It’s one thing to write a strategic plan for your business. Creating one that actually works is quite another. Consultant Marion Reinson says that if you are serious about creating a workable plan, be prepared to spend about six months and an appropriate amount of time, talent, and money to do it.
“It’s a common sense approach,” Reinson says. “You create objectives and goals and outcomes for where you want to go and you create a realistic plan to get there based on your available resources, which is always time, talent, and money.” One of the keys, Reinson says, is not to just create a plan out of thin air, but integrate testing to see what works and what doesn’t so your plan can focus on what works.
Reinson will speak at an event held by the New Jersey Communications Advertising and Marketing Association and Startup Grind on Thursday, May 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Tigerlabs at 252 Nassau Street. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit www.njcama.org.
Reinson has been developing such plans for more than 20 years. She grew up in Edison, where her mother was a schoolteacher and her father was in commercial building sales. “I always loved running a business,” she says. “When I was little, the other kids were playing with dolls, and I was playing business. I had a paper route, and I did babysitting, and I always had a job. I loved business.”
She is a graduate of Rutgers University, where she majored in psychology, but has been working in marketing since 1986. Her first job was with a startup called Seaphirm, which was an initiative partially funded by Seward Johnson. There she learned the tools of the trade, such as focus groups and trade shows. Later she ran a boutique ad agency together with four other women. Her approach was heavily influenced by Rita Gunther McGrath (U.S. 1, February 28, 2018), a professor of strategy at Columbia University, whom she worked with for five years. Today she has her own company, To The Point, where she helps companies create and implement strategic plans.
“It takes longer than they think,” she says. “It’s not a one-month process or two-month process.” Reinson incorporates modern data analytics tools in the process, but this does not eliminate the need for rigorous testing before a plan is finalized. “We take a structured, measurable approach,” she says. Reinson says she uses an approach for small businesses that is derived from the extensive process that McGrath designed for large enterprises.
Reinson says realism is an important component to the success of a strategic plan, keeping in mind the resources available. For example, if a company has a sales team that specializes in generating leads through real-life outreach, asking the team to start making cold calls is probably not going to work. Those personnel likely don’t have the talent to make that plan work. It might even harm the company by taking them away from something they’re good at.
“You have to look at the time, talent, and money that you have and work within those parameters,” Reinson says. “You have to figure out what’s going to work for you. Something might be a good idea, but might not be the right idea for you.”
Reinson says a good approach is to make small investments in time, talent, and money to learn about a business segment before diving in. One of Reinson’s clients was a technology firm that leased its software to businesses. They wanted to switch over to a subscription-based model that would be more profitable. Under Reinson’s advice, they tried out their approach with a small segment first. This trial gave the company valuable information: that every single client asked the vendor to explain the difference between the two payment models.
“They had been trying to avoid that issue,” Reinson said. But after the trial they decided to explain the difference to their clients up front and get it out of the way when they rolled out the change to all their clients. As a result, Reinson says, the company was able to successfully switch to the subscription model and the value of their contracts went up by 30 percent.
Another of Reinson’s specialties is helping companies deal with disruption from the digital revolution, which can affect businesses quite unexpectedly. Reinson likes to use the example of chewing gum: gum sales fell of a cliff starting around 2008. As it happened, this had nothing to do with the great recession beginning around that time. It turned out it was due to cell phones disrupting the traditional business model of chewing gum. Bored shoppers waiting in line now tended to play with their phones rather than browsing the impulse-buy racks by the register, where most of gum sales came from.
For many businesses ongoing technological change requires re-examination of every part of the business, through the entire process of the consumption chain from production to the customer experience. “We look to see if there are pieces of that process where there might be friction or noise,” she says. “Whether there is some problem that might cause them to lose clients, and if there is anything they could do to fix that.” The fix might involve a technological solution, outsourcing a part of the business, or reducing a cost. Like the above example, communicating changes to customers can also be a big part of the marketing message.
Reinson has seen numerous companies fail in their strategic planning efforts. Usually this is the result of inflexibility. “It happens where an organization will put together a plan and see it’s not working and continue doing what they are doing even though they know it’s not working just because somebody smart in the company said it was the smart thing to do.”
Good planning is not about creating the perfect plan and then following it to the letter. Instead, Reinson says, it’s about changing course when expectations do not meet reality. “And that takes a strong leader,” she says. “All of this only works if your leader is buying in and open to hearing bad news.”