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Four Steps to Strategic Planning Through Research & Discovery

My number one rule in strategic planning and marketing is – NEVER MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. The process of research and discovery will illuminate assumptions and give you the confidence and exact direction to develop SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) strategies. There are four components in the first step of research.

  1. Customer satisfaction survey – Customer needs are golden and without them you’re not in business. So, your first step is to talk to them and learn:
    • How satisfied they are with your current products or services, so you can make adjustments to how you deliver your product or service
    • How your company is valued against your competitors, so you can react and gain more of that market share
    • What other products and services your customers are seeking that you can provide.

You can achieve this easily with a customer survey with questions that inquire about price, product, access and service. This survey should ask 5–7 questions and take no longer 4–5 minutes to complete. If you have never designed a survey, consult with someone who knows how to design questions optimally.Survey Monkey also has great resources to help you design questions.

  1. Industry / competitive audit – Your next step is to learn how competitors deliver products and services and understand where you are positioned in that group. If you’re a B2C business, you should research your top ten competitors. If you’re a B2B company, analyze your top five competitors. Document their strengths, weaknesses, pricing, product mix, brand promises, and successes. Learn all you can about your competition by taking a close look at their websites and reading online reviews.

I also like to take management groups through an exercise that visualizes where the company stands against its competitors with price and quality. Here is an example of a matrix you can use in your group.

Brand Performance Assessment
  1. Employee Happiness Survey – In addition to your profit and loss statement, another great measure of how well a company is performing is how happy employees feel. I will be writing an article later this year on this specific subject. Meanwhile, here is Gallup’s Q12, a very well-researched set of questions that work in any organization.
  1. Management SWOT session – I know what you’re thinking: “We’ve done this several times and get nothing out of it.” I promise you much different outcomes if you have conducted the above steps and shared them with your managers. Defining the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of your business will reveal your internal and external marketing priorities.

It’s time to establish goals and set priorities.

At this point you will have gathered data and are no longer working on assumptions. You will be 110% confident and know precisely what the strategic priorities need to be for the next 12, 24 and 36 months. Now, organizing those ideas is key.

My number one piece of advice here is that the plan needs to be simple and straightforward. Don’t worry about language – just get started.

Strategic Plan Pillars
Strategic Plan Pillars

There are several ways to think about how you should organize your communication. I find it most useful to create pillars that focus on four aspects: customer service, product quality, finances, employees. Under each of these you can write your measurable strategies. A few examples:

Now you can be confident that you have a research-driven strategic plan for your company.  Make sure to hold people accountable for each strategy and meet every month to see where managers are on their goals. Support the managers by making sure they have the tools and resources they need to implement the plan.

I wish you the best of luck and welcome calls on this subject any time.

About the Author: Karyn Olson

Karyn Olson is the CEO and Chief Strategist of the Upper Peninsula Marketing Department, Inc. You can see her company’s work at

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