News flash to all CEO’s. Gone are the days of the 5 year strategic plan. While market-leading companies still typically possess a strategic road map, SBI’s research shows that they have shifted, they have adopted a new motion. We refer to it as “Agile Go To Market Planning”. Fundamental to it is the most basic, but difficult lesson to learn in the discipline of planning – speed is your friend.
A common response we heard during the 4,300+ executive interviews we conducted over the past 12 months was “we have a strategic plan and know how we go to market”. But there is a huge difference between strategy and execution. Our research found there is one significant indicator that stood out between market leaders and market laggards – the ability to rapidly and effectively translate strategy into execution.
And by execution, we do not mean a series of uncoordinated and disparate tactics. Rather, to SBI and to market leaders, execution is a scalable, repeatable, data driven motion that has operational interlocks from a CEO’s corporate strategy to the operating plans of the revenue-generating functional leaders.
As an example of what good looks like in regards to your functional leaders operating plans, download our Winning Sales Strategy Checklist and compare the content against current practice by the sales leader in your organization.
The Planning Hierarchy
This all sounds good and it is in theory. But what we often find is each functional leader off doing their own operational planning in isolation. No interlocks. No specific call outs for input and output. No performance KPIs. No tie to the overall GTM Strategy. I wrote about the critical importance of cross functional alignment and top warning signs that it doesn’t exist earlier this year. This type of chaotic and uncoordinated planning frenzy is the antithesis of agile planning. The antidote to this is purposeful coordination. And to know how that occurs, we must first understand the planning hierarchy.
- Corporate Strategy – Looks at the long range view. Its covers all functions in the business. Typically it is short in nature as its themes are broad. It deals with culture and establishes high level targets for growth, EBITA, operating ratios and financing.
- GTM Plan – Addresses specifically how the company will generate revenue. Will include organic and inorganic growth along with guidance from corporate strategy and / or investment thesis. Specifies geographic coverage, channels, competitive environment, product offerings and high-level organizational structure.
- Annual Operating Plans – There should be one per function (Marketing, Sales, Product, Talent, etc.). Each has multiple sub-plans; budget, territory, revenue, comp, staffing, etc. that are specific to the functional area and contain tactical execution items.
- Revenue Plan – The most important sub-plan produced by the Sales function. It captures how revenue will be generated and provides detail on revenue by segment, geography, channel and product. It also addresses the major levels of revenue generation – new logo, expansion via cross-sell or up-sell, pricing improvements and reduction of customer churn.
A New Approach To Strategic Planning
So what exactly is “agile” go to market planning that we referred to earlier and how do you implement it in your organization?
It is a combination of traditional strategic development with the rapid iteration of agile and the emerging discipline of functional interlock alignment.
The result is a three-step approach visualized below that includes an annual planning process, field execution and ongoing support:
There may be those who read this and doubt.
- Why this approach?
- Why not some other?
- Why adopt any formal approach at all, particularly if the business has been successful to date?
The answer to those reservations is simple – the research we conducted from over 4,300+ exectutives (CEO, CFO, CMO and CRO/CSO) across 58 industries demands it. Those businesses who are outperforming their immediate competitors and overall industry participants are using this planning approach. Those who are not, are not.
So assuming you want to be a market leader, follow this three step process:
Step 1: Validate Conditions. Validate market research and corporate strategy in Q3 so that you can understand changes in the market, industry, buyer, user, and competitor landscapes. Use this as an opportunity to compare how well their corporate strategy is performing against a set of productivity measures relative to investor or board expectations. Then update baselines to account for emerging trends that for the coming year.
Step 2: Functional Plans. Define the product, marketing, sales and talent functional strategies in Q4. They capture how the organization is going to address marketplace changes while enabling the company to achieve its corporate strategy. Once drafted, each Plan is reviewed with the other functional owners. What emerges is a priority list of three to five key integration points. These integration points become the KPIs that get measured going forward. Without alignment, the teams will not be working well together.
Step 3: Operating Cadence. In Q1, when the new strategies are put into action, adopt a periodic operating cadence (similar to the one below) to ensure execution happens and the teams stay in alignment.
- Functional leaders meet one-on-one to look for areas of misalignment.
- Functional leaders review KPIs and ensure the organization is on pace to achieve objectives. Address any bigger alignment issues that are unable to be addressed in the weekly meetings.
- CEO and functional leaders meet for a formal QBR (beginning in Q2), typically at the beginning of each new quarter. At the QBR, the executive team reviews strategic assumptions and determines if they have played out as expected. Each leader updates Annual Plans to reflect dynamic market conditions and address the alignment issues that resisted solutioning in the monthly meetings.
So, the offer to executive teams boils down to this: If you adopt this new planning approach, the result will be to leapfrog the competition. Not just catch up by closing the gap to industry standards. Instead, you can deploy people, money and time to implement emerging best practices of market leaders and end up ahead of those whom you now lag.
Net/net — for companies to grow faster than their industry and competitors, better planning and strategic interlock is critical.
Download the Winning Sales Strategy Checklist to utilize a checklist of various sales strategy best practices, read through questions on Segmentation, Planning, Engagement, Execution, and more, and answer “Yes” or “No” to grade your company on these best practices.
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