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Success blueprint: Strategic Planning in 3 Steps

In entrepreneurial circles, there’s a well-known book entitled “The E-myth Revisited”, by Michael Gerber, in which a startling statistic is shared. Of the roughly one million new businesses that open in the United States every year, only 4% of those businesses make it to year ten.

According to Michael Gerber’s research, successful companies and organizations that make it to year ten have something in common – they dedicate the appropriate amount of time to working ON the business vs. working IN the business. When you are working ON the business, you are strategically planning for the future. When you are working IN the business, you are tactically responding to daily issues.

Once you are able to commit more time to working ON the business, the best place to start is with a strategic plan. We recommend taking key staff and stakeholders for a retreat - away from their daily tasks for the appropriate amount of time to develop a strategic plan.

3 Steps to Develop a Strategic Plan that Inspires Action and Delivers Results

1. Prep-Up – the preparation before the retreat
Leading-up to your strategic retreat, take the opportunity to engage with and gather information from your internal and external stakeholders. This provides them with an opportunity to think about the future and communicate their ideas via interviews, roundtables, surveys and/or other tools. This might include identifying the key trends and factors affecting the organization, and/or clarifying the organization’s purpose, vision, and core values.

2. Step-Up – the work that happens during the retreat
It’s important to leave your strategic retreat with completed work - a robust, relevant and complete strategic plan that the team can begin working on immediately. The plan should include the organization’s vision, the key strategies required to achieve the vision, and the tactical plan that identifies the required actions, ownership and timelines. In addition, the team must determine what they will measure and monitor to ensure progress is being made towards the goals.

In their book “Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works”, Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley identify key questions to consider throughout your strategic process:

- What are your winning aspirations?

- Where will you play?

- How will you win?

- What capabilities must be in place?

- What management systems are required?

3. Follow-Up – the work after the retreat
Find the appropriate mechanism and frequency to hold your team accountable for the agreed upon actions as outlined in the strategic plan. I highly recommend the Green, Yellow and Red Light system as an accountability and reporting tool for your strategic plan. In the video below, former CEO of Ford Motor Company Alan Mulally talks from the Stanford Graduate School of Business about the power of using the Green, Yellow and Red Light system (starting at minute 26:15).

blueprint Basics
- Prioritize time working ON the business vs. IN the business.

- Develop a strategic plan for your organization with your key stakeholders.

- Enjoy the process - have fun and truly engage your teams while preparing, creating and deploying your strategic plan.

- Hold your team accountable to the actions and timelines developed in the plan.

- Don’t forget to celebrate key milestones and deliverables along the way!

Luck: When Opportunity Meets Preparation

As Sales professionals, we notoriously overestimate our ability to 'wing it'. While being good on our feet may allow us to leave a sales pitch or negotiation still standing, it will not allow us to maximize the value of the deal.

In studies of over 25,000 negotiators, the MarketWatch Centre for Negotiation found that negotiators typically leave up to 42% of the combined potential value of the deal on the table. This is the result of negotiating from the 'gut' and allowing emotions, instead of strategy, to drive demands.

Here are a few suggestions to improve your 'luck' optimizing the value of your next customer interaction:

1 - Preparation vs. Perspiration

60% of the outcome of a negotiation is determined not at the emotionally-charged negotiation table, but rather by the amount of advance preparation. Mapping out your needs and moves is not very time-consuming but, done well, understanding your customer's needs requires a significant time investment.

Fortunately, the ROI on this time is high. Information is power, so shift the power balance toward yourself through a robust discovery process from your customer's perspective. Use the 7Cs to get inside their head:

  • Their Context, 
  • Their Company,
  • Their Channel, 
  • Their Competitors,
  • Their Category,
  • Their Customer/Consumer

  • The better you understand what your customer needs, as an individual or on behalf of their company, the more high value trades you will be able to make with them to get what you need from the deal. 

    2 - Dress Rehearsal vs. Improv

    Internal roleplaying of anticipated selling and negotiating scenarios, or more appropriately, 'realplaying'  of them (participants briefed with customer context, buyer needs, buyer personality, etc.) with peers and managers is important muscle-building for sales professionals. The feeling of 'I have been here/done this before' can help minimize revealing body language when confronted with an objection or negotiation tactic, as well as get the right response to the tip of your tongue. 

    While realplaying with colleagues can feel embarrassing, mangling an opening statement, offer or tactic in front of a customer can be even more so (as well as more costly). Be sure to practice a variety of skills and situations including an interrupted opening statement, a customer objection, a customer tactic (e.g. good cop/bad cop, time pressure, silence, etc.) and closing.

    3 - What Is vs. What Could Be

    The negotiation room is a stressful place, and stress can block your best thinking. Preparing in advance, when you are in a positive frame of mind, enables 31% better thought processing. This fosters big picture solution-building vs. offer/counter-offer, argument/rebuttal. This can unlock mutually beneficial alternatives that neither side might be able to see when face to face with emotions, tactics and time pressure in play. Generate as long a list of high value trades/proposals in advance as possible so that you never run out of options and risk deadlock. The end of the list is the end of value creation!

    As former FBI Hostage Negotiator, Chris Voss, shares in his presentations to business professionals 'You only fall to the highest level of preparation'. Understanding your customer deeply can help you demonstrate empathy that allows for greater value creation... so plan to get lucky!

    A Negotiation blueprint: Top 5 Planning Tips

    At blueprint, we believe that success can be planned, that winning is by design, and that you are the architect of your outcomes. Here are 5 tips to help unleash your potential the next time you are at the table:

    1. Value the Proposition: Work to understand exactly what it is that you want to achieve and be crystal clear about this. Understand the numbers, sure, but also understand the softer things that you may achieve, and try to put a value on them (e.g. the improvement in relationship, freezing out a competitor, future opportunity for growth etc.). Now comes the real trick... do the same for the person you are dealing with... intimately try to determine what exactly is in it for them. What will they get out of the deal if it goes through as planned? In our experience, good businesses are pretty good at working out what’s in it for themselves; the real trick is to equally seek to understand what is in it for the other party. It's the balance of what is in it for you AND what is in it for them that can determine who wants the deal more and what concessions should be tabled.
    2. Determine the Balance of Power: Produce a 'power analysis'... What things are giving you power in the lead up to this deal? What things are giving the other party power? Who holds the balance of power? Is it 50%-50% or 80%-20% or 30%-70%. Seek to understand this balance and then, importantly, try to produce a plan that will alter the balance of power more in your favour prior to the meeting taking place. This may mean that you have to do something (e.g. check out competitor pricing or check your supply chain logistics model, check specifications of product etc.). Whatever it is that you determine could give you more power, try to do it before the meeting date.
    3. Build your 'Shopping List': This is such an important step. We believe that the success of your next negotiation will almost certainly lie in the length and quality of your shopping list. What is it that you could ask for in order to make the deal work for yourself. Make a list of things that you want from the other party, don't be afraid to ask for them, and never run out of things to ask for.
    4. Build your 'Currency list': There is no such thing as a free lunch, in negotiation you have to be prepared to make concessions, at Blueprint we call these concessions 'Currencies' and you will literally swap shopping list items for currencies. Just as you would go to a supermarket with a shopping list in your hand and currency in your wallet, you take a tin of beans off the shelf because it is on your shopping list, when you get to the checkout you pay for it with the currency in your wallet. Negotiation is no different, be prepared to ask for what you want from your shopping list, but recognise that you may have to offer a 'currency' to pay for it. What things are you prepared to concede in order to make this deal work? Think about it and prepare your list of currencies. Remember that it is not weak to 'give' in negotiation, the trick is to ensure that you don't start a precedent and to ensure that you get something of at least equal value back in return.Recognize also that all shopping list items have value, and all                                       currencies have cost associated with them. It is wise and prudent to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis at this stage of your planning to ensure that the deal works commercially for you.
    5. Plan Your Tactics: There are so many things to consider here so, at this planning stage, give sufficient time to think about them (e.g. are you going into a hostile or a friendly environment? Will the deal be done at their office or yours? Who will be present on both sides? What will your opening gambit be? What do you anticipate theirs will be? What will be your first shopping list request and currency offer? What is your walk away position?). Remember to give equal consideration to the tactics the other party may employ and you counter-tactics.

    From Key to We

    As George Bernard Shaw observed, ‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place’. Is the measure of an impactful keynote speaker their ability to deliver a presentation, or their capacity to inspire action?

    Just as in Sales, success is not having delivered the pitch but rather having secured a purchase from the customer, keynote speakers need to ‘close’ to be effective.

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    Why Start With Why?

    Before almost any blueprint workshop I host, I send out a video to the participants encouraging them to adopt a ‘Growth Mindset’, do some pre-work, and watch Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk ‘Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action’.


    Why would I start these forward-looking sessions with a video of presentation made in 2009? Because it is a timeless place to start… at the beginning. If you don’t know why you are taking a workshop, how likely will you be to learn something? If you don’t know why you are selling something, how likely will you be to convince someone to buy? Whether you are establishing corporate or commercial strategy, making as sales pitch or heading to the negotiating table, the journey to ‘What’ and ‘How’ is far less painful if you have first established ‘Why’.

    Below are some other timeless Ted Talks that keep me grounded in first principles of personal and professional success.

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    Challenging Your Mindset

    I believe that solutions are all around us, it’s the right questions don’t often have.

    So, I would like to offer you two simple yet profound questions to reflect on:

    1. Why should anyone want to do business with you, as an individual?

    2. Would you do business with yourself? Why?

    Individuals with a Fixed Mindset – closed personal learners – may find these questions silly, offensive, or even scary. Those with a Growth Mindset, will embrace this challenge and learn something.

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