How Often Should I Create Customer Journey Maps?

How Often Should I Create Customer Journey Maps?

How do you determine the ideal customer experience for your company? A specific, streamlined plan for addressing customer needs is a valuable tool, especially when laid out an easy-to-decipher visual representation. Customer journey maps touch on a number of customer experience components and areas for improvement in your business.

Company-wide changes mean it’s time to create a customer journey map. This tool is most beneficial when there is a change in leadership, shifting business strategy or an important quarter when you need to get into the minds of your customers.

Use Journey Maps for Strategic Planning

You want to create new customer journey maps every quarter or every six months to assess how your current policies and methods align with business goals. Situations that may warrant the creation of a journey map include:

  • Categorizing customers: Your products or services may apply to more than one market or demographic. But there are times when you want to single out a specific group. A customer journey map defines the differences between groups so you can develop targeted marketing strategies and better understand the minds of your customers.
  • Defining specific responsibilities: Communication can become lost in a large company without clearly defined roles. A customer journey map organizes each step and helps you determine which employees or departments perform certain duties. Once everyone understands their responsibilities when it comes to satisfying customers, your operations will run more smoothly and efficiently.
  • Determining areas of success: Let’s say your profits have risen in a certain area, or a product feature has gone unnoticed or unused by customers. A journey map helps you analyze which parts of your business work and which need improvement or reanalysis. Then, you can optimize your customer experience strategy for the sake of both financial gain and customer satisfaction.
  • Expanding your reach: A map of the customer experience gives you an objective view of the areas where your company has the potential for growth and development. You can use a journey map to determine the right time to invest in more employees, better equipment or new methods.

Partner With Proactive Worldwide

A positive customer experience is the key to a successful business. Customer journey maps are essential to foster growth and determine areas of weakness. Contact Proactive Worldwide today to find out how we can design a strategic customer journey map customized to your needs.

What Is a Customer Journey Map?

What Is a Customer Journey Map?

To run a business, you need to create positive experiences and memories for your customers. So how do you optimize your business operations to create the ideal customer experience?

The process begins with a customer journey map, a powerful tool for leaders to make business-critical observations and predictions. A customer journey map can help you get inside the minds of your customers and increase your success.

Why Is a Customer Journey Map Useful?

A customer journey map is a visual aid that gives businesses an objective, accurate perspective of their customer interactions. They describe the customers, their goals and the steps they take with your company to achieve those goals. These maps also contain touchpoints, which are all the ways your customers interact with your company, from clicking ads to shopping on your website and communicating with customer service.

Customer journey maps allow you to view these touchpoints, interactions and experiences, then determine areas of strength and weakness. Their design gives businesses the perspective to make tweaks to their strategies and understand customer needs on a larger scale.

How Can a Customer Journey Map Help You?

Building a customer journey map offers many benefits for your business. With a journey map, your company can:

  • Analyze and extrapolate data
  • Determine customer needs
  • Visualize customer/business relationships
  • Take advantage of opportunities for growth
  • Fill in gaps and inconsistencies
  • Redefine business goals

With the information from a customer journey map, you can do more than fix small issues within your business. You can improve and innovate in your strongest areas, expand your business and reach a wider audience. Knowing where to invest your time can lead to more satisfied customers and greater profits over the long term.

Creating a Map of the Customer Experience

Building a customer journey map takes time and research. You start the process by compiling existing data and cooperating with other business leaders to perform additional research. The goal is to create a complete picture of your customers’ goals and their interactions with the company.

It’s important to ensure that the data you collect is accurate and relevant to your company’s needs. A completed customer journey map should be a visual representation of goals, customer insights and experiences, expectations and opportunities for improvement.

Contact Proactive Worldwide to Get Started

For more information on building an accurate, effective customer journey map, contact us today. We’ll help you develop a solution that works for your business.

Best Practices for Pricing Assessments

Pricing Assessment Best Practices

In the competitive intelligence space, pricing assessments continue to be one of the more frequent requests of CI and marketing functions. These studies tend to be unique in the competitive intelligence space, largely focusing on voluminous quantitative data versus more qualitative insights found in most intelligence studies.

With the strategic planning season upon us, we figured we would provide some best practices regarding pricing studies and how to provide strong results.

Know Legal’s Opinion Before Developing a Pricing Strategy

Competitive insights often involve legal guidelines, but you must take particular care in choosing a pricing strategy. In many instances, these projects have very black and white responses you should know.

One of the biggest concerns with capturing pricing is related to antitrust laws. These laws prevent organizations from artificially aligning prices based on competitive price matching or direct/indirect collusion. While pricing studies do not directly allow an organization to participate in this activity, you should make efforts to ensure the pricing strategies you develop are independent of just competitive activity.

In most cases, legal departments raise concerns when pricing gets directly captured from competitor organizations versus dealers and distributors. As a result, rules of engagement may change based on your legal department’s viewpoint.

Knowing this before you get started helps save you from project delays.

Heavily Consider External Partners for Collection

We strongly suggest using an external partner during the pricing strategy consulting process. Not all CI requires external partners, but the unique nature of pricing, the data you are capturing and the sheer volume of most requests almost always requires external resources.

Partners also provide skillsets that internal CI functions don’t always maintain, and they provide the workforce needed to generate the volume of price points desired. Because it is quantitative data, the number of price points matters. In most cases, one competitive dataset is not enough to make a decision.

Don’t Boil the Ocean — Focus on Essential Parts

Organizations all too often start a price assessment with “give me as much as possible.” Even if this was cost-effective, it does not necessarily make the project doable. In many cases, there is a balancing act in how many separate data points research can realistically capture in a moment.

To help narrow the focus — and often the cost — get internal stakeholders to focus on the critical parts that mean the most to the company. It is unlikely that you need to evaluate every hex bolt sold. Instead, consider capturing pricing on the following:

  • Key profit drivers for the business — especially if competitors are offering new, less expensive solutions.
  • Take a look at critical products, components or services that generate other related sales. For example, you may buy a piston gasket for an engine, but the piston itself is driving the purchasing decision.
  • Focus efforts on products already on the market versus brand-new. In many cases, new products won’t have many competitor price points available (certainly aftermarket alternatives).
  • Examine products, parts or services that don’t change much from country to country. This means that price data points can have wider applications than just one market. These are increasingly rare, but most organizations have a core offering. The more you understand about that core offering, the easier it is to draw conclusions about pricing in other markets.

It’s Not Just About the Data

Don’t just make pricing research about the data. Focus on the sales process, value proposition and other factors involved in a purchasing decision. Pricing plays a huge role in most decisions, but not every one of them. Make sure to ask about lead times or why customers buy. These are critical parts to understand when developing a competitive strategy.

In at least half of the studies we execute, we find that competitors offer a service, experience or value to the sales process that plays a role in decision-making.

Realistic Timelines

Price assessments take time.

It is easy to think that sales representatives are quick to provide pricing. But in most cases, they have to balance requests from known and unknown entities — and research from less-well-known organizations takes more time. Proactive Worldwide can capture some pricing within a matter of days, while we measure most in weeks of time and effort.

This is especially the case in global studies where cultures often dictate how pricing is communicated and what process is required to get a quote. Countries such as Japan and Korea can be notoriously slow at responding to price requests. Several markets in South America can take considerable time as well due to the large territories that organizations represent. The more time you have available, the better the results.

Purchasing Process Dictates Project Challenges

When thinking about capturing price points, think about the sales process your organization has and what is involved in getting to a price. This will provide you with a complexity preview of the request as well as how long engagement will take. If the product is a commodity, pricing could be relatively quick. But if the product is sold to only one company in the world or only 10 of them are sold each year, capturing pricing can be very challenging and timely.

Put yourself in the shoes of a customer and walk through the process with sales before executing a pricing assessment. Also, don’t get discouraged by the process. There are many workarounds and alternatives, but it should give more realistic talking points with stakeholders and any external partners you have.

Consider Multiple Pricing Strategy Consulting Methods

There are many ways to capture pricing insights, including customer interviews, scraping technology, panels and secret shopping.

Pricing research often has a direct impact on an organization’s pricing and product strategies and influences revenue and profitability outcomes. With the few tips above, you will find that pricing insights can enhance decision-making and your functional capabilities.

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How to Execute a VOC Perception Study

VOC Perception Study

Perception studies are becoming go-to research methods that enhance competitive intelligence by including customer perspectives in a particular discussion. In most cases, leadership wants to know what competitors are doing, but customer perceptions can be just as important if not more so. As CI functions look to offer additional capabilities and perspectives, voice of customer (VOC) studies seeking customer perceptions are key.

We wanted to provide some best practices to CI, marketing, R&D and other functions looking to execute VOC perception studies. These tips will help increase the impact perception studies can have, as well as provide unique competitive insights.

Methodology

Most voice of customer studies have three to four primary methods of research — online, recruitment-basead, panel-based and focus groups. There are alternatives such as mail or email, but these are largely less effective. In fact, we believe you should only conduct perception studies using methods that engage the respondents versus a more passive approach, such as online surveys.

VOC perception studies require probing. They require expert interviewers speaking with a respondent and probing why, how and what is next. This is hard to execute via methods that utilize survey questions static in nature. This, of course, adds to the investment needed, but a poorly conducted perception study can actually make a situation worse.

Our preferred method is using recruitment-based research — that is, going and finding the best sources to engage with. Panels and focus groups are effective as well, but they often suffer from too-small sample sizes or the target audience is so unique that a panel is not likely available. We offer all three solutions.

Suggested Scope of a VOC Study

If engaging respondents via human interaction is the plan, we suggest a survey 15 to 20 minutes in length. Most of our research staff can execute 30-minute discussions with little pushback, but this requires highly skilled interviewers who know how to drive a conversation without steering the results.

Most of our research covers the following topics:

  • Who do they know in the industry?
  • Who are they using in the industry today?
  • What do they know about the client organization?
  • What do they know about the competitive landscape?
  • Any key strengths and weaknesses.
  • Questions regarding improvement and prioritization of those points of feedback.

We blend a mix of open-ended and closed-ended questions to create balance and ensure the survey does not turn into an hour-long discussion during our voice of customer consulting services. Hour-long discussions are possible but often require incentives, and the ROI is not always there. Just because someone talks for an hour does not mean what they have to say is relevant or meaningfully different.

Quota Size

This is one of the largest variables in any voice of customer study. There are multiple schools of thought on what is needed. Most projects we execute involve B2B perception research and don’t always require statistical validity.

Many people want statistical validity, but when it comes to the price tag, that desire quickly goes out the window. In many cases, VOC studies don’t always need statistical validity — the focus must be on how balanced the quota is to the different respondents and ensuring there is enough opportunity to see differences. As the research comes in, the goal is to evaluate the responses and see if there is a clear story developing and how the recruiting process ensures balance in the types of respondents.

One reason to consider an external partner for research is to make sure that, when a perception study is executed, the list of sources interviewed is not only filled with respondents who have only favorable perceptions of the brand. Internal functions often try to execute these projects,but when it comes to finding respondents, they get a list of respondents hand-selected by sales functions that are naturally more positive about your company’s brand.

Deliverable

The emphasis on deliverables for VOC perception studies is a narrow executive summary that covers key takeaways and implications. The key areas we suggest you have in an executive summary include:

  • Breakdown of demographics of the survey — including who the respondents are, how many answered, etc.
  • Key findings and top takeaways. These are short and to-the-point. In most cases, they may not have graphs or charts. It’s simply “what the research means.”
  • Comparisons of performance between your organization and competing brands. This is where the graphs start to show up. What are the key positive and negative outcomes?
  • Suggested next steps or areas to focus on improvement initiatives. This is key — executives want ideas and suggestions. Ideally, you are working with groups impacted by the results and will develop suggested courses of action alongside them. This builds ownership and prevents projects from becoming “political.”

Most executive summaries should be shorter than five pages — ideally three, but this can be tough when you include graphs.

Frequency

Most of our clients execute these projects annually for large programs or simply ad-hoc when considering changes to the strategy, tactics or product or service in question. Seeing how perceptions change can be a great outcome as well, but you need time. When executing a study that focuses on change — i.e., “How did perceptions evolve once changes were made?” — we often try to contact at least 50% of the same respondents from the previous study.

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Win/Loss Program Best Practices

Win/Loss Analysis

Win/loss assessments have become a critical input to organizations for their strategic and tactical planning activities. These unique inputs are designed to provide executives with evidence-based insights on what the organization is doing well and where shortcomings exist in an ideally unfiltered manner. “Unfiltered” is often the key requirement for a successful win/loss analysis. All too often, organizations tend to brush off critiques of a product, solution, initiative or offering whether it’s because of politics, internal turf wars or a belief that leadership does not want to hear bad news.

This is why win/loss analysis consulting from external partners can be a beneficial exercise, if not a required one. To assist, we wanted to provide some thoughts on best practices in win/loss programs we use as part of our projects. We feel they are valuable to any organization.

Ask the Tough Questions

In this era, organizations often use very simple online surveys to execute win/loss assessments. We largely believe these fail at providing the detail needed to tell a coherent story. Using basic online surveys also creates an easy scenario for people not to ask tough questions. Why? Because things often sound worse when you read them. When people read, our interpretation of tone in the message is often biased based on our own expectations and experiences.

As a result, it is common for tough questions to get watered down or even removed from win/loss assessments to make it more palatable when in reality it simply reduces the chance of getting real answers.

When you are executing a win/loss assessment, consider the following:

  • Add a balance of positive and critical questions and seek balance in when and how you present the questions.
  • Asking tough questions often means engaging with customers live. Try to avoid short or basic win/loss assessments. Truncated surveys can provide a false reality. By engaging customers with real people, you can control the tone and method of presenting tough questions and it is easier to get careful but honest answers and critiques. The goal is not to change the narrative, but effective researchers can provide a neutral voice that allows the story to come out.
  • Allow the researcher or partner to modify the language as needed. In most instances, they know how to present a question without influencing the results.
  • Make sure the most critical questions in the win/loss analysis are not watered down or designed to paint a positive image. Win/loss engagements are designed to find the truth. Sometimes clients like to take a question such as, “What do you dislike about working with company A?” and change it to, “What can we do better to serve your needs?” These do not ask the same question. We want to know which negative sentiments exist.

Involve Those Impacted Early

If a win/loss analysis may impact a function or team, allow them to be a part of the process and start early. You can use outputs to fight internal politics and battles that research functions may or may not always know. Approaching functions with a win/loss concept early, explaining how you will use it and the impact it can provide early on can build trust behind the process.

This step also allows them to provide recommendations and be a part of the process versus “the victim” of it. This improves ownership and ultimately ensures the results are not only heard but also embraced.

Be Transparent

The worst thing you can do when starting a win/loss analysis consulting initiative is to not fully explain how you will use the results and what the process entails. This is a big issue. Sales functions are one of the most impacted groups of win/loss outputs. You need trust early as well as a feeling of safety to start a program with this function.

Outline all of the details — the survey, partner you’re using, reporting frequency, troubleshooting processing, target audience and how to handle critical feedback. Ideally, these will reduce the fear that programs can initially conjure up. This also sets a rule of engagement with leadership requesting the insight. Think of transparency as a charter or agreement between those asking for, and those who may be impacted by, a win/loss assessment.

Seek Direct Quotes

We have learned that no matter the piece of feedback, direct quotes go a long way. This is also why we suggest phone interviews versus cheap online solutions.

When a client sees a direct quote from one of our interviews, it can have a huge impact on the truth and importance of a win/loss analysis. Simply put, they are hard to deny. Quotes provide readers with the ability to hear a different voice or tone. It is hard to reject a finding when the quote is right in front of you. In some rare cases, we have even recorded discussions — with permission — and played excerpts for executives.

Another strategy we have used in providing quotes includes whole sections of a win/loss report that are simply quotes based on the question. We seek to balance positive and negative quotes to make sure that win/loss is not just about the losses or critical feedback.

Phone interviews are key to capturing this. In most cases, respondents don’t take the time to write in detail about what they experienced. They often cut corners and provide minimum feedback unless they are very unhappy with an outcome. When there is no one to probe on a piece of positive or negative feedback, there is no ability to learn about underlying concerns.

Develop Direct Communication to and From Leadership

Whenever possible, work directly with decision-makers on the output and presenting the results. This requires careful planning and wording, but this also ensures the story that needs telling is actually told!

When left to others, those impacted will water-down the results to spin them in a more positive light. Having a direct relationship with the leaders requesting the results and allowing the research partner or research function to provide an unfiltered look often has the highest impact.

Staying close to the customer on delivery is a critical step to creating a win/loss assessment that has an impact.

Provide Suggested Improvements

While we suggest a direct relationship with the leadership team asking for results, working with the impacted teams to provide a preview of the data as well as provide possible solutions — or have them provide suggested solutions — is hugely beneficial.

The surprise of negative feedback is one of the largest triggers for contention. It can set us up for embarrassment and rejection of feedback, and can also prevent meaningful discussions about causes or solutions. For win/loss assessments, none of these behaviors is desired.

Here are some tips on working with functions targeted in win/loss engagements:

  • Provide updates that allow them to be aware of potentially negative feedback and what that feedback is. Start with quotes early to build trust. Make sure there is a pattern, and it is not a reaction based on two interviews.
  • Provide them a copy of the report before the final leadership team. Indicate that you can’t change the outputs, but the timing allows for a response or solution to the critique.
  • Provide suggested solutions. No one likes to hear what they are doing wrong, and leaders are almost always looking for answers and suggestions. Better yet, work on a list of possible solutions to present with leadership together. This is a positive outcome all around.
  • If an output is likely to have strong pushback by functions targeted for win/loss assessments, consider having a section of the final report to provide rebuttals or disagreement. This is not an ideal approach, but if there is a battle to take place, it’s important to enable both sides to present their perspective in the open. This may help de-escalate the output emotionally and move toward finding and agreeing on resolutions.

Execute Routinely

Finally, remember to execute win/loss analyses routinely. We see most programs do it at a minimum of twice per year, but many are quarterly. No matter the frequency, stay committed and track the results.

Customers are routinely becoming less loyal to their providers, suppliers and partners as millennials take leadership positions. To that end, staying on top of customer perceptions is critical — and watching trends on a routine basis allows you to see problems before they escalate to drops in market share or customer retainment.

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Proactive Worldwide Will Present “The Sacrifice Line” at SIR Annual Conference October 2019

Schaumburg, Illinois, September 4, 2019
David Kalinowski, President
Proactive Worldwide President and co-founder David Kalinowski will present ideas about the threshold for making career and personal sacrifices in “The Sacrifice Line: Making Tradeoffs — in Research and in Life” at the SIR Annual Conference on October 22, 2019. Kalinowski’s presentation at the SIR 2019 Conference will take place from 8:05-9 a.m. and will cover the types of questions competitive intelligence (CI) professionals ask themselves when they make sacrifices and compromises in the business world.

At the conference, Kalinowski will discuss the most important factors to consider before making a sacrifice for a company, coworker or boss. Researchers and experts often make significant sacrifices to get the job done and ensure the customer receives the right service. Kalinowski argues people must know where to draw the line when it comes to sacrifices so they can effectively prioritize their own needs versus the needs of the other people in their lives.

While priorities can vary among different individuals, this presentation is designed to help them start thinking about the validity of their own expectations and those around them. This will ultimately give them the ability to make more confident choices in professional and personal situations. Kalinowski will share eye-opening ideas about how individuals can learn whether or not a sacrifice is worth it and how to use this knowledge to achieve their personal goals in life.

As the co-founder and President of Proactive Worldwide, Kalinowski supervises the company’s business decisions and transactions while making sure every operation runs smoothly. With 25 years in the CI industry, he has a wealth of experience in marketing and research leadership and has presented on related topics at a variety of venues.

The SIR Conference is a yearly event hosted by the Society of Insurance Research for insurance company representatives to learn and share ideas about new, relevant research and findings. This year’s two-day conference will take place at The Sheraton Charlotte Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Both days will feature a wide selection of different experts speaking about technology, investments, research insights and more that can help positively impact the industry. The SIR Conference allows insurance professionals to do more than just gain the latest information and insights — it also allows them to build a strong network consisting of working relationships with other companies and representatives.

About Proactive Worldwide

Proactive Worldwide is a company with a commitment to helping other businesses flourish using research and consulting expertise. The company’s use of scenario planning and competitive response modeling allows it to foster innovation and new marketing strategies so businesses can earn an edge on their competitors in the industry.

Proactive Worldwide offers a variety of services that extend to customer analysis, market and competitor intelligence, wargaming simulations and more. Contact us today if you have any additional questions about our services.

How to Develop a Strategic Business Plan

How to Develop a Strategic Business Plan

Dime-a-dozen strategic business plans carry dime-a-dozen results. When creating their organization’s long-term strategic priorities, too many leaders fall victim to templates lacking the substantive measures needed to steer toward a brighter business future — or any future, for that matter.

Worse, others may become overwhelmed with the perceived complexity of the task. Strategic planning’s onus of breaking abstract and lofty visions into measurable daily actions is straightforward in theory, yet time-consuming and resource-intensive in practice, no matter what the leading management theories say.

There is a better way to create a strategic business plan tailored to your organization’s DNA, one that’s devisable, deployable and — ultimately — value-additive for your authentic enterprise growth.

How to Create a Strategic Business Plan: The Foundation

Foundations of Strategic Business Planning

Several terms illustrate the core tenets of a strategic business plan.

  • Vision: What do we want our company to look like in one, two, five, 10 years? In other words, what ideal successes, accomplishments and accolades do we want to develop a reputation for?
  • Focus areas: How can we get where we want to be? What high-level feats or domains do we want to accomplish that’ll lend a long-term competitive advantage?
  • Objectives: How will we scaffold those goals? What substantial start-and-stop activities pave the foundation for a successfully forged focus area?
  • Initiatives: What everyday projects and operations will help us gradually achieve our objectives? How will we translate high-level ideas into a set of everyday, operational projects?
  • Outcomes: How will we know we’ve completed an objective? How will we track, measure, benchmark and report KPIs across initiatives?

Creating a strategic business plan means developing a template that implements these concepts, then communicates them with all relevant business stakeholders.

Where to Begin When Building a New Business Plan

We’re all familiar with the two-day retreat booked off-premises the one where business leaders meet, drink coffee and prepare the official annual strategic plan before returning to their offices to commence business as usual. That concept is inherently flawed, because it’s impossible to master business maturity in two days.

Business Strategic Planning Steps

The most successful business strategic plans take shape gradually, initiated after a series of competitive intelligence, market research and qualitative analysis benchmarks where your organization is now — versus where it can go.

1. Perform Intelligence-Based External Assessments

 Competitive Intelligence Assessments

Market research reveals various angles to your organization’s current strengths, weaknesses and risk categories. It also compares your operations and structures to competitors in your industry, providing authoritative and data-backed analyses to benchmark capacities.

Without conducting any prior competitive intelligence, your strategic plans have no roadmap designating where your business currently operates and where it strives to go.

Consider any of the following competitive intelligence strategic research before creating any official plan documents.

  • Scenario planning: Scenario planning presents a broad, yet methodical, range of circumstances that may agitate your business operations and endeavors. These include industry and market disruptions, competitor breakthroughs, technological advancements and even geopolitical instances that could affect your industry, allowing you to plan accordingly.
  • War gaming: War gaming is a set of guided role-playing exercises where organizations immerse themselves into the business models of their top competitors. Businesses can then better preempt the actions and strategies of those competitors, using briefings, market data and additional resources to get ahead of the opposition.
  • Competitive profiling: Competitive market assessments see the most productive results through partnering with a strategic planning and market research firm. These firms deliver customized reports that detail your relative competitive position compared to others in the market, therefore empowering smarter investments and resource allocation to detect blind spots, close gaps and establish new opportunities — the goal of any robust strategic plan.

2. Select a Business Strategy Framework

Business Strategy Framework

Business strategy frameworks help document the perceived value you provide your customers. More importantly, they detail how you deliver that value — cataloging the products, policies, procedures, personnel and more that make up the anatomy of your operations.

You cannot implement a successful strategic plan altering the course of your business’ future without first pausing to know where you are: your strengths, weaknesses, past performances, etc.

Organizations assess their DNA through one of many strategic planning frameworks:

3. Institutionalize Performance Measuring

Business Performance Measuring KPI Assessment

Organizations must implement the infrastructure needed to manage, support and refine KPI measurements.

Without such technologies and systems, your organization has no way to hold itself accountable for any initiatives devised under the strategic plan.

Performance measurements for a strategic plan should:

  • Be valid and verifiable
  • Measure a specific value or business unit
  • Inspire desired employee outcomes or behaviors
  • Aggregate simply and intuitively, unburdening employees from undue manual data collection practices
  • Ultimately answer specific, strategic questions guiding decision-makers toward improved business plans

Best Practices to Create a Successful Strategic Business Plan

Strategic Business Plan Best Practices

There is no objective, “one-size-fits-all” business planning model. Strategic plans must be hand-drawn to the organization spearheading it, with steps, inputs, outputs and procedures as distinct as your handprint.

There are, however, a series of fundamental variables that must guide ideas from abstract to implementable. Follow these best practices to set the stage for more actionable, intelligent and executable strategic business plans.

1. Appoint a Cross-Functional Strategic Planning Team

A genuinely cross-functional team contains representatives from every major business department within your organizational structure. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Production
  • Operations
  • Human resources
  • Financial planning and accounting
  • Research and development
  • Purchasing
  • IT
  • Compliance
  • And more

Ensuring all departments have a seat at the strategic planning table is the only way to account for the nebulous perspectives, processes, pain points and priorities that make up the daily operations of a business.

2. Identify Your Primary Focus Areas

Focus areas are the defining goals of your strategic plan. Think of them as a strategic plan’s north stars, the loftier tenets of your plan guiding the upcoming smaller list of pre-planned, individual objectives, initiatives and measurement KPIs. As separate efforts see completion, you step closer toward accomplishing the focus area.

The average strategic plan will contain anywhere from three to six focus areas prorated across three to five years. Those focus areas themselves will waterfall into half a dozen to a dozen concentrated objectives.

It’s essential to have a cross-functional leadership team devise primary focus areas as early as possible, using organizational values as their compass. These focus areas set the stage and will trigger the formation of more granular objectives and initiatives down the road, harmonizing short-term activities with the cited long-term vision.

3. Translate Objectives Into S.M.A.R.T. Goals

S.M.A.R.T. goals have been in the business lexicon for decades. The popularity and continued deployment of this framework is a testament to its nature, which takes abstract and often intangible focus areas and scaffolds them in practical actions, otherwise known as objectives.

S.M.A.R.T. goals have the following components.

  • Specific: The goal pertains to a single topic, domain or interest.
  • Measurable: The goal has a quantitative perimeter.
  • Actionable: It’s possible to initiate the goal with your organization’s current capacities.
  • Reasonable: The goal is logical for your market position, resources and values.
  • Timely: The goal has a deadline.

Begin cataloging each of your focus domains into one- to two-sentence S.M.A.R.T. objectives. For example, let’s say your organization selects “Financial growth: increasing gross revenue” as a focus area. The S.M.A.R.T. objective of that focus area may then be, “Experience three consecutive monthly recurring revenues of $100,000 within the next 12 months.”

4. Review Budgets

Budget forecasting must run tangential to strategic planning.

In particular, the planning team must begin to consider current versus prospective resource allocation, given the priorities outlined in the S.M.A.R.T. objectives.

You don’t have to funnel every last dollar toward strategic planning goals, yet you should still set up a system that tracks current budget requirements, trends and spend strengths and weaknesses to inform better resource allocation along the plan’s three- to five-year timetable. Reviewing financial allotments during annual and even quarterly budgeting cycles may not cut it when it comes to intelligent strategic planning.

5. Include Relevant Departments and Employees to Cascade Specific Initiatives

Too many strategic plans fail due to siloed departments and unstructured communications. Representatives on the strategic planning committee must make it a priority to collaborate with their teams to relay all relevant focus areas, S.M.A.R.T objectives and budget reprioritizations.

This best practice also allows objectives to transform into their next progression: initiatives. Initiatives will be the micro-projects, action items and process changes executed at the departmental level that, eventually, deliver on the S.M.A.R.T objective. In short, it’s the actual, daily operational changes that will bring about strategic transformation — the mini “sprints” that complete the strategy marathon.

Employee ideation and feedback are imperative here. These are the individuals in the thick of your operations. You can only successfully realize tactical goals when they align with the everyday lived reality of your workforce — which you only aggregate if you rope them in.

Take the objective from earlier: “Experience three consecutive monthly recurring revenues (MRRs) of $100,000 within the next 12 months.” Interdepartmental insight may scaffold a series of initiatives to reach this MRR target, including the following.

  • Production: Reduce the average cycle time of per-unit production from 30 minutes to 25 minutes.
  • Accounts receivable: Reduce the average order transaction processing time from five minutes to three minutes by implementing more automated authorizations.
  • Sales: Increase upsell rates by 15% among repeat customers.
  • Marketing: Roll out a new A/B test strategy on key sales pages.
  • Sales, marketing, production: Offer a new upmarket service line, subscription or product package.

6. Don’t Forget to Assign Key Performance Indicators to Every Initiative

Performance measurements communicate progress on objectives to teams and stakeholders alike. For every objective outlined under each focus area, you may devise multiple KPIs giving qualitative, expressive measures on the development of that objective — in turn relaying granular feedback on what’s succeeding and what needs more focus.

Structure your strategic planning KPIs to include the following.

  • A measure: The unit of progress for a business action item.
  • A benchmark: Outside market or industry data to compare KPIs to — and one of the many reasons to perform routine competitive analyses.
  • A data source: The system you use to aggregate and store data.
  • A report frequency: The amount and means by which you share KPI data.

7. Create a Strategic Plan Dashboard Accessible to All

Strategic planning dashboards create a visual representation of the strategic business plan, complete with every initiative, input and process change, as well as what objective they’re under. They most often live within an employee-accessible project management tracker or strategy management software.

That representation is cohesive, yet comprehensive. It serves as the project management-like repository for every component building up to the core focus areas of the strategic plan, while also creating a breadcrumb trail of accountability and workflows.

8. Continually Evaluate Performance Data

KPI reviews are an ongoing endeavor, not a one-and-done activity by a sole team member. In the strategic management maturity model, organizations which execute frequent and fluid KPI evaluations move closer to the fifth and highest level of business maturity evolution, continuous improvement.

Regular performance data reviews also empower organizations to refine initiatives they initially forecasted to contribute to an objective’s completion, but are proving to underperform. The earlier organizations spot these data discrepancies, the sooner they can take steps to put the strategic plan timeline back on track.

9. Prioritize Downstream Communication Before Plan Changes

If KPI analysis reveals any gaps or discrepancies, funnel them back into the initiatives occuring in the micro-environment. Before implementing them, though, department leaders must communicate these adaptations as well as their KPI-driven logic to their teams, ensuring buy-in and smooth re-implementation of the redefined action items.

Remember, your entire strategic plan — with its focus areas, objectives and building-block initiatives — takes shape across years, not months or weeks. Frequent departmental status meetings may seem like an endless game of management-employee ping-pong, but they are essential to keep your strategic plan execution on track.

Select change communication strategies that fit your organizational culture and structure:

  • Granular departmental strategic planning meetings reviewing KPIs and new initiative directions
  • One-on-one meetings between managers and team members
  • Department-wide email memos and reviews
  • Reports from project management offices or the office of strategy management, within project management software or similar digital strategy platforms

10. Consider Ongoing Accountability Efforts

Strategic planning consultants or firms provide a suite of services complementary to every stage of strategic planning.

Insights drawn from their research services are valuable to review before drafting a tactical business plan and during plan implementation, as well as when maintaining and managing business improvements in the post-objective achievement phase.

At their core, strategic planning firms profile clients’ strengths, weaknesses, growth areas, competitive differentiation opportunities and much more. They deliver quantitative and qualitative data that leverages superior strategic insights into:

8 Strategic Business Planning Tips to Adopt Today

Strategic Business Planning Tips

With its surgical ability to cut through the noise and establish shared goals, few initiatives harmonize people, processes and technology like intelligent strategic business planning.

The tenets of a strategic plan will naturally vary, yet several business planning best practices consistently boost implementation rates.

1. Strategic Thinking Is Not Strategic Planning

Which team member would you prefer to have: the long-term critical thinker with genuinely innovative ideas, yet rare follow-through, or the methodical practitioner, the one who goes above and beyond in their work ethic, but may not make vocal contributions to a strategic vision?

Lightbulb moments of tactical brilliance have a time and a place. However, ideas must walk the walk and talk the talk. Leaders must be able to translate focus areas into enterprise-enriching objectives with clear outcomes and performance measurements. Anything less merely spins the strategic wheels without traction.

2. Set up Feedback Channels

Strategic planning relies on the comprehension, participation and overall buy-in of downstream employees in every department. Make it clear you value their input. After all, these employees perform the everyday work across a plan’s implementation steps and initiatives, which are the building blocks to complete a strategic objective.

Create two-way feedback channels for staff to lend their thoughts and insights. Send out surveys to temperature-check the latest projects’ strengths, pain points and processes that may need adjustment. Encourage department and team leaders to conduct one-on-one sessions with their employees to garner feedback on the everyday reality of executing the strategic plans. These insights are invaluable in creating a smoother strategic planning pipeline, today and tomorrow.

3. Make Meetings Granular

Many organizations practice the default annual or quarterly strategic report. While these are vital presentations, ongoing strategic planning is more successful when holding smaller, more frequent meetings at the departmental and executive level.

These meetings should focus on only a handful of projects or initiatives, ones cascading toward a higher strategic objective — rather than just jumping to the abstract goals or reviewing the entire broad swath of the plan itself.

4. Adopt a Business Strategy, Then Worry About Making It Agile

Adaptable Business Strategies

Continuous business planning — compared to ad-hoc static or even structured, but reactive, planning— is the goal of many organizations. Standardized, ongoing planning allows organizations to change objectives on the fly without unraveling the strands of the entire plan.

Strategic planning must walk before it can run. Evolving up the strategic management maturity model into the continuous improvement category is a process that takes time, commitment, tweaks and recurring competitive market research to ground your business vision in reality.

5. Invest in Training

Schedule employee training at the onset of your strategic planning timelines. Doing so ensures the employees executing daily strategic initiatives are fluent and familiar with the tools they need to actually perform their roles.

Consider employee trainings for any of the following:

  • New technology integral to strategic initiative execution, including strategy management software or new project management trackers
  • New project workflows
  • New performance measurement trackers, reports and data systems
  • Any additional new infrastructure related to the execution of strategic priorities

6. Remember Your Customers/Clients

Customer insights inform some of the highest-value, propelling and profitable strategic priorities. Ensure your leaders aren’t putting the blinders on, creating insular objectives detached from real-world end users. Perform regular customer insight research such as voice-of-customer surveys and user experience syndications. You will enrich your short- and long-term plans as a result.

7. Integrate Continual Competitive Research and Market Assessments

Like voice-of-customer and user experience, competitive intelligence (CI) empowers businesses to create hyper-tactical and hyper-appropriate strategic objectives informed by market positions.

CI and strategic planning are like sparks and tinder. Data from CI and market analysis serves to ignite the very issues, gaps and opportunities a strategic plan remedies, including:

  • Articulating your current strong market segments
  • Pinpointing your top competitive threats
  • Identifying strategies to mitigate, if not beat, those threats
  • Narrowing paths and strategic choices to achieve competitive differentiators — e.g., the strategic plan

Partnering with a professional CI and market research firm yields the most robust — and actionable — research. These consultants create detailed profiles pinpointing exact strength and growth areas, then assist in creating milestone roadmaps that close those gaps and propel strategic action.

8. Keep Principles and Values First

Strategic planning is more organic and more primed for success when its objectives align with company culture. These values are the DNA of your company. Reference them when developing your short- and long-term strategies, and those strategies will be far more likely to stick.

Need a Map Through Your Business’ Strategic Maze?

Business Strategic Planning Consulting Firm

Explore Proactive Worldwide’s portfolio of strategic planning services.

Proactive Worldwide specializes in personalized research packages, deployment models and overall strategic planning consultancy and support for organizations that have had enough of shapeless strategic plans. By personalized, we mean personalized — no client receives the same pre-published market findings, data sets or regurgitated transformation templates.

Reach out when you’re ready to move beyond basic business strategy.

Proactive Worldwide Will Share Perspectives on “Social Media Monitoring and Analysis of Medical Conferences” at Pharma CI Conference September 2019

Schaumburg, Illinois, September 4, 2019

Proactive Worldwide Vice President of Health Care & Life Sciences, Aaron Derdowski, Ph.D., will share perspectives on applications of social media data for pharmaceutical companies at the Pharma CI Conference presentation entitled, “Social Media Monitoring and Analysis of Medical Conferences” on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2019. Derdowski will act as a representative of the company and hold a 35-minute session that morning, highlighting the capabilities of pharmaceutical companies to monitor social media activity about conference events and provide many user insights.

About the Session

Medical conferences provided by health care professionals and researchers have become more visible to the public than ever through the rise of online social media platforms. The internet gives an outlet for individuals to see new information that researchers provide and express thoughts and ideas about that information within the public eye.

Derdowski proposes that pharmaceutical companies can take advantage of the social media phenomenon for the betterment of the medical industry and communities everywhere. By using services to collect and analyze relevant social media data, industry leaders can learn more about reactions and influences of specific information along with the topics that users share and debate the most. Derdowski will then discuss the ways that companies can incorporate these strategies and make them effective tools for improving the industry.

Derdowski has an extensive education in multiple disciplines, including a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology as well as a background in university teaching and experience with scientific and medical writing. As an expert on research and client management for pharmaceutical companies with a variety of projects on his resume, he has the background to help him understand and discuss medical and pharmaceutical strategies.

This Year’s Pharma CI Conference

Derdowski’s presentation will be one of many held during the three days of this year’s Pharma CI USA Conference. This event is the largest annual conference and exhibition for competitive intelligence issues and developments facing the pharmaceutical industry today. Making room for the voices of a diverse group of international companies, the Pharma CI Conference is a place for these company representatives to meet and share ideas over sessions, workshops and networking events.

Dozens of informative insights on the latest competitive strategies in pharmaceuticals this year will strengthen the industry and help leaders make more effective business choices.

Working With Proactive Worldwide

Proactive Worldwide is a consulting firm for research and business strategy development with over 25 years of experience behind it. With clients leading many different types of industries, Proactive Worldwide offers services in scenario planning, competitive response modeling and more, based on insights and evidence gathered by the company.

At the Pharma CI Conference, the company will discuss the power of online tools to gather information about consumers. Proactive Worldwide representatives such as Derdowski make it possible for clients all over the world to market and serve individuals and communities with more effective technologies, predictions and planning. Contact us today for more information about our experience with competitive intelligence and strategic planning.

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