Use this 5-step planning process to guarantee you focus your time and attention and reach your sales and marketing goals.
It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of building your startup and lose sight of what actions will have the most positive impact on your business.
This leads to wasted effort and slows down your progress.
It’s important you stop every so often, and ask yourself: “What do I want to achieve with my business development efforts and how will I get there?
You must decide where to focus your limited time and resources when implementing your sales and marketing actions.
This is called planning, and it’s often considered a ‘dirty word’ among startup founders who believe that the more time you spend ‘planning’, the less time you spend ‘doing.’
You can relax!
There’s no need to introduce the extreme planning that goes on in multinational corporations, where every scenario is analyzed a dozen times before they take action.
Instead, I recommend you create a ‘Simple Plan’ that fits onto two pages of a Word document, and on a single Excel sheet.
This will give you more than enough ammunition to create a clear path to your desired outcome.
In this guide, I share a 5-step process to creating a Simple Plan that guarantees you focus your time and attention and reach your sales and marketing goals.
WHY A PLANNING PROCESS IS CRITICAL TO YOUR STARTUP’S SUCCESS
Let’s start by clarifying why creating a Simple Plan is so important to your business success.
1. A plan clarifies what you want to achieve.
As you work through various options and identify which ones are most likely to succeed, you slowly realize what ‘good’ looks like.
This gives you a target to shoot for and strengthens your commitment to following through to see if what you’ve ‘imagined’ can become a reality.
2. A plan enables you to track your progress and adjust.
Once you decide what you want to achieve, it’s easy to compare where you are, to where you expected to be.
This way, you can adjust, so you get back on track quickly.
3. A plan helps you make better decisions.
One of the hardest things to do is say ‘no’ to opportunities that may take you away from your focus.
You’re never quite sure if you’re passing up something good.
A plan gives you the confidence to make the right decision and say ‘no’ more often because you have a clear picture of your desired outcome.
It also ensures you make decisions based on actual outcomes and data, and not on gut feeling alone.
4. A plan keeps you motivated.
Once you know what you want to achieve, you are more likely to overcome short-term setbacks.
A plan keeps things in perspective as you realize that while your vision may be quite clear, the road that leads your there will have plenty of bumps and unexpected curves.
MY 5-STEP PLANNING PROCESS TO SET AND REACH GOALS
I’ve made planning an important part of my personal and professional life since I was a teenager.
As a startup mentor and coach, I’ve adapted my experience with planning to my work with startup founders who want to build predictable, recurring revenues and scale their sales globally.
I’ve perfected a 5-step planning process that guarantees you’ll focus your limited time and resources on what matters and follow through effectively to reach your sales and marketing goals.
1. Identify your focus areas
Begin by identifying the most important focus areas of your business.
I find a startup founder’s focus areas usually fall into four categories:
- Product: technical features, service offering
- Sales & Marketing: outbound sales, partnerships, inbound marketing
- Organization: team, operations
- Other: any elements unique to your business or uniquely important to you. This may include fundraising, brand building, or industry recognition.
For each of these categories, write a brief description that determines what you want to achieve over the planning period.
- Product: Scalable product offering
- Sales & Marketing: Effective inbound lead generation
- Organization: Stronger in-house marketing skills
- Other: Successful VC fundraise
Your focus areas will evolve as your business evolves, so this might change from one planning period to the next.
What is in focus today will become a natural part of your business tomorrow.
If you’re new to planning, choose your focus areas for a 3-month period.
As your business matures, it will become more stable, which means you can plan for longer time periods.
You can transition to a 6-month, and eventually, 12-month planning cycle.
2. Set your financial targets
Setting financial targets can be a complicated and confusing process.
A Simple Plan calls for setting financial targets in four areas: revenues, costs, profit/loss, and profit margin.
How deep you get into each of these areas depends on your level of financial knowledge and experience.
My advice is to keep it simple and only add further layers of financial planning once you become comfortable with the process or as your business matures.
You can set financial targets from two perspectives: top-down and bottom-up.
1. Top-Down Approach
Analyze market trends, including publicly available information about the financial performance of your competitors, and make assumptions about your relative position in the market.
For example, you can determine the overall client spending on your niche in B2B technology services and forecast your market share.
Say you expect to have a 5% share of a 10 mil EUR market, then your revenue target will be 500,000 EUR.
This approach is more relevant for advanced businesses operating in a mature market, and less so for early-stage companies that are creating a new market for their products or services.
2. Bottom-Up Approach
Another way to determine your financial targets is to use bottom-up analysis.
When setting your revenue target, determine your revenue potential by client category, product or service category, or even down to specific clients or deals.
Say your average price per product is 10,000 EUR per year.
If you forecast that you can sell your product to 15 customers in the following year, you will generate revenues of 150,000 EUR.
The same principle applies to determining your costs, which you can do by broad category – e.g., office rent, salaries, marketing expenses – or on a line-by-line basis.
Once you’ve estimated your revenues and costs, you’ll be able to determine your year-end profit/loss and profit margin.
Break down your annual revenues and costs targets monthly, so you can get a clear idea of how you’re doing along the way to achieving your overall financial goals.
Compare your targets to previous years
Don’t forget to look at your previous period’s performance as a reference for determining your future targets.
As with any growing business, you should set targets that indicate your business will expand rather than stagnate or decline.
3. Determine your goals and KPIs
Now, you’re ready to set the goals and key performance indicators, or KPIs, for your planning period.
People often use goals and KPIs interchangeably, but there’s a difference.
A goal is an outcome you hope to achieve.
A KPI is a metric to let you know how well you’re doing as you progress towards your goal.
Set 1-3 goals for each focus area.
Any more than three goals per focus area will make your Simple Plan too complicated – so keep it simple!
More importantly, make sure each of your goals makes sense.
This means that achieving this goal will take you a meaningful step closer to reaching your ultimate outcome, or Destination.
What’s more, your goal should be achievable with reasonable effort and assuming nothing unexpected happens.
Use KPIs to make your goals measurable.
As legendary business thinker Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
KPIs help you measure your performance and make decisions based on data.
Some goals are easier to measure than others.
For example, goals tied to sales and marketing performance – e.g., the number of deals or customers, the average revenue per deal, or inventory usage level – are clearly trackable.
Unfortunately, not all goals are this easy to measure.
This is true in areas like strategic alignment, product quality, or sales satisfaction.
In these cases, use your ‘gut feeling’ to decide where you currently stand on a scale of 1 to 10 as it relates to achieving this goal.
A ‘1’ means you are completely at the beginning of your journey towards this goal, while a ’10’ indicates that you have reached it and have no room for improvement.
Your assessment should fall somewhere between these two and serve as your KPI for this goal.
When evaluating your performance for this goal, return to your 1-to-10 scale and make a new assessment of where you stand in this range.
In my experience working with hundreds of B2B tech founders, if you’re honest with yourself, your ‘internal compass’ will give you a clear picture of exactly how much progress you’ve made.
Sample Startup Goals
Here are some examples of goals and KPIs that fit these guidelines.
- Product: Launch our new version by Dec 1st.
- Sales & Marketing: Contact 100 customers and close 5 deals worth 200K EUR each by year-end.
- Organization: Hire as Sales Director by March 1st
- Raise 1 mil EUR from a UK-based VC by June 1st
- Work with three mentors to support our growth by September 1st
As your business matures, you’ll be able to break down these company goals into smaller parts, like department or team goals, and eventually individual team-member goals.
When you get to this level of detail, you’ll ensure that every member of your team understands how they contribute to the company’s overall performance and how their performance will be measured.
4. Create parameters per focus area
Once you’ve set your goals and KPIs, it’s time to return to your focus areas and give them a bit more substance.
Do this by adding four key elements to each focus area.
Doing so not only helps you confirm that your focus areas are aligned with your goals and KPIs, but it helps you create an effective action plan.
1. Identify a deliverable.
Define what ‘good looks like’ as it relates to your focus area.
For example, if your focus area in Sales & Marketing is ‘Effective Inbound Lead Generation,’ then explain how you will know this has been achieved in real life.
Your deliverable may be “generating 10 inbound leads each month at a 30% closing rate.”
If your focus area in Other is ‘Successful VC Fundraise,’ then your deliverable would be ‘close a 1 mil EUR investment round from a Tier 1 investor.’
Your deliverable may even repeat one of your goals, but it’s just as likely that your goals will go one layer deeper than your focus area’s deliverable.
2. Decide the ‘owner’
Each focus area should be assigned a single person responsible, or owner.
This person makes sure this focus area is kept top-of-mind within the organization and managed effectively throughout the planning period.
Depending on the size of your team, one person may be responsible for more than one focus area, or each focus area may have a separate owner.
Whichever the case, however, make sure each focus area has only one owner!
Otherwise, you’ll find that your execution will falter as certain action items fall between multiple people, none of whom feel obliged to take full responsibility.
3. Determine the ‘stakeholders’
Having one owner for each focus area doesn’t mean that he or she is the only person who will bring this focus area to life.
List the stakeholders – usually a co-founder, employees, or external service providers – who will support the owner in achieving the deliverable for this particular focus area.
It’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure that all stakeholders contribute as needed to make the focus area a reality.
4. Set key actions
Finally, determine what key actions will be required to achieve the deliverable assigned to the focus area.
The actions listed should determine the general direction of implementation for the focus areas in question, as well as set milestones that ensure you don’t go off track during execution.
5. Develop an action plan
The action plan will cover the entire span of the planning period and give you the guidelines necessary to achieve your goals and track your progress.
In practice, it breaks down your path toward each goal into individual steps.
You can use a Gantt Chart (see illustration) to create your action plan either in Excel or via one of the many software tools dedicated to this purpose.
Organize your action plan first by focus area and then by listing each goal under each focus area as set out in step #3.
Then list individual actions under each goal and indicate the time span over which this action should be completed.
Follow the 80/20 principle
As you create these actions, make sure to distinguish between a goal and an action.
A goal is something you want to see as the outcome of completing a series of actions.
An action is a step you take to achieve a specific goal.
How many action items you set for each goal depends on your personal preference but be careful not to get lost in the details.
Apply the 80/20 Principle: focus on 20% of actions that will deliver 80% of the results.
MAKE SURE YOU ALIGN YOUR PLANNING LEVELS
As you put together your Simple Plan, make sure you align the focus areas, financial targets, goals, and KPIs you set, and the actions you intend to take.
A proper Simple Plan creates a clear relationship between these various levels of planning.
For example, if you set a financial target of 100,000 EUR in revenues, your goals and KPIs should cover enough clients (e.g., 20), and revenue per client (e.g., 5,000 EUR) so that you achieve your revenue target.
Also, make sure you have enough resources to deliver the goals you desire.
If your goal is to build an email subscriber list of 10,000 names, for instance, make sure you have enough marketing expenses and people listed in your costs to acquire and manage these subscribers.
This mindset ensures that your long-term goals and your day-to-day actions are aligned.
CHECK TO GUARANTEE YOUR SIMPLE PLAN FOLLOWS THESE 4 CRITERIA
As you put the finishing touches on your Simple Plan, double-check that it meets these four criteria.
1. It has a clear outcome with milestones.
A Simple Plan lays out a clear endpoint that reflects what you really want to achieve.
It also identified key milestones that when reached, indicate you’re on the right track and that collectively, enable you to reach your desired outcome.
2. It’s both specific and flexible.
While a Simple Plan should be specific enough to determine your direction of travel and key stops along the way, make sure it’s flexible enough to allow for adjustments.
As you execute your plan, you will get feedback from the market and from stakeholders on what’s working and what’s not.
Collect these inputs and adjust your plan accordingly as time passes.
3. It’s measurable.
Your Simple Plan should include measurable elements – numbers, percentages, or dates – that help objectively determine whether or not you’ve reached your goals.
Many people use the well-known SMART framework to set measurable goals.
I have an alternative, far simpler way to determine if your Simple Plan is measurable.
Once you’ve completed it, imagine yourself at a future point in time evaluating your deliverables.
Can you objectively decide whether you’ve achieved your goals, or is this open to interpretation?
Depending on your answer, either confirm or refine your plan until it’s truly measurable.
4. It’s written down.
Writing down your Simple Plan forces you to think through the details.
It also ensures that you’ll have something you can refer to later when you want to track your progress.
If your plan is just in your head, not only are you likely to forget important elements, but you can unintentionally reinterpret certain elements when the time comes to evaluate your results.
What’s more, studies prove that writing down your plan strengthens your commitment to implementing it.
Want help creating a Simple Plan that ensures you reach your business development goals?
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