Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” As we shake off the dust of 2020 and look ahead to better days in 2021, a written plan can help you take advantage of key market opportunities. Research shows that teams who set goals improve performance by 20-25%
What strategies should you focus your efforts on this year? As just one example of a way to kick start your plan, consider the fact that the move to work from home (WFH) last spring caused a dip in office print volumes, and a shift from office-based printing to printing at home. Many remote workers were using their own personal printing devices for their hard copy needs while working at home. Telework is expected to continue for a good portion of this year, and a significant portion of the workforce will remain remote even after the pandemic ends.
What possibilities does that information offer when it comes to formulating a plan?
Why bother with planning?
After 2020 showed us that flexibility should be our best-honed and most important business skill, you may wonder, why bother with business planning? One recent roundup of key findings from several college research projects about business planning reported:
- Businesses that take time to plan grow 30% faster than competitors without strategic plans
- 71% of fast-growing companies (growing more than 92% year over year) have written plans
- Businesses with plans are more likely to receive funding
- Starting your planning process before talking to customers or beginning marketing efforts reduces the likelihood that your company will fail
Don’t get caught up in thinking your plan needs to be long, or in worrying about the quality of available market research. These two things are far less important than actually taking the time to monitor and understand your market, set specific goals and track your results against targets over time.
Three steps to get you started
If you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed, why not start with just your first quarter sales and marketing plan? Here are three simple steps to help you get started:
Identify your target markets. A target market is one where you see strong growth potential and a good match between your offering and customers’ needs. Most businesses choose to target just two or three specific customer groups in order to most effectively utilize resources; however, you may decide you can effectively address as many as four or five. As you identify your targets, think about those likely to benefit from process automation, remote work support and cloud as we move into 2021.Consider the following to help determine which markets are right for your business:
- Which segments show the strongest growth potential? (Rely on analysts or get expert advice to determine.)
- Which of your messages and strategies worked best this past year — especially during the pandemic? How might you improve on and continue to execute those strategies going forward?
- Which was your most successful customer acquisition in 2020? Beyond revenue, why was this opportunity unusually well executed? Are they similar to other businesses in their industry?
Plan how you’ll win target accounts. While identifying target markets is a good place to start, strategic planning is incomplete if you do not dive into sales at the account level. In reviewing your current pipeline, which opportunities are “must wins” for your company in the first quarter? How will you close each one?
Then figure out who in your existing customer base you’ll target for upsell opportunities in 2021. How will you execute those campaigns? Is there a specific remote work-related product offering they’d find helpful? Identify your upsell accounts, messages, and strategies to reach them as part of your Q1 marketing and sales plan.
Finally, as you consider the target markets you’ve already identified, are there specific companies in those markets with whom you want to do business? How will you reach out? What messages will you use to attract their attention and close a sale? If you’re able to approach these target accounts with on-point messages and a solid value proposition, you’ll increase your chances for success, so don’t neglect this part of your analysis!
Identify your communication plans. In the last step of your sales and marketing planning, you should consider specific tactics for getting the word out to potential customers. In almost two decades in the industry, I’ve found this to be the area most neglected by small business owners, so take some time to get it just right. Be careful of simply following the crowd, as many “hot” messages are becoming saturated and are losing their appeal for business buyers. Today’s marketing options are varied and complex, and each comes with a price tag, so take a look at the marketing support your hardware and software vendors can provide. Many offer re-brandable artwork, campaigns, content marketing pieces, cooperative incentives and more to help you in these efforts, and this support can be an invaluable shortcut to getting you started with very high-quality materials.
If you don’t have marketing expertise on-staff, this is a great area to consider consulting help. Just be sure to carefully vet your options to work with an individual with a proven track record of success with similar companies and a willingness to agree to specific, measurable results as part of their contract.
None of us wants to plan to fail, and none of us needs to anticipate business troubles in 2021. The need for information management technologies is very strong in our pandemic-altered business environment. Take some time in the first quarter to figure out who your target markets and accounts will be this year and how you’re going to reach out to them to engage and close new business. Why not plan to succeed?