‘Tis the Season to Ruffle Some Feathers

September-October is typically the time that most organizations begin their strategic planning process.  Most will focus on answering the following questions:

  • Where are we now? (current state)
  • Where are we going? (future state)
  • How will we get there? (strategy & tactics)
  • What resources will we need? (people, money, technology, etc)
  • Who will do what? (strategy owners, participants, etc.)
  • How will we know when we get there? (measures of progress)

Many will follow a process that looks something like this:

  1. Gather necessary data
  2. Discuss process, expectations, and strategy prior to developing plan
  3. Planning meetings or retreat to develop strategic/action plan(s)
  4. Build process/reports to measure progress toward plan

Pretty standard stuff, eh?  With any process, the success of each step relies on how well you complete the prior step.  If you do a poor job of data gathering, then your whole plan could be suspect.  When it comes to gathering data about your customers, it’s not just the ‘gathering’ that is critical.  It’s also what you are gathering in the way of quality data that is most critical.

Question Your Customer Data and Definitions

Each organization has some standard customer data and metrics.  If your company has been around a while (> 3 years), it’s time to question the accuracy and source of the data, and what is really meant by all those fancy terms you use when discussing customers:

  • Take the time to understand how you calculate customer growth, retention, or profitability, and to see if adjustments are needed.  Many times data sources are inappropriate or the method of calculation needs to be adjusted.
  • Review your customer data to confirm that your metrics have the right mix of leading (predicting performance) and lagging indicators (measures performance).  Does an increase in satisfaction or Net Promoter score correlate to an increase in customers, or revenue, or profit? Do you know what causes those measures to go up or down, and what changes to make?
  • Define those terms everyone uses, but not all agree on the definition – such as customer experience, customer insight, or social media strategy.
  • Challenge widely held customer “beliefs” to see if they are true for your organization.  For example, does it really cost you six times as much to acquire a customer as to keep one?

Take nothing for granted.  Challenge your data, your assumptions, and your beliefs about customers.  It may ruffle some feathers for some people, but failing to do so can turn your strategic plan into nothing more than a 3-ring binder that serves as a hefty bookend on your bookcase.  BTW – do we still print strategic plans?

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