Have you ever found yourself in the yearly planning meeting? You know the ones
(pre-pandemic) when everyone comes in with a fresh tablet, full mug of coffee and day-old donuts from the neighboring department? The mood – high. The hope – abounding. The possibilities – endless. Big dreams. Big Plans. And then you realize there is no budget.
You will just have to be “creative.”

In one such planning session, I had a CEO say she wanted to grow the business 20% that year.
No plans. No strategy. Just “We will grow the business by 20%.” The entire conference room filled with people shaking their heads in a resounding “Yes!”

I was surrounded by corporate cheerleaders. As I sat there trying to hide my discontent for this type of communal ignorance, the CEO looked directly at me and said, “Do you not agree?”

I did not. And, for the record, I love passion and cheers and growth. But we weren’t talking about the full story. We had somehow forgotten the past year’s challenges and just somehow heralded a new dream. See, the 20% was actually a 40% swing on where we were year-to-date. We had lost market share and lost sales because our internal structure was out of whack. But no one wanted to discuss those issues.

So instead of outlining my points of disagreement, I did what I always do. I started to ask questions.

“Do we have the sales plan for this type of venture? “What’s the budget for marketing?” “Where had they came up with the 20%? Was there an equation they were reviewing? Could I see it?” “What was the overall objective to this growth? Were we just growing or was there a long-term strategy we didn’t know about?” “Were we launching something new? Did we have a partner or a new distribution plan?” I looked at the blank stares. I must have hit a nerve (or two).

The room was quickly cleared and as the door closed behind the last rubbernecker, I was told that my insubordinate behavior would not be tolerated. I was not a team player. I was out of line.

But was I?

The challenge for most marketers is that you have to pull a rabbit out of your hat – every time. There has to be a magic pill you can give the people to buy what you are selling, regardless if it’s tangible or not. If you’re in an organization that lacks strong leadership, vision or planning, you can quickly find yourself as the target.

Marketing has to be the place where ideas flourish, objectives are outlined and testing occurs. It’s the one place where you can be the company’s SWAT team and get the job done.

How do you do that if your company is slow to learn, your sales are slumping and/or the leadership is disconnected with little-to-no strategic planning.

Here Are A Few Tips.

  1. Know Your Numbers.
    Make friends with the CFO. Make friends with the analysts. Know what you did, when you did it and what the results were. This isn’t a guessing game. You’re here to drive results. If you’re putting together campaigns and no one is asking for the results – you need to re-evaluate what you are doing there.
  2. Know Your Numbers.
    What were sales last year? What about the year before that? Do you have an executive summary of events? Did weather play a part in your results? Did a pandemic? Are you looking at your sales numbers daily? Monthly? Quarterly?
  3. Know Your Numbers.
    What’s engagement look like on social? Impressions? Did they grow? Now look at your conversion rates. Social media not working? Do you really have a strategy for that? Or are you paying someone to post meaningless messaging? You could use that salary of $30-40K in retargeting campaigns to drive sales….
  4. Know Your Numbers.
    What’s in your customer’s basket? What are they buying? Did they add on your suggestion? Did it spike during the sale? Did you lose margin? What are the returns? Did you give away shipping? Did you factor that into your results?
  5. Know Your Numbers.
    What’s the cost of conversion? Do you know your LTV (lifetime value for a customer)? What’s a lapsed customer cost you? What about a new one? Do you know your largest markets? Do you know what drives purchase? Do you know what offers work? What is the percent of returning customers?

These aren’t the only questions, but you get the idea. When you know your numbers, you can engage in vision planning. If there isn’t a bigger vision, you can help create it. It’s not just about being creative, it’s about being creative with purpose. You’re there to engage and elevate an idea or product. Your numbers can give you a road map. They can help you challenge a mandate. They can help you focus. They shouldn’t drive every decision but they can help you navigate the yearly planning meeting with an empty cup of coffee and day-old donuts.