The easiest way to become an efficient planner is to think like a chess player: (1) support the overall strategy by every move you make, (2) copy past successes but be creative, (3) think ahead to anticipate every possible move and (4) take back a move if it's not working.
(1) Support the overall strategy. One of the most important things to check when it comes to planning is consistency. Every chess move contributes to the overall gameplan. Always ask yourself: does the suggested step jive with the strategy?
Here's one case (disguised for confidentiality's sake): to achieve its marketing objective, one Central European kitchenware producer decided to position its products as the most durable available. This was a big step as previously they tried to compete on prices alone. Now, "durability" had to impregnate every part of their marketing plans: pricing - give lifetime guarantee; product - use thicker steel; promotion - communicate durability by mentioning company's reputation for long-lasting products; distribution - sell to dealers with capacity to guarantee product displays in stores. The results? The company is gradually building share on the way to becoming long-term leaders in their category.
(2) Be creative. Most times, it's best not to reinvent the wheel. If it worked before, it will work again. But it is also effective to infuse a new idea into an established one. Chess players spend their lives studying and reapplying exact moves from past games, while injecting slight variations to obtain advantage and win again.
Here's a solid case. The product assortment of one Central European household plastics producer had grown to over 150 variants. The problem: this information was presented to customers on one agonizingly long laundry list of products and prices. Why? Because competitors did the same. Imagine the results: confused consumers and stores; spotty distribution; disorganized product displays. If this company wanted to win they needed to alter their approach, enter a slight variation. They reorganized their list of products and prices into smaller sub-categories, specifically by rooms of the house. This simple concept led to more logical production and sales efforts since this was how consumers and stores were thinking about the business anyway. Outcome? Easier for stores and consumers to buy. Easier for the company to sell. Within three years, overall company sales doubled.
(3) Anticipate every move. In chess, you need to think many moves ahead, and do so in line with your overall gameplan. You're never quite sure how the game will proceed but you have to anticipate and be ready. Not doing so means losing. The same applies to marketing.
Let's continue with the above case. This same producer of household plastics was an entrepreneurial success story. From selling plastic wheels for tables out of the trunk of his car, one man built a $10 million annual business in the absolutely right category for any emerging market - good looking, functional product at a relatively low price.
Now, correct business but less-than-proper planning caused 60 percent of sales going to one exclusive export buyer who later began to tighten the screws by dictating terms. Profits were squeezed. What to do? Develop its domestic business immediately. By organizing products by categories, along with strengthening its sales efforts, the company tripled domestic sales in three years, relieving export pressure and helping profits. Anticipating could have avoided this crisis effort to fix the business.
(4) Take the move back. On the Junior High School Chess Team, one teammate consistently won against me. I would make a silly move, then continue to play forth... and lose. One day, I asked what I should have done. He said, "If the move doesn't work, try to take it back the next time."
A casein point: I recently worked with one consumer products company in Eastern Europe. Their objectives and strategies were sound: getting the business up and running quickly to achieve leadership. The plans were good: establish the office, hire good people, set up procedures for ordering, shipping and marketing the product. One problem, though - they ignored a key element in the equation, which is training people, and especially salespeople, to do their work.
Beautiful buildings and elaborate programs are destined to fail if salespeople don't know how they work or how to use them. The product was sitting in dealer warehouses. Sales results were below plan.
What to do? Take the move back. Literally, start from scratch with the salespeople. Call them into the office for intense training which they should have received when they were hired. Train them until it hurts. The company did exactly that. Results? Within a short time some salespeople were starting to achieve plan. Most were expected to do so in the near future.
So think chess to plan properly: support the overall strategy, be creative, think ahead, and go back when needed. One final thought - assume it takes twice as long to plan well and always allow yourself extra time.
"Marketing in the Trenches" appears monthly. Next month's column will focus on "Doing: Ready, Fire, Aim." Stewart Glickman is an international consultant currently based in Moscow. Tel: 007-095-265-4745. Fax: 007-095-265-4754.
17. Jul 1997 at 0:00 | Stewart Glickman