Make No Small Plans

“Make no little plans,” advised Chicago architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham. “They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

I’m a big fan of requiring distributors and other channel partners to write a business plan. Maybe not every partner, but, assuming you’re an important supplier, then at least for your large partners or your top tier, e.g. “Platinum” partners. Recently, I completed some work for a client recommending that their distributors’ compensation hinge, on part, on the distributors creating and receiving approval for their business plans. However, I continually get “push back” from distributors, channel managers, executives and others. They complain that business plans are just a paperwork exercise. That there is no way to effectively and objectively assess the quality of a plan. That plans don’t matter, only results do. That plans never “survive first contact with the enemy.” Each of these objections have that pithy, street-smart smidgen of truth. “Been there, done that,” they seem to be saying.

However, how do I square these protests with the positive results I see from most of my business-planning clients? First, the process of partner planning, like a fine wine, takes time to mature. Sure, the results in the first year can be mediocre. For go-go sales guys this is enough to torpedo any further efforts. This leads to the second conclusion . . . senior sales management needs to buy into the concept, pushing it forward through its awkward, freshman year and soothing the many voices of protest. By the second year, both partners and channel managers are beginning to see results. More partner salespeople attend training, boosting sales. Key account plans turn into some big wins. Previously fallow marketing efforts begin to take root, building customer awareness and conversion. Sure, only results matter. But absent a plan, why would anyone have faith that positive results will happen? Just remember that “hope is not a strategy,” (attributable to economist Benjamin Ola Akande, ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and several others).

So, what do you think? Are channel business plans a valuable sales tool or a waste of time?

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