The Most Underrated Planning Tool in Business
It’s called a calendar. About as high tech as the wheel, and just as indispensable. If you aren’t making use of it, you’re probably losing sales. Let me show you how it works.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I'm always amazed at how few technology-focused entrepreneurs understand the power and value of maybe the lowest tech tool of all, the calendar, which has been around for at least 5,000 years. You'd think that everyone had figured out how it works. And it's even more depressing to learn that even fewer entrepreneurs and executives use the calendar effectively to help plan and manage their businesses. So much in the business world happens on a schedule, and yet, too many sales and marketing "experts" are either ignorant of that fact or oblivious to exactly how important timing is to successful sales. If your customers aren't ready to listen, or if you're pitching them at the wrong time or place, it just doesn't matter what you're saying or what you've got to sell. (See Three Keys to Becoming a Sales Wizard.)
I'm not talking about just one central calendar that's critical to this task; I'm talking about developing a consistent "discovery and triage" process, updated quarterly throughout each year, to identify and incorporate the events, activities and opportunities found in all of the calendars that bear on your business. And doing it without fail at the beginning of every new year.
Discovery, because there are always new and relevant events (albeit way too many) beyond the recurring and basic ones. Even the old standbys get refreshed, rebranded or repositioned over time. There's no upside in taking any of this stuff for granted or assuming that what may have worked or didn't work in the past for your company is the case going forward. If you don't make it someone's business to look up and carefully track these things, they'll be over and gone before you know it; you'll be sucking wind while someone else is taking advantage of the opportunities that they offer. (See Do Your Customers Love You More Than Yesterday.)
Triage because, even though we all suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), not even Fred Astaire could--- dance every dance, play every stage, or be in 2 or 3 places at once. So, once you have all the data and dates on hand, you will always have to make some hard choices. Some involve time, resources, available staff, etc. and, of course, they all involve dollars. But at least when you consciously decide to play or pass, these will be your choices and not oversights, omissions, accidents, etc.
All because, to do this right, you need be get outside your little CRM program and track the obvious as well as the esoteric haunts of all the likely prospects and suspects that you need to get your story in front of before the competition does. If the rate at which things are moving outside your business exceeds that of your own actions, plans and activities, you're on a downward path and headed to the exits. To compete and remain at the top of your game, you need to map and manage the entire ecosystem-- not simply your little corner of the world.
The big calendar buckets are as follows:
Universal calendars: Annual Events and Holidays, Elections, Recurring Celebrations and Anniversaries, Film Releases, Award programs
These calendars provide obvious and easy opportunities to free-ride on and tie into available media, promotions and content that is being generated regularly and consistently by other providers. In addition, millions of engaged eyeballs are already focusing on these outlets and channels and, if you're smart, you can "hijack" some of that volume and interest as well.
I'm not talking about stealing. I'm talking about sitting down with a national events calendar and building a full year of piggy-backing your content and linking your messaging to the constant and recurring flow of annual activities, promotions, releases and other communications that will eventually beat a path to your door throughout the year.
And-;to be very clear-;none of this prime traffic will include your stories unless you get ahead of the curve and make it your business to build the links and connect their content and their communities to your own media, messaging and commerce. Done well and in a timely fashion, you'll be enlisting the entire entertainment, news and media world in promoting a regular stream of your content ideas. How much easier and cheaper could it be?
Industry calendars: Conferences, Events, New Product or Technology Announcements, Publications, Effective Dates of Significant Legislation or Regulations
This is pretty obvious and most companies do a decent job here, but they don't cast a wide enough net. Too many businesses think that because they know a great deal about their own company and a fair amount about their direct competitors that they're on top of the situation.
But that's not where the industry disruption, the new products and services, and the most threatening competition is gonna come from. It's at the edges, the intersections and the adjacent industries where the new solutions and the biggest risks to the status quo lie.
So, you've got to have a plan to see what's going on in those verticals and other industry sectors as well and, frankly, it's the fastest and easiest way to get a boatload of new ideas on the cheap as long as you've got good shoes and a couple of days to spare.
Customer Calendars: Businesses are no different from trains.
They stay within some well- defined rails and they run on schedules, cycles and procurement systems that, to a large extent, you can get your hands on if you spend the time and know what you're looking for.
Do your homework. Make damn sure that you and your sales team understand the budget and buying cycles of your top target customers and prospects. These things are set in concrete. Bad timing can be the quickest deal killer of all. Plus, if you show up at the wrong time, it's pretty obvious to the customer that you don't know much about his or her business, --- calendars or requirements. Don't make this amateur mistake.
There is one exception to this rule, and it depends entirely on your relationship with your buyer. It is possible that, on occasion, you will tumble into an Alice in Wonderland scenario where the buyer lets you know that, instead of their budgeted funds being totally spent, they have excess funds which they need to spend in order to avoid having their budget cut the next year. Make a compelling offer, sign the deal, take the money and run.
Other Calendars: Educational, Government, Political, Regulatory & Administrative
There's nothing sadder than a salesperson who returns empty-handed to report that he or she just missed the boat-- beat out by someone who was there at the right time. Or they got misled or misinformed by the client about the purchase schedule. You learn that, in a lot of selling situations, the client doesn't want to say "no" to your face. So, you're told it's too early in the company's cycle to buy or commit, until one day the potential customer finally breaks the bad news to you that it went elsewhere. In sales, the rule of thumb is: "It's always too soon until it's too late."
There's never a perfect time for the customer to buy because most of them would just as soon not buy anything if they had the choice. It's the sales person's job to control the clients' calendars; to always be in their faces; and to be there whenever the customers are ready to buy. It's all about "at-bats" and always asking for the order. Lots of important things are lost for lack of asking.
You never want to be at the airport when your ship comes in.