Why your business plan needs a hero

When you are at the top table and vying for serious new budget, you’ve got to have a great plan.

This article originally appeared in The Drum on July 31, 2018

We’ve all done our share of business planning. And, sometimes, it’s been a mix of boredom and bullshit: “I was already doing that anyway,” or “I’ll be long gone before I have to deliver that one!” But when you, dear customer marketer, are at the top table and vying for serious new budget to do transformational things for your customers, you’ve got to have a great plan. A great plan that no one can rip the guts out of. A great plan that people will get behind. A great plan that becomes everyone’s plan.

How do you get yourself one of these? Here are five steps we have found work really well, in the US and the UK:

Think one year and three years

Things are going mad – world trade, family structure, rapid tech change, disruptive start-ups – the list goes on. Don’t spend too long worrying about what you can’t control. Divide your plan into a) Year one: stuff you’ll do in the coming year, stuff that will deliver to the bottom line, and b) Year three: stuff that’s going to be dependent on the results of the stuff you’ll do next year. You might be able to invest a bit next year in building the capabilities. Don’t worry about five or 10 years – the days are gone when anyone has a clue. The job now is to test and learn, duck and dive with a short term focus.

Start with the data

The key to a successful plan is making sure you have the customer data to begin laying your plan’s foundation. How do you define customers (thinking about purchase and advocacy behaviours) and what are the new behaviours you want to encourage? You will set customer change targets – more visits to the store, more sharing of online content, etc. – and then track against these. Listen to the data and be prepared to change tack.

Think pounds and pennies

How much will your plan cost and how much revenue will they make? Will the new activities, initiatives and behaviours increase or decrease margin? It’s going to be important to ensure that your customer plan increases brand love. And it’s going to be even more important that it increases revenue – this is the language that every stakeholder speaks!

Stakeholders - love them or leave them

Successful stakeholder alignment is a two step process. The first of which is to understand which stakeholders in your organisation have customer objectives that you can help them to achieve. The second is to highlight stakeholders who are competing for the same budget but without a clear customer story. Can you provide that story? Can you make that link? Remember that the budget pool is limited and you’ll be more likely to end up happy if you can make a strong argument for how your changes in customer behaviour will sustainably and incrementally increase revenue and margin.

Tell a great story

No, a 50-slide PowerPoint deck is not a great story, even if it has some pictures. A great story is repeated by the people who hear it. A great story has a beginning, middle and end. A great story twangs practical and emotional strings. A great story knows who it’s talking to. And, finally, if you are a great customer marketer, a great story has a customer hero or heroine. Always.