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I did everything right, but why did it fail? …Does the situation sound familiar?

By  Deepthi Bathina
Published 1 December 2010 in

Prepping to present a business plan to key stakeholders?  Don’t skip the ‘meeting before the meeting’, or you might find your initiative shot full of holes.  Deepthi Bathina, author of 360° Biz Blog, shares her hard-won lessons plus excellent templates for detailed or short-version business plan.

Category: Planning, Analysis and Strategy

A few years ago, one fine sunny Tuesday morning, as I was trying to get through my regular marketing meetings, our Executive Admin dropped by to deliver a surprise news (not positive though) – that my boss’s boss is visiting us in a week and I need to present a full-fledged business plan for a new solution which I had proposed in the past. A full-fledged business plan, as shown in my template below, will take a good 4 to 6 weeks to develop – however, in this case I didn’t have the luxury of time. To add to my thrill, the V.P of Operations with whom I’m supposed to discuss some key details of the solution, has been on sick leave for a week and won’t be back for another 2 weeks. Struggling to complete the full plan within a week, I have covered every aspect "I” thought was important to the solution – pulled together some credible market research from third parties, worked on financial projections, talked to our key customers, did pricing analysis etc etc. Given the time constraints, it did not even occur to me that I need to validate my assumptions and run my timelines by the V.P of Engineering team. After working day and night including the weekend, finally, on the day of the presentation, I walked in with a nicely done power point (including print outs of the full plan filled with fancy charts) – to present to our Sr. Executives. Surprise! I see our V.P of Engineering seated right next to our President with a not-so-happy smile.

As the presentation progressed, she completely shot it down because she thought the traffic added by the new solution will weaken the performance of the entire platform and will impact the current solutions as well. She mentioned that it will take about $2 million to fix the problem and I (of course) did not factor it into the financial projections. There goes the approval of my business plan! One big lesson I learnt after that incident is – no matter how short the time is, make sure that the most important aspects of the business plans are taken care of. Pricing can wait! Some aspects of market scoping can wait! But not the buy-in from key players. Do the ‘meeting before the meeting’ to make sure you address the concerns of the functional heads. I shared this anecdote with my peers at the BPMA Executive Council recently and they added a few more interesting points to the list.

5 common points of failure: Few things every Business Manager needs to be careful about before presenting a business case

  •  Failure to getting buy-in from the key attendees – need to have the ‘meeting before meeting’ to understand each functional head’s individual concerns.
  •  Too much time spent on gathering data, not enough time spent analyzing.
  • Lack of visibility into execution – Don’t just talk about the plan. Elaborate on how team will act on proposal after approval (timeline, milestones, etc.)
  •  Not clarifying the assumptions you have made – be as clear as possible about the assumptions made – especially with regards to the financial projections.
  • Failure to recognize cognitive biases – People’s opinions affect how they interpret data. Therefore, the PM needs to be aware of these biases and have ways to counteract them. If you are presenting to an investor with a heavy technology background – his or her interpretation of the data could be completely different from the interpretation of an investor with a heavy financial background.

Based on my experiences writing business plans for both start-ups and Fortune 500 corporations, I have developed a template that can be used as a business tool in any scenario. Given below are two versions - detailed and short. Use the short version first to see if your executives/investors have interest in the idea. If they do, your time and energy will be well spent on the detailed version, which will take a lot more market research and internal colloboration with cross functional teams to develop. I welcome your suggestions and comments on the template.

Business Plan Template
  1. Executive Summary
  2. Industry Overview:  a. Comparison to other Industries b. Current Market Value & Volume c. Market Forecast d. Market Segmentation e. Market Drivers f. Market Barriers
  3. Competitive Analysis
  4. Solution Description
  5. End-to-end solution in two phases (customize the number of phases based on your business)
  6. Marketing Plan:  a. Situation Analysis (E.g. SWOT analysis, PEST analysis, 5 Cs, Porter’s 5 forces – if written for a high-tech product, use etc)
    1. Market Need and Value Proposition
    2. Potential Market Size and Opportunity
    3. Addressable Market e. Market Share f. Solution Positioning
    4. Pricing Strategy h. Distribution Strategy
    5. Marketing Communications – Trade shows, Campaigns etc j. Marketing Budget, Timeline, Resources
  7. Operations
    1. Operations Overview
    2. Scope of Operations
    3. Staffing Plan
    4. Timeline to Execute
  8. Development Plan 9. Financial Plan a. Revenue Projections b. Cost Analysis c. Income Statements 10. Key Findings from Customer Interviews
  9. Potential Road blocks/Risks
  10. Appendix

For Situation analysis, any of the following methods can be used:
  • SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • PEST Analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological trends)
  • 5 Cs (Customer, Competitor, Collaborator, Context, Company)
  • Porter’s 5 forces :
    • the entry of competitors
    • the threat of substitutes
    • the bargaining power of buyers
    • the bargaining power of suppliers e) the rivalry among the existing players
              In case of high-tech, 3 additional forces can also be used:
    • dynamics of technology
    • dynamics of complementary products
    • standards and regulations

Business Plan Template – Short Version

1. Executive Overview a. Current Problem b. Proposed Solution
2. Project/Product Overview
3. Timeline and Execution
4. Return on Investment (Include summary table of 5 year projections here)
5. Strategic Rationale

Deepthi Bathina is Senior Director of Strategy and Product Marketing for a key business unit at ADP and is on the Board of Directors for BPMA

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