Annual planning – A view from outside the hamster wheel

Kids returning to school, the unwelcome return of well-worn series like X-Factor and the leaves beginning to show the early signs of autumn always signalled to me I was getting towards the business end of annual planning. For the first time in nearly twenty years I won’t be busy making a pitch for expected volumes, investment levels and the outturn of expected profitability – it’s a curious yet liberating feeling and yet in businesses everywhere I know exactly that is taking place (or should be). Add on top the challenge of persuading internal stakeholders and critically external customers to get on board with the ideas you believe will drive mutual sales impact and landing them from early in the new financial year were a big part of my autumns of yesteryear.

I have a confession to make; I always enjoyed the planning cycle! There, I’ve said it. It provided a brilliant opportunity to take stock, understand what was going on in the wider world, your own category, with key competitors and of course your own business. Done well, it could genuinely align the Commercial function behind key goals and deliver exactly what it was intended to deliver, done badly and the risk was a great deal of time could be easily squandered and you find yourself playing catch up early in the new financial year.

Annual planning should be a discipline every business engages with and take seriously and yet of course this is not always the case and too often much head scratching takes place when things don’t deliver in the way they’d been anticipated. In fact the planning cycle really should be one of the priority areas for any business and from my perspective be treated as a business critical project. Through the various years of time spent on the hamster wheel of planning I was exposed to some simple principles that worked well, and some useful lessons learned along the way.

  1. Annual planning is a genuine cross functional initiative and one that needs to be cross functionally owned. There may be a lead for the overall process but all key functions need to have the right people at the table and be prepared to stand up and own key aspects.
  2. The most successful plans that I have seen delivered start with insight, be it category, customer and consumer (ideally all three) and it is only with this sense of reality and perspective that effective plans can be built upon and ultimately implemented
  3. Building adequate timing into the process is a mandatory. Adequate time to build the key inputs to deliver the right outputs does not happen overnight. Additionally I came to the view that a rolling implementation plan (minimum 18 months) helped give greater confidence and should become the new normal for planning cycles.
  4. Being pragmatic and recognising not everything is always going to grow. I have seen too many examples particularly where bottom up brand/customer planning takes place where you net out with a plan that is frankly unrealistic but the wheels of motion can quickly take this out of your hands particularly if the business is looking for aggressive overall growth targets.
  5. Seeking to find fewer, bigger, better growth ideas is key. Finding big ideas that the entire business can get behind, land in trade and ultimately measure is an infinitely more sensible approach than spreading far too many ideas thinly.

The irony is in my current start up mode that planning for 47 Marketing is actually a very hard thing to anticipate but I am enjoying the opportunity to be gaining a real sense of perspective (as well as having my lowest blood pressure in years according to my doctor!). The brilliance of being my own boss means I have been able to be here for the first day ever of school for my youngest daughter and help in the transition to junior school for my eldest daughter whilst engaging in great conversations at a time to suit me with potential partners. One thing is for certain, I am planning for this to be a success and I am relishing the opportunity to step off the hamster wheel for a moment to observe and think!

Should you or anyone you know want to take advantage of my annual planning experience or any other aspect of the 47 Marketing proposition then drop me a note or give me a call on 07879 447319, I’m happy to leap back on the wheel and help out!

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