Wednesday, February 25

Planning Breakthroughs: Mike Ferrell


"Success is simple. Do what's right, the right way, at the right time." — Arnold H. Glasow

Simple becomes the operative word in describing Mike Ferrell's new book, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning, from Scarletta Press. It's simple enough that it risks being overlooked by varied best seller lists, but important enough that small business owners and managers would benefit to see it there.

Ferrell, president of The Pinecrest Group, has been involved with eight different start-ups, with considerable time working in the financial services arena. He has also presented to thousands of people at workshops and seminars. But that's not why management could benefit from the little red book that could.

"In 2005, 544,800 small businesses closed for a variety of reasons: lack of capital, lack of customers, poor location, bad service, or the wrong product," writes Ferrell. "How many of these could have avoided this fate if they had an easy-to-follow plan, or blueprint, that would help them succeed?"

Ultimate Breakthrough Planning defines itself as the blueprint that can help small businesses move away from thinking in terms of a traditional business plan and into an actionable business funnel approach. While I found the funnel to be similar to other models we've helped businesses adapt in the past, Ferrell puts down his approach in a much more comprehensible format and then goes a step further. He starts with the six key elements of success ...

Vision and Branding. How to determine what your business will look like and how it will function.
Leadership and Team. How to clearly communicate vision with your team to make it more effective.
Marketing Systems. How to create marketing that is done consistently across a variety of mediums.
Sales Process. How to understand your customers and develop stronger relationships with them.
• Exceptional Service. How to take good service to a higher level, and engaging your team to do it.
Strategic Alliances. How to determine what you do well and find people to do what you don't do so well.

... and then, he drives each of these critical areas through his funnel process. It seems to me that it is this process where Ferrell's ideas for an executable business process take hold. He does not force businesses into a cookie cutter model, but rather guides his readers through a process, from the macroscopic concept to the microscopic action.

What's the difference? Most business advisers define vision and branding in typical terms and then produce various statements that are sometimes mocked until they are long forgotten. Contrary, Ferrell suggests all six elements are all executable by identifying priorities, setting goals and objectives, defining strategies, determining tools, communicating and training, creating tasks and timelines, tracking results, and rewarding success. While the outcome of this process for each company would produce very different conclusions, each would benefit with an equal propensity for results.

That is the point isn't it? Personally, I have yet to find any two companies that are the same. And yet, every day, marketers and business consultants insist that all companies adopt the same models, marketing, or priorities. Why? Because that is what most businesses want to hear. Never mind what works for our employees and customers, they say, I want to do what works for someone else's customers because we want their outcomes. Ferrell spells out the problem with a sports analogy.

"When a football coach designs a game plan, he doesn't focus on the eventual outcome of the game; he focuses on the specific offense, defensive and special teams plays that need to happen to affect the eventual outcome in his favor," writes Ferrell. "Too many business owners focus on their plan and skip specific steps needed to achieve those results.

He's right. The reality of any game is this: we do not know the outcome. So while setting goals is useful, the focus needs to remain on the strategies and tactics that are required in order to achieve those goals. It's not all that different from what I've been suggesting with the ROC abstract.

It's also this kind of thinking that makes Ferrell's work immediately applicable. Every business has strengths and weaknesses, and there is ample material to help determine which areas — offense, defense, or special teams — could be brushed up for better results. More importantly, Ultimate Breakthrough Planning helps business owners think about and evaluate their businesses as if it was the first time, which far too many forget to do.

With the exception of a few minor blemishes throughout, the only soft spot in the book can be found in the Question and Exercises chapter where Ferrell suggests a self-analysis for Vision and Branding that is a bit too introspective for my taste. I believe even the smallest businesses can benefit by involving key members of the team to answer the questions he proposed. There is no need to wait until the second element before you bring them into the process. Engage them at the beginning.

Otherwise, it's easy for me to recommend this book. It's straightforward and clearly articulates what businesses ought to do if they want to make success simple. That is what we want to do, isn't it? After all, if a business isn't focused on success but only "survival" in a down economy, then it's already operating at a deficiency and heading for a loss.

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