Making 2021 The Year For Strategic Thinking

by Terry Cascioli

As we approach another holiday season, many of us are looking forward to the turn of the calendar with more excitement than we typically do. 2020 has been a challenge to say the least. Business hardships and personal sacrifice is more the norm than the exception. For many it’s been a year filled with difficult decisions that had potentially negative impacts on co-workers or even clients. Less travel means less face-to-face meetings and thinner headcounts can strain our fulfillment promises and norms. At a time when we need new business the most, our marketing efforts are squeezed by soft revenue streams. We must balance responsibility with opportunity, but that’s easier said than done.

So, as we lick our wounds and prepare optimistically for better days, what should we do to ensure that 2021 isn’t just better because it’s not 2020? If you’re more grounded in your optimism we can hope for improvement, but we all know that optimism and hope are not strategies. This is truly a time for planning, for strategic thinking, for evaluating our talent and optimizing our best team members. The winners of 2021 may or may not grow their revenue streams, but will assertively grow their market share.

It’s common sense, right? If the pie shrinks, I need a bigger piece of it to stay healthy and happy. But being sensical will in many cases revert back to the old standby of optimism and hope. The economy will improve and carry us back to normal, right? I think wrong. Over and over, we see this play out. Surviving a pandemic has taught us new norms. Some inconvenient and less than ideal, but others that have taught us new efficiencies. Our online skill sets and shopping habits have undergone a boost of exponential change that we are not likely to step back from. That means we need to evaluate our own business marketing practices with a keen and innovative eye. It’s no longer important just to have a website, but to treat your website like you would an employee: evaluate its performance and hold it accountable; set goals and learn and live the new metrics.

We must also look at our sales channels and determine their effectiveness within the changing landscape. Evaluating our revenue performance against the prior year may be what we’ve always done, but truly understanding our market share relative to what’s available will be the discipline of the winners. Pandemic or not, it’s always been this way. We’ll also need to scrutinize expenses to be confident that we can build a budget that affords sales and marketing the opportunity tell our story in ways that resonate with our customers and prospects. Most businesses sit on mountains of data that go unanalyzed. Many of us underestimate the affordability of interviewing current clients to understand what they love about us. Maybe more importantly, do we truly understand the ones that are getting away? Why did we lose them and how can we answer that issue to better our results in the future?

I’m as hopeful as anyone that 2021 will be better than 2020, and given the challenges we’ve faced this year, I doubt my hope is unfounded. I’ve been fortunate and thankful throughout my career to have worked with multitudes of different businesses and the years have taught me to see the stark differences between those that just survive and those that thrive. Thriving, growing businesses work hard to understand themselves and the markets they hope to serve. They look at investments in data and primary research with an openness that allows them to change to meet changing needs. Their mission isn’t to get bigger but to get better, because they know that bigger isn’t better, better is better. Be better and more often than not, we’ll become bigger.

If you found some of this to be statements of the obvious, I hope I didn’t bore you too long. More importantly, if you know with all your being that your business is disciplined in common sense and these things are embedded in your culture, I commend you. Knowing what to do but not doing it is more common than any of us would like to believe. It’s called the “comfort zone” for a reason. Doing the deep dive on the issues most critical and acting on our findings is what makes us dynamic. Being dynamic helps us embrace change with acceptance so that we have the upper hand in dictating and dealing with change rather than having change inflict its will on us.

So as 2020 heads for the history books, I hope that reflection will be a good teacher. And to reiterate, I know that my optimism and hope are not strategies, but I’m confident in the entrepreneurism and creativity of our business community and the hard work and discipline of its leaders. It’s never too late to start doing the right things, and it’s never too early to learn from the past.