By Russell Zwanka
Where are you going? Should you go left or right? Do you just floor it and hope for the best? Do you stop at the yellow light or charge through the intersection? Running your company is like driving a car. It’s best to have some idea where you are going before you even start the car. And once you start it? Be the best on the road! Why plan to be anything but the best? Be the leader of the pack!
But, first, where am I going? I would suggest that defining where you are going is the most important thing you will do in your entire life, your entire business cycle, your entire career. Where are you going? You need a strategic plan.
Eight steps to a strategic plan:
1. What is your purpose? Why does your company exist? Look around and see what kind of un-met need you are answering. Is there an actual need that will cause you to exist? If you are going to be just like everyone else, then you might want to re-think your plan. Have others caught up with you; is there a better offering somewhere else? Is there another way customers can now satisfy their needs? Eyes wide open!
2. Plan to be the best. It’s surprising how many companies plan to just offer a product. Or just offer a service. Is there any reason, any reason in the world, why you shouldn’t plan to be the best? No, you might not get there; but at least you tried and gave it your all. If you don’t plan to be the best, you are guaranteed to meet your goals….every action, every resource, every piece of your business should be formed around the premise that you will be the best.
3. Build the right team. Get the right people in the car with you. It’s a long journey, with many potholes and speed bumps. You need a team that is up to the challenge, has the expertise to maneuver the sharp turns, and knows when to floor it! And, on top, make sure your passengers are people with whom you will want to spend a long road trip. It’s a long ride, you might as well enjoy the company.
4. Who is your customer? What do they want? How are their lives better because you exist? How do you help them solve their needs, support their family, make their lives easier? Define your customer, and then make sure every part of your company is designed to focus on that customer. You will ship your products same-day, you can tailor your assortment, you offer deals for special moments, you integrate into their lives. Every action in every department should have the customer in mind. Everyone supports the customer!
5. Who are your competitors? Everyone has a competitor. A free market economy almost begs for competition to spring up everywhere. As soon as you have a great idea, and sales start to flow, it is a guarantee that you will have competition immediately. And, you know, that’s not so bad. Competition makes you stronger. Competition keeps you sharp. It keeps your infrastructure lean and mean. Competition is good. Understand who it is and make sure you are always the lead car in the race.
6. Play up what makes you special. You are the experts in your field. You are locally grown and available within eight hours of being picked from the field. You offer tailored assortment based upon time of day. You are special. You are different from the guy across the street. Play it up. Talk about it. Make it your advertising message. Use it when connecting with your customers. Your differentiators are what will keep you in the lead.
7. Connect, connect, connect. It is a connected world. All media platforms are inter-related and should be seamless. The in-store message should be reflected on your website, should be reflected in your social media, should be reflected in your communication, and should be reflected in your assortment. A seamless connection between print, digital social, in-store, and after the sale is what customers want. They will only care about you when they sense that you care about them. All advertising, marketing, and merchandising should be cohesive and without borders.
8. Plan for change. No, a strategic plan does not mean you will never change. In fact, a strategic plan allows for the flexibility to understand and follow the customers. Inevitably, customers will evolve, needs will alter, a competitor will come out with a better product. Your plan should have a proactive stance on change. Have an active trend-spotting environment, where all stakeholders are encouraged to scan the environment for the next generation of products or services. Then, get there first. Get there ahead of everyone else. Remember, you started out to be the best. The best never rest!
It’s all about the plan. The most successful companies, the most successful people, have a sense of where they are heading. They understand their higher purpose, and then they center their entire focus and all activities on that purpose. The race has started! Floor it!
Russell Zwanka is CEO and Partner at Triple Eight Marketing. Russell has led the merchandising, marketing, advertising, procurement, and all customer engagement areas for multiple organizations in the United States and Canada. Russell holds a Doctorate in International Business from the International School of Management in Paris, France. He also holds a Masters of Science in Management from Southern Wesleyan University, and a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from the University of South Carolina.
Russell has spoken at various events, including the Carnegie Mellon Social Media Conference, the University of Manitoba Marketing Conference, and the Argyle Executive Forum in New York City. Additionally, he has served on the IGA Retailer Advisory Board, the Consumer Goods Forum Marketing Committee, the Topco Operations Board, and the Nielsen Retailer Advisory Committee.
Russell's book Customers First. Profits Second. was released in mid-2013.