Friday, December 21, 2007

Strategic Planning - Can you help me?

Every so often, someone will call or email me and ask "Can you help me with my strategic planning?".

The answer, of course, is YES.

I spend my time doing nothing but strategic planning - and I've spent 20 years paying very close attention to what works and what doesn't work in the strategic planning process.

I speak at trade association meetings, conventions, corporate meetings, and I facilitate planning meetings for companies and associations of all sizes, all over the world.

If you think your strategies could use the fresh perspective of an experienced outsider who does NOTHING BUT STRATEGIC PLANNING - give me a call today!

My direct phone number is 734-665-2971

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Strategic Planning - Where is the "Value" in VAR?

Every so often, when speaking about strategic planning, I meet folks who describe their business by telling me they are "Value Added Resellers". Now, for people outside of the IT world, a Value Added Reseller (or "VAR" for short) is a company that re-sells equipment, most typically computer and communications equipment. The "value added" part can come from many different sources, although most seem to have to do with installation and technical support.

Value can take on a lot of different forms from being certified with a prestigious vendor, to rapid response, deep inventory or highly trained professionals. The key thing to remember about value is that it should match up with a primary decision making factor for a significant part of your market. Also, remember that some value items - rapid response, for example - may be more valuable to front-line employees at your customer than to their supervisors. This implies that some value sources may make you prone to succeed when selling at one level in an organization - but prone to fail at other levels.

Here's an interesting question for people in the VAR world: can you identify your company's value added? How much of it is simply labor, or specific skills? How hard would it be to replace what you do by going to a competitor? If it's easy, you are in for a tough time, strategically. One of the biggest challenges for any company in business sevice markets is to develop truly distinguishing strategic competecies, and make sure that those competencies are front and center in your customers’ minds.

If your main value added items are common or easily copied, you can bet that you will sooner or later face stiff price competition. The only real remedy is to find ways to set yourself apart from the pack. Unfortunately, actually having better knowledge about how to serve your customers might be the hardest way to compete, because your customers might not have the technical expertise to recognize this value directly. So be sure that – whatever value you do use as a basis of competition – you make the value extremely visible and understandable to your customers. If you fail to do this, you can be sure that someone who isn’t as good as you are can take those customers away simply by having a lower price.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Strategic Planning for the Best Strategy Execution

One of the strategic planning phenomena I’ve noticed this year is a tendency for execution to go better with some strategic action plans than others. There are several reasons why execution might not go well – outside influences, poor estimation of time requirements or time availability are the most common – but one element stands out as very common when execution goes well: the energy that members of the strategic planning team have for the project. This makes perfect sense, and it also presents us with a challenge.

The challenge is this: some of the most strategically valuable activities that occur as a result of strategic planning are also some of the most difficult. How can we get our management teams excited about taking the harder path?

I suspect the answer lies in the nature of the strategic planning process in general, and in how we assess opportunities in particular. When you look at your opportunities, it’s certainly useful to take into account how much energy your team members have for the ideas. I will hypothesize that the greatest strategic successes occur where your team is excited about doing things that people in other companies would find difficult or unpleasant, so it will often pay to use these factors in assessing opportunities.

Another possible answer for this challenge lies in the area of strategic competency. I have noticed that a truly unique strategic competency that is understood and embrace by the management team leads to excitement about opportunities that other companies would shy away from. This excitement usually comes from pride in the skills associated with your competency – and should always be encouraged.