Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

October 21, 2015
Thomas F. Fitzgerald, CPA 

NFL football coach Marv Levy said, “Plan your work and work your plan.” It’s a simple but meaningful phrase that can empower us as athletes, individuals and business people.

Coach Levy may not be as familiar to younger football fans as other legendary NFL coaches but rest assured, his resume is impressive. Levy is the only NFL coach to lead a team to 4 consecutive Super Bowls (1990-1993 seasons). He is one of fourteen coaches in NFL history to win more than 100 games with a single franchise (the Buffalo Bills).

To me, coach Levy is an inspiring figure who demonstrates that planning, hard work and perseverance produce results.  Levy was not an overnight success. Levy spent ten years in the collegiate coaching ranks, several years as an NFL kicking teams coach and five years coaching in the Canadian Football Leagues. When he was finally given the opportunity to coach in the NFL, his successes were honored by his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. Not too shabby, right?

That’s why I’d like to make the example set by coach Levy to be the heart of this discussion. If we plan our work and work our plan, we can make our own luck. It’s a formula for success that can be applied in equal measure to sport, life and business.

Plan Your Work

Football coaches like to use playbooks to plan their game-day strategies; it’s their guidebook for success. Similarly, more and more business people like to use Customer Stratification, a tool designed specifically for decision makers in the wholesale/distribution industry to better plan their work.

The science of Customer Stratification was defined by the Council on Research for Distribution Best Practices (CRDBP), a research project sponsored by the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW) in collaboration with Texas A&M’s Industrial Distribution program.

The CRDBP recommends that you apply four metrics to the customers you serve, including: buying powercost to serveprofitability and loyalty. The proper application of these metrics will help you objectively measure your customer relationships. You will also gain a high-level view of your customers by grouping them into four categories.

Think about the power of Customer Stratification as a planning tool. Clearly, not all customers are the same! Utilize the insight that stratification brings to the task of marketing to the specific needs of each customer type. With this insight, you can leverage the data in your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to grow sales, profit and opportunity.

The four customer categories each suggest a specific set of marketing communications and sales strategies that better resonate with their needs. For example, Core customers who are most loyal and profitable to you should learn more about your sales engineering, aftermarket support, and high-value services. Opportunistic customers who tend to treat your company as their second buying option should learn more about the full range of products offered and how you can deliver superior service. Low-profit Marginal and Service Drain customers might be encouraged to order through your self-service web portal.

Obviously, we could say a lot more about implementing a segmented marketing strategy at your business.  The specifics must take into account your company’s unique attributes and the marketing opportunities available to you. Suffice to say, the goal of planning your work intentionally with Customer Stratification is to cultivate more profitable customer relationships.

Work Your Plan

It’s important to work from a Customer Stratification plan that is grounded in research and real world testing. In fact, Customer Stratification is based on research by the CRDBP that was harvested from companies across all the major industry segments (meaning the industries that you serve, too). Customer Stratification is an objective method that helps remove contention and guesswork out of sales and forecasting meetings; allowing your sales team to focus on improved collaboration, insight and results. It’s all about working the plan to do better and raise the overall performance of your sales team.

I’ve witnessed the power of delivering Customer Stratification data to end user’s mobile devices. The availability of information empowers individual sales people with greater insight into customer relationships, in turn leading to more effective sales calls. Constructive, win-win solutions can be discussed that take into account both the customer’s business challenges and the company’s profit objectives.

Consider a customer who has a high cost to serve because they frequently place many small orders, pay late, return lots of material, etc. The sales rep assigned to the account can now see an opportunity to aggregate the orders, employ training strategies to reduce returns and offer solutions for reducing late payments. In this case, the company and the customer both win. Processing fewer orders, shipments and returns means lower processing costs for both parties.  That’s an example of a win-win made possible with the kind of granular, actionable data that is provided by Customer Stratification.

Also, think about how your sales people can collaboratively work the plan as a team. Best-of-breed Customer Stratification solutions include online portals that allow your sales people to share their experiences and lead by example.

Looking back at my formative years as a salesperson, I remember actively seeking out advice and guidance from the mentors who I respected. In those days, that literally meant traveling, interviewing, and riding along on sales calls with seasoned sales people. I felt that I could succeed by following the wisdom of their example.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that mentoring remains critically important as an organizational development practice.  But I can’t help thinking about how valuable an online portal would have been to me!

I was tasked with introducing a line of business into a new sales territory. The product line had already proven successful in other geographic regions of our division. It would have been tremendously helpful to have had access to Customer Stratification that modeled what these customers looked like. I can imagine how access to information such as customer types, margins, trends, similar product lines, vendor focus, and so on could have helped me get up to speed that much faster and sell more effectively. I would have valued having access to my mentors via mobile devices, too to discuss strategies suggested by the Customer Stratification data.

I believe you’ll find that shared successes will energize your sales staff. Sales people tend to be competitive by nature and want to be seen as leaders in working the plan. It’s okay to feed that healthy competition.

Successful coaches like Levy know that ultimately, the passionate buy-in you get from all employees is necessary to work the plan. That’s how you maximize your success in sport, life and business. I believe Customer Stratification is key to helping you grow a more sustainable and profitable wholesale/distribution business.

Thomas F. Fitzgerald, CPA
Thomas possesses over 40 years of experience driving proven results in corporate financial management, spanning the scope of strategic planning, merger & acquisition, market/product targeting, sales plan integration, operations control & review, cash flow management, capital acquisition, income tax planning & compliance, wealth preservation planning, and enterprise resource planning design...
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