I’ve been in a lot of end-of-year planning sessions that were doomed from the outset because they amounted to getting a few folks around a table and saying, “Well, what do y’all think we should do?”
Right off the bat, people start throwing out ideas. One wants a new slogan. Another pitches a new website or brochure. We could do this. Or we could do that.
But there’s something missing: Facts. Invariably, the team gets together before anybody has done any homework. There’s nothing on which to base any ideas or decisions. Nobody has a real grasp of which marketing activities the company used last year, what they cost, how well they worked, or what might have worked better. And since nobody’s done any research, there’s nothing on which to base decisions for the year ahead. One idea is as good as the next, until the boss speaks, and then everybody says “me too” and we all go home.
There’s a better way. Public relations professionals have used a four-step structure for years to gather data to guide efforts, develop measurable plans, implement them, and evaluate the results. The most common way to remember the process is with the acronym, RPIE.
Research. Close your eyes for a minute and try to walk around. You won’t get far before you walk into something. Skipping the research step is like putting on a blindfold and leaving it on the whole year. Soon, you’re bumping into walls, tripping and getting yourself hurt. And the worst part is that you won’t even know why it’s happening. (After all, you got all the guys around a table and planned, didn’t you?) A good start is with secondary research — looking at published data, and reading other people’s research. Auctioneers and brokers who sell different property types can get a head start with secondary research, without spending a ton of money. Various services offer very specific data on commercial property markets, farmland, homes and industries. But why not take a step further and gather your own data (primary research)? You know that Facebook pixel you’ve been using to track your Facebook ad conversions? Use that to create an audience on Facebook and run an ad inviting this audience of your web visitors to complete an online survey. Were they buyers, sellers or tire kickers? Regulars or just folks who came to look at a specific asset? Did they understand the bidding process? Were they pleased with the results of the auction? Remind them that the survey is anonymous (Facebook lets you advertise to your web visitors but doesn’t tell you who they are.) You’ll find that the answers may be very different from what people tell you in person.
Plan. Assuming you’ve gathered some good data in the Research phase of the process, you can do a much better job of putting together a plan for the year. Start at the top, with your company goals. Maybe you want to sell more recreational properties. That’s a good start, but now you need to ask questions. Where? Maybe you start with states where you’re licensed, but you rule out one because it’s more dominated by cities and farms, without much in the way of trees and streams. You’re now into the territory of formulating strategies — overall plans for moving toward your company’s goals. So now you know what you’d like to accomplish and have a good idea of where. It’s finally time to come up with tactics (ideas for how to accomplish that), and objectives (yardsticks by which you’ll measure your results). Objectives should be both measurable and time-specific. Assign each process to an individual, and put the names on the plan. This should become part of the annual appraisal process for those individuals. At this point, you may be ready to hand off the guts of your plan to the people who’ll be responsible for translating it into specific programs and actions. (Along the way, you’ll probably discover that you need to return to the Research step to gather some data you didn’t anticipate you’d need.)
Implement. At last, you’re ready to get to work! And better still, you know what to do. It’s time to let your folks do their jobs, with the gentle reminder that they’ll be held accountable for their areas of responsibility.
Evaluate. If you’d done the R,P and I steps of the process, you’d be in much better shape now, wouldn’t you? No matter. You can’t go back in time, so just build our plan and look forward to getting a better handle on how your efforts are proceeding and how your folks are performing. I recommend quarterly “gut check” appraisals so that you can fine tune your plan as needed.
This may seem a little involved, but trust me. It’s been working for all kinds of companies for generations, and it beats the heck out of a “Now get out there and sell” pep talk.