CI Planning I – Set yourself up for success

 With a new financial year coming up for most of us, now seems to be the perfect time to talk about CI planning. This post is the first of three where I’d like to outline some simple planning tools that can be used to make your CI team stronger and more focused.

Firstly one of the key questions you have to ask yourself is what your goals are for the following year. Here I’m not posing a “philosophical” question about mission statements or the like, but rather, focus on tangible things you need from your stakeholders or tangible benefits you’ve shown the business.

A solid CI plan covers the good and the bad and gives you the platform to:

  • Identify the areas where you (or your team) have shown measurable business benefits to the business or your stakeholders.
  • Illustrate your team’s workload and create the assets you’ll need to ask for more budget or more headcount.
  • Identify the areas where you need assistance, access or input from other stakeholders or business units within your organization. This last point is especially true for lone wolf CI practitioners. Remember, you can’t do it all by yourself! 

CI planning is often different depending on where (or whom) your function reports to. Reporting into marketing differs from reporting into sales, and so on. There are a few common steps that I’ve found useful over the years, which I like to treat as internal, external and the final plan you communicate to peers, users and management.

I’m going to look at the internal factors first. As you’ll see groups of threes is a recurring theme for me!

Internal:

  1. An audit of what you and your team (if any) managed to do that year.
  2. Gap analysis of what you set out to do and any major reasons for deviations from those goals. 
  3. CI benchmarking with internal stakeholders and your “audience” to understand their needs.

 

The Audit:

If you only do this step, you’ll be way ahead of the curve and will have more ammunition to discuss the support and funding you and your team will receive in the coming year.

I like to treat the audit as looking in the mirror very objectively. Firstly if you haven’t been measuring your contribution to the business and you’re close to the end of the year – anecdotes and testimonials will work, but will not be as effective.  If you’re looking to start measuring this year/quarter or month, here are some of the ways you can set up tangible measures for your CI function.

Stuff you do:

  • Number of enquiries you do in a week/month/quarter/year.
  • Number of training sessions held.
  • Number of “deliverables” such as newsletters, webconferences, etc held.

Stuff you contribute to:

  • Due diligence on major product launches, mergers and acquisitions, business planning processes.
  • Trusted advisor to individuals or groups.

Stuff that creates direct revenue:

  • Contributions to RFP’s.
  • Individual sales rep or partner coaching.
  • Presentations to customers.

I love the idea of tying the CI function to sales. It helps where the help is needed the most. It can be directly tied to a revenue figure and lastly, it creates the ties with sales that help create channels of information sharing that make your competitor knowledge richer.

Once you have that audit done you will have a very clear idea of your key wins and contribution to the business. This information is hard to refute and certainly helps to break CI out of the “privileged” environment as those crazy, shadowy guys in CI.

 

The Gap Analysis:

The gap analysis is an optional step, but one you can use to provide a sword or a shield for you and your team. A gap analysis will show you one of two things:

  1. That you are on top of your game and covering workload effectively and being used by your stakeholders effectively.
  2. Where the “time wasting” requests are coming from and where there is a shift in corporate direction or competitor importance.

Early in my career the most glaring gaps that would occur would be around what was promised and what was delivered. In my case, written CI documents were seen by management as the key deliverable for my one-man-band. What quickly became apparent was the need for additional training and one-on-one sales rep coaching. This high touch, unscalable model was embraced by CI consumers, but placed additional burden on the program. Regardless, measuring over the course of that financial year helped me to be able to show value to the business and illustrate how employees wanted to consume CI data. Which brings us to the last point in this internal plan.

 

Internal Benchmarking:

Benchmarking helps you understand the “where to next” part of your CI plan. This usually comes in the form of a feedback form or some type of internal survey you provide to key stakeholders and users of your CI deliverables. Some of the questions you may want to find out during this stage include:

  • In what format do you like to consume CI material? (website, email, webconference, face-to-face, blog, etc)
  • The frequency of communication. Once a month, week, as news happens.
  • The competitors that your stakeholders feel need to be tracked.
  • The type of information needed (tactical sales techniques, strategic forward planning, etc).
  • A measure of customer/user satisfaction with CI material and access.
  • Ways to improve the service.

With the benchmark in place, your plan can provide a richness of detail that will assist you over the course of the year to aim your assets in the direction that is going to create the maximum benefit. This process is also a fantastic opportunity to reach out to members or your company who don’t use CI and create potential business in the long run.

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One thought on “CI Planning I – Set yourself up for success

  1. Dan,

    Awesome blog. I’m planning on reading through all of your posts as I try to learn more about this fascinating field.

    Just one quick comment on your “CI Planning I” post.

    In reading this post, it sounds like this could be a rather lengthy report. Is this something primarily intended for you and your team or something you would share with executive leadership?

    I’m asking because in my experience I’ve never been able to get executives (or just about anyone) to read more than a 1-pager. This actually depresses me a bit because I’m also an analytic, quantitative person and I like to read the details and numbers.

    In fact – sadly enough – my experience is that most people in operational company environments will grab onto a story more than the facts. In other words, you may be able to get more recognition if the word spreads that “Dan helped us win XX account!” rather than an objective quantitative analysis of your program.

    Anyway, curious to hear your thoughts. Thanks for the great info.

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