Is your company poised for success in 2023?
Lack of business planning and failure to align the leadership team are often cited as reasons that cripple the CEO’s vision and the company’s ability to achieve revenue growth. A comprehensive business plan is even more critical in today’s murky economy. A well-thought-out business plan is a game-changer for any company, especially startups looking to secure series B-C funding, or companies investing to double their annual recurring revenue from $50M – $100M. When executed correctly, these exercises empower the leadership team, drive clarity for decision-making, and accelerate sales.
Here’s how one CEO used business planning exercises to align the company and achieve a successful business outcome. The following is a true case study; the company’s name and details have been omitted to protect their privacy.
With stalled revenue growth, the CEO decided it was time to take a fresh, detailed look at the state of the company, its people, operations, and plans. While the company had been in existence for 10 years, future projections were unclear. When asked to review the departmental plans, he was met with blank stares and finger-pointing. It was clear to him that his leadership team needed help in figuring out how to move forward. This first step was to document what they knew for certain, and what they didn’t know.
Not only did Paul and Mike provide a structure for us to have a series of serious planning discussions, they kept the spotlight on us to ensure we kept our momentum. Their guidance on defining and aligning my team on our vision, mission, corporate strategy, portfolio strategy, and go-to-market plan resulted in our achieving a winning exit strategy. We could not have achieved this on our own.
A shared business Imperative
Internal silos created friction between the product, marketing, and sales teams. And, without a shared vision, confusion on priorities created internal frustration and resulted in low morale. Employees were busy, but not effective. He rallied his leadership team to hit the pause button and take part in a shared business imperative: building a cross-functional business plan that would answer four key questions:
- What is our vision (3-year horizon) and mission for the coming year?
- What guiding principles can we agree to use when setting the corporate strategy, departmental priorities, and investment decisions?
- What is our 1-2 year product portfolio strategy?
- What is our go-to-market strategy?
The CMO was named the executive sponsor of the business planning exercise. The head of each department was required to participate in each workshop. Each would be responsible for drafting their individual department plans that would cascade from these corporate exercises. This had never been formally done before.
There would be no finger-pointing, only shared responsibilities. The team would be measured on their ability to complete the exercises, align and agree upon the strategy, and then execute against it. Progress would be tracked monthly in leadership review meetings.
Hiring business planning experts
Because of distrust between some team members, the CEO brought in business planning experts to guide the process. He wanted an unbiased, non-political expert to pull his team together in order to achieve a shared outcome.
Four hands-on workshops were facilitated. Each focused on a specific deliverable that could be immediately put to use. This practical and pragmatic approach to business planning quickly gained steam.
Workshop 1: Crafting vision & mission statements
Most vision and mission statements are worthless because they are filled with self-serving imagery and ego (e.g., “We want to grow faster than other companies”) or overloaded with jargon. Instead, this workshop used a clever exercise to help the team look into the future: In three years our company will be on the cover of (magazine, news channel of your choice). What’s the cover look like? What’s the headline? What’s the story?
- A vision statement is a statement of vision – a look into the future. It is an articulation of a view of the world that your company and your people are working towards (it is not a list of tactics). As Simon Sinek advises, “Start with what you believe and why you do what you do.”)
- A mission statement explains how company leaders will work towards achieving their vision today, this year. Achieving the vision is an on-going effort. Mission statements are focussed on the immediate term.
Mock-ups of magazine covers were created and kept visible throughout the remaining exercises.
Workshop 2: Corporate strategy guidelines
Corporate strategy guidelines provide guardrails when making priority or investment decisions. When faced with limited resources (people, time, money), it is imperative to know which variables are most important. With the vision and mission statement now documented, a series of difficult questions could be raised and answered. Examples:
- Defining our differentiation: What primary value do we provide and how do we defend it?
- Market segmentation prioritization: Should we actively focus on multiple segments or only one?
- Market readiness: How do we ensure our products are ready for market?
- Competition: How do we balance our bookings target against competitive pressures? Must we address every move Competitor A makes?
- Operating under resource constraints: Are we focused or are we doing too much?
These are weighty questions. Wrestling with them now is a lot easier than doing so later or not at all.
Workshop 3: Product Strategy
Here, the product leaders were asked to present their roadmaps against the backdrop of the vision, mission, and guiding principles. Was there alignment? The product team also shared details of the PRD (product requirements documents) and how these played against the minimal viable product necessary for market entry or advancement.
Workshop 4: Go-to-Market Strategy
Led by the CMO, the go-to-market strategy exercise was focused on building a comprehensive Integrated Marketing Campaign strategy (capital “C”, not little c) fueled by the product strategy. The aim was to design a “rolling thunder” integrated marketing strategy that would establish or reinforce the company’s credibility. During the next 12 months, the marketing team would tell the company’s story with carefully designed and executed announcements and offers. All of which would be mapped to the buyer’s journey so that the content would be timely and relevant to target prospects. In this exercise, the Campaign Strategy focused on three supporting demand gen programs:
- Awareness and thought/leadership programs to build credibility in the market
- New customer acquisition programs to win new logos
- Nurturing the installed base pipeline programs for cross-sell and up-sell opportunities
Paul and Mike were great to work with! Through their leadership and facilitation, our teams were finally on the same page. We won several big deals, and the entire marketing plan was executed. This increased our company’s valuation.
Turning strategy into execution
With the four workshops completed and the output stitched together in a final document, the leadership team signed off. Alignment had been achieved. Execution of the product roadmap and go-to-market strategy began in earnest. The company streamlined activities with a new-found purpose. Because of laser-focused targeting, the product plan was refined, sales improved, and financials stabilized. This made the company suitable for acquisition, which was one of the targeted business outcomes the CEO was pursuing.
About the authors
Paul Lang is an experienced product and marketing executive with over 30 years of product and marketing expertise as part of the executive teams of a number of global leaders in the communications industry. With a range of finely honed skills across Strategic Planning, Product Marketing, Product Management, Go-to-Market Strategies and Digital Marketing Communications, he has a track record for bringing together strategy and execution.
Mike Gospe is a skilled marketing strategist acting as an Interim CMO helping B2B technology companies grow from $50M ARR to $100M ARR. He brings 37 years of marketing expertise and leadership experience across demand gen, product marketing, and brand disciplines. He is also a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) strategist, with more than 20 years of experience and 200+ advisory board meetings under his belt. His CAB Resource Center, a website sharing a variety of CAB strategies and best practices, has become a trusted resource for CAB managers and executive sponsors around the world.