If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

It’s the end of the year (again!), and for many, this can only mean one thing… planning for next year.

The prospect of being in a perpetual circular motion of never-ending Excel sheets and strategy documents fills most of us with dread. It can cause additional pressures that weigh us down, a bit like what James Bond experienced in the centrifuge chamber in “Moonraker.” But the idea is not to stay in circular motion but to use the momentum to propel yourself out of one orbit and into the next. Okay, the 007/space analogy only has so much scope, so let’s move on.

What remains is that planning is necessary and important – otherwise, where would we be? Not where we are today.

If you’re a marketer, year-end means you’ll have been planning your budgets, your content calendar, your campaigns, events, new initiatives, your headcount and, ultimately, how you can support and enable your organization to become better and grow faster than the competition.

If you’re in sales you’ll be planning sales targets and comp plans, growth projections, account assignments, and sector focus. You’ll be analyzing this year’s performance and how you can sell more in 2014.

Some people love planning. In fact, it tends to be all they do. Plan. It becomes a habit and procrastination exercise. But without execution, planning is like a journey without a destination. And we all know that even Captain Kirk and his Starship Enterprise tried to find a way home, despite being lost in space (another space analogy!).

With this in mind, my Christmas gift to you is this piece of advice: plan, align and execute. If you delete any of these from the equation, add them back in. You may also want to consider experimentation to foster innovation.

Plan

It is very tempting to try and react to internal or external changes and follow the latest trend. Ask Germans whether their success is built on that approach. As someone who was born, raised and schooled in Germany, I can tell you it’s not. Diligent and efficient planning is important to save yourself work and headaches later down the line – and ultimately to achieve success.

I recently hosted a webinar with ON24’s Vice President of Demand Generation Lars Christensen. Lars spoke about the 10 steps for planning a successful webinar and outlined an effective strategy for planning each step towards webinar success. If anyone knows, it’s Lars. And we can see this success replicated by clients who follow this process. Part of this process is alignment with stakeholders prior to execution. So let’s look at these aspects as well. (Note: the webinar is part of other useful content available in the Webinar Academy.)

Align

Planning in isolation is going to get you into trouble. You won’t be delivering whatever it is you are planning by yourself, so why not involve stakeholders from the very start? Your plan’s success relies on others, so get their views – it may actually be helpful. Taking Lars’ advice for webcasting onboard, it means aligning with speakers, promoters and, not least of all, the audience’s areas of interest.

Execute

The magic doesn’t happen by itself. A plan needs execution and vice versa – just like Penn and Teller need each other. Often it can feel like the planning stage is the hard work, and to a degree that is true. A good plan helps to make execution easier, but the latter still needs your full attention. It is a fine balance between trusting in your plan and having the confidence to tweak it on the fly when needed. But you can’t get around the leap of faith and actually deliver. Nelson Mandela once said, “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Mandela knew that success comes from trying and trying again. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed – having a plan from the start will increase your chances of succeeding.

I applied some of the items I discussed above to a blog post about a digital marketing strategy roll-out, and Lars applied it to webcasting, as you saw earlier. What are you going to apply it to in 2014? I know that I will use it even before 2013 ends – with my Christmas shopping list. I can tell you that without a plan, Christmas shopping on London’s Oxford Street is not much fun.

Have a wonderful end to the year and all the best for 2014.