Annual Marketing Plans

Part II: 6 Tips for Better Planning Meetings

Last time, I told you about the crazy way we run annual planning meetings at FiComm. Now I want you to understand the method behind our madness.I’ve broken down some of the basic principles behind our planning approach into a few simple, easy-to-follow ideas. Try implementing some of these practical tips, and see if they can help you create a marketing plan that makes a bigger impact on your business than the plan you wrote last year.

  • Forewarn your clients. You can’t think in an atmosphere of constant interruption. If you tell your clients about your planning meeting in advance, as we did, you might be surprised at how well they can cope in your absence. Barring a global apocalypse, they can get along just fine without you for one morning. Seriously, try to avoid even small interruptions. A five-minute “quick question” somehow always turns into fifteen minutes. Any interruption can completely derail your train of thought.
  • Go away. If you meet in the same old room you work in every day, you’re going to come up with the same old workaday ideas. Get out of the office. Go outside in the sun. Find a park, or some cool historic building. Don’t pick the Capital Grille where you take your clients to lunch; go somewhere you’ve never been before. You need a place where there’s room to move, write, take notes, and throw your notes away. Expand your horizons physically, and you can expand them mentally as well.
  • Be corny. To be honest, if you passed out glitter and glue guns at a typical advisor firm, you might be in for some pretty awkward silences. But the fact is, offbeat methods really do work. They get you in touch with your inner child and spark your imagination. Don’t’ be afraid of team-exercise clichés. If pipe cleaners are too much for you, try something simpler. You’d be amazed at what you can learn when you simply go around the room and ask people to share five things nobody else knows about them. It opens people up. It connects them and makes them more supportive of each other’s ideas. Try it.
  • Get physical. Our bodies and minds are much more in sync than we realize. A constrained environment leads to constrained thinking. Make people stand up, move around the room, walk, exercise, write on whiteboards, and pick things up. If ideas aren’t flowing during a brainstorming session, try tossing around a foam ball: whoever catches the ball has to blurt out an idea immediately, no matter how bad it is, before tossing the ball to the next victim.
  • Start with the future, not the past. Reviewing your business plan every year is important—but it’s a terrible way to start a brainstorming meeting. In fact, I’m devoting my whole next post to explaining why. For now, let me just say that you should plan to get your business plan review out of the way first at a separate meeting.
  • Get help if you need it. If you really want to shake things up, do what we did: put your meeting in the hands of a skilled, experienced strategy meeting facilitator. They know how to keep the process flowing, avoid tactical detours, educate participants, ask challenging questions—and they do it all from a neutral, objective viewpoint. Now, you probably don’t have the benefit of having a strategy expert on staff like we do. You’ll need to find one with directly relevant financial marketing experience. But if your planning seems stuck in a rut, try out a facilitator at least once to see if you can get moving again.

I’ve worked at advisor firms. I understand where your head is at whenever you’re in the office. There’s always news to read, phone calls to return, email to catch up on, portfolios that need rebalancing. It never stops. But you have to stop it—at least long enough to take a step back and think about the year ahead. Because if you don’t, you’ll probably be in the same place a year from now as you are today.

Next time—how to connect your business plan with your marketing planning, the right way.