Armed for success: strategic planning will make you a winner in the battle for new business

Armed for success: strategic planning will make you a winner in the battle for new business – New Dimensions

Mike Butts

Even in today’s uncertain economic and political times, businesses must continue to operate and grow. We often hear the phrase “business is war,” and figuratively speaking this gives us a platform to reflect on what we–as business people–can learn from military training philosophies.

At a recent conference, I had the rare opportunity to hear a group of highly motivated military officers explain their mission planning techniques. I realized that developing a strategic business plan is like preparing troops for a combat mission. Within the corporate process, this means that if you lose sight of the opponent you easily can lose ground in the market. In military jargon that translates to: “lose sight–lose fight.” In essence, tactical military planning is a six-part process that analyzes every aspect of a particular task. Here are some specific examples of how you can apply it to your strategic operations to win the battle for new business.

1. Define the mission objective. You need dear, well-defined goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, and compliant with overall business objectives. Within this realm, you also need to know what resources are at your disposal and how quickly they can be deployed. In other words, everything must be quantified.

2. Identify all threats. In the military, this is called a “threat assessment exercise” You need to outline the competition’s arsenal and how it may be used to thwart your plans. You probably know who your competitors are, but have you studied their strengths? Have you completely surveyed your customers, and do you know how they feel about your competition?

3. Identify all support assets. These are competitive by-products of your supplier and vendor relationships, such as on-site training programs for both employees and customers, marketing and advertising support, and product ordering and purchasing options. You need to determine how they can translate into business weapons.

4. Identify company capabilities. Human resources is key here, and well-trained employees in the right jobs are your greatest assets. Available infrastructure is another component of your capabilities, and you must take inventory of your company’s physical assets, from delivery trucks to store fixtures. Look at space utilization, inventory control and management, delivery practices, order picking and loading, computer systems, administrative support, etc. The list may seem endless, but the task is critical. Don’t give up.

5. Establish a time frame. Each mission must have a start date and a timeline for reaching defined goals. This revolves around prioritizing the tasks at hand. If you have a complete and unbiased baseline of your company and its capabilities, you can more easily prioritize specific plans. In this regard, a flawless execution model is dependent on a balanced approach to business. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The best salesperson will be totally ineffective unless the driver gets the loads to the jobsites complete and on time.

6. Plan for contingencies. This means contemplating the ultimate “what-if” scenarios. What will you do if your best salesperson gets sick midyear and is out of work for two of your prime selling months? What about situations that you can’t prepare for, such as weather or environmental issues? Your goal here is to make sure that unforeseen changes don’t derail your business plans.

Every mission is possible with the right approach–one that’s structured but also flexible enough to combat the ups and downs of the market, meet your competition head on, and overcome unexpected challenges.

Mike Butts is the vice president of the Michigan Lumber and Building Materials Association. 517.394.5225. E-mail:

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