First, a disclosure. I’ve been thinking about business planning lately for two big reasons: First, because it’s the sort of thing I’ve been doing for myself to get ready for 2008 and, second, because my new employer, SWOT Management Group, advocates business planning between vendor and channel partner as a means of improving field execution on both sides.
I’m a pretty anal person, generally, which means I get anxious when I don’t have my list of to-do items all figured out every morning. But, here’s the thing. I almost always diverge from that list, handling the really important real-time priorities that crop up during my day.
Does that my planning exercise is a waste of time?
In my instance, planning helps me visualize my ultimate goal (actually, goals). How I get there will be guided by my ability to switch directions as dictated by real-life conditions around me not by sticking to some check-off list (in this case dictated by myself).
I was debating this issue with Keith Norbie, director of the storage operations at reseller Nexus Information Systems, earlier this week. His frustration with business planning is that some of his vendors are so focused on propping up some individual product forecast that’s been mandated by their CFO that they don’t stop to understand what’s good for HIS business. It gets worse when he represents several different product lines for the same vendor.
Indeed, that’s what makes business planning tough. If both sides don’t stop to understand each other’s goals, it IS a waste of time.
So, if business planning is something one or more of your vendors requires, here are a couple of tips to help you get the most out of it without ceding your own independent business goals:
- Listen, and disclose. I think there’s a tendency on the part of many solution providers to withhold information from their vendor partners. I “get” why you do this. But the act of serious business planning will require you to share as much about your business objectives as legally possible.
- Insist on the same access to pipeline information and sales process training as your field sales representatives on the vendor side. Pretty self-explanatory, but sharing of knowledge goes both ways. If your vendor isn’t telling you something, then it’s time to think seriously about why and assess whether your commitment is worth it.
- Set measurable, realistic goals. Don’t let yourself get bullied into a goal you think you can’t reach. Make sure you stay on track by insisting on regular updates from both sides.
- Make someone accountable. Again, this goes for both sides. If someone on the vendor’s team isn’t invested in the success of the plan, you’ve gotta wonder about whether you should commit.
- Be willing to take a detour or two. Like I mentioned before, the best thing about having a goal is being able to focus on a certain outcome. Your preconception of how to get there may different from reality, so you need to be willing to course-correct.
Like Keith Norbie reminded me during our debate: A great plan with flawed execution makes for a flawed outcome. It’s the execution on your business plan objectives that really counts.
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist and a strategic channel communications consultant for SWOT Management Group. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.