees rarely get anything done unless the chairperson takes on the responsibility. The same holds true with departments, groups and other work teams; somebody needs to be responsible for shepherding the results. This doesn’t mean they do all the work, but they must hold others to the course.

Plans must be documented and archived – when plans aren’t written and documented they get lost in the shuffle. Employees forget their responsibilities. Later on, disputes arise as to the actual results expected and commitments made.

Plans must be reviewed – any plan without periodic review is a waste of time. Review is easy when the plan is documented and individuals are held accountable for their implementation. Further, in companies ramping up their planning skills, it takes a couple of reviews before employees believe that planning is serious and real.

Not every plan works – some plans just plain doesn’t work. Good managers and their companies take the time to understand what changed, what mistakes were made, and which assumptions proved to be incorrect. This improves future planning.

Don’t confuse lack of execution with a poor plan – many times plans don’t work because somebody failed to follow through on their commitments, mishandled an important step or didn’t have the personal horsepower to drive things forward. Without execution, even the best plans fall short of the mark.

There must be consequences for lack of performance – some people respond to plans in a better way than others. In every company we have dealt with, we have discovered a few who did not take the planning process seriously. Sometimes these poor performers produce a respectable result. In their own mind, their results prove planning is a wasted effort. We believe differently. Periodic review and individual responsibility soon flushes out poor planners. Be prepared to deal with these individuals.

There is no generic best plan – beware of those who tell you their plan is the best. The right plan is based on your company, the skillsets of employees, long term culture and business climate. Your plan must be tailored to your situation. This doesn’t mean you can’t model your plan around a successful plan of another company. Instead, it means your plan must be tailored.

Expect (demand) planning improvement – one of the most rewarding experiences comes years after an active planning process has been put into place. As the team develops planning skills, activities that once took years can be accomplished in months. This accelerates the growth of your business.

Bring in outside help – this may sound just a wee bit self-serving but ask yourself these questions: Does any of this sound like rocket science? Why aren’t we better in our planning? An outside resource helps you anticipate the bumps bruise and roadblocks along the way.

Anticipate pushback - as you begin adding discipline to your planning process expect pushback. The most common phrases heard in the trenches of wholesale distribution sound remarkably close to these. “I’m too busy to plan right now.” “I already have a plan it’s just not designed in a formal way.” And the omnipresent favorite, “Listen, do you want me out selling or sitting in the office planning?”

This isn’t about strategic planning
Let’s not get this confused with some kind of elaborate strategic planning session. This type of activity could best be considered tactical planning. Applying planning to some of the critical aspects of our business to accelerate the flow of results is paramount to success in our world today. Planning helps prioritize important tasks in a world full of distractions.

Next week well get your creative juices flowing with some Planning Topics for Distributors.  Until then, check out our planning tools on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Believer, Skeptic or Psychoplanner, Part 1

Part I – The Season for Planning
Before we begin, I’m not selling fancy leather bound planners, trendy books on the topic or heirloom quality prayer rugs.  I’m not here to convert you.  I could stand on my head and do double

somersaults while I ranted on and on about the virtues of planning.  But all would be for naught.  Either you believe in planning or you don’t.  It’s just that simple.

Instead this piece is designed for the believers and latter day converts-- for those who have consciously decided, “If we’re going to plan, we might as well get our money’s worth.”   With a little luck some people will recognize themselves as psychoplanners.  These are the folks with deep-seated allusions of planning.  Instead of believing they’re Napoleon, they conjure themselves as planners.  Allow me to illustrate with a story from my early career.

We’ll go back to the world of polyester and leisure suits: the year 1981, the place the orange Naugahyde coiffured office of a distributor client.  As year-end approached the conversation turned to planning.  Here in dead earnest, my distributor shared his plan for 1982: “Work hard, get as many sales as possible and have a nice vacation sometime during the summer.”  You know deep down in his heart of hearts, he believed he had a real plan.   Most likely (and I avoided the subject) at the end of that year, he devised another similarly amazing plan.  But we had a bit of a problem.  His company was missing out on some of the rapid technology and cultural shifts of those times.  Ultimately, I had to come up with a plan for finding a new channel partner.

Here’s the issue with his “plan."  How do you measure, define and refine “work hard and get as many sales as possible” in real terms?  At least his plan for a nice vacation in the summer was measurable and had a bit of a time frame. 

This little story from my checkered past drives home an important point. Many people believe in planning.  But when those plans are exposed to the unflattering light of scrutiny, they appear as phony as Naugahyde trying to pass for leather.  They’re psychoplanners.

Armed with these remembrances, let’s head out on a quest for planning best practices for the Industrial Distributor.  After observing the planning process at hundreds of distributors, I have come to recognize some inarguable trends; the stuff that works and the pitfalls to making planning a profitable venture.  Join us next week as we explore some of the must-haves for planning.

If you'd like to get a jump start, including forms, check us out on Amazon.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year

It’s a time for reminiscing

The big Times Square Ball is about to fall. 2014 slowly shuffles down Memory Lane; and 2015 boldly marches forward. The ghost of Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin' Eve shows past flash through the subconscious of America. TV pundits scour their previous 364 shows for memorable moments. Celebs step onto the red carpet and captivate us with half backed renditions of personal growth. Culture dictates this as the time of year for quiet reflection and forward thinking resolution.

Taking momentary advantage of this space in time, let’s reflect:

What new bit of technology did we discover in 2014?
I personally discovered the power of the mobile app. Mid-year I noticed a young salesperson pull out their tablet and walk a customer through the selection of a complex industrial sensor. With the assistance of the app, this relative neophyte seller displayed the product/application skill of a seasoned veteran. Get ready, this one will impact our world. This category could go on for a dozen pages.

What part of your customer’s world changed in 2014?
With all the pseudo-crisis activities blasting out on distributor news sites, scare tactic tweets and LinkedIn propaganda efforts, it’s easy to focus on what’s going on in our world. But isn’t it all about the customer? Here are a few points to ponder. Customers dependent on water are experiencing a drought. Companies relying on engineering expertise can’t find enough talent. Massively fluctuating oil prices give petroleum related companies unbelievable heartburn. How tuned into these issues are you?

Where you really selling solutions in 2014?
I recently read an article stating 70%+ of all distributors claim to be solution sellers. At the same time, experience dictates most distributor salespeople struggle to keep up with simple product knowledge. Most fail to understand customer pain points in a meaningful way. Think about orders won and orders lost. Were you selling, really selling solutions?

What value did you provide to your own organization in 2014?
Most readers will quickly point out increases in sales and gross margin generated. Great stuff. For most of the distributors reading, anything greater than an 8% growth number probably indicates you outgrew the market. But, let’s move deeper. How did you produce greater profitability? Did you do something that sets the stage strategically for coming years? How did your work increase the stock value of your company?

What do you wish you could have accomplished in 2014?
Don’t be shy. We all have at least one wish. I wish I could have finished my new book on building account based strategic plans. You have a few of these as well. Which were strategically important? What lessons might have been learned?

Let’s shift our focus from the past to the future. Looking ahead….

Why will it be easier and better to be your customer in 2015?
Pushing the old adage “What have you done for me lately?” forward, let’s think. What strategic service, product offering, technology tool or other offering will you provide your customer next year? Chances are more of the same doesn’t count. Further, putting together this competition killer of a plan will take some time. Wouldn’t now be a good time to start?

What will you do to make your competitor’s life more difficult in 2015?
Let’s assume you have some really difficult to duplicate competitive advantages. Your competitors fear you. Resting on last year’s advantage is not a good strategy. What strategic plans, investments, activities and positioning will be needed to make competing with you harder in 2015 than today?

What really important stuff should you accomplish in 2015?
I have every reason to believe 2015 will be an action filled year. Business is set to be brisk. Our customers will reward us with orders. Urgent crisis will come by the dozens. We must remain focused or meaningful advantage will slip through our fingers. The answers to our questions at the end of 2015 will not shine as brightly as they might have.

Before we go…
If you are not through planning for the New Year, I suggest you get started. Our Distributor’s Annual Planning workbook contains lots of tips, tricks and some of the right stuff to get your planning started. It is available here

We also have some other resources available electronically. They can be easily downloaded here.

Happy New Year