Great plans don’t come from inspired enlightenment, but from following a great process. Whilst we believe we have built such a process for integrated sales and marketing planning, in a time-poor world the processes need to change. But to what?

I’ve just completed a Funnel Camp for one client, and am mid-flight in building a plan for another online, and the differences are stark. Quick background: Funnel Camp is our 3-day lock-down where Sales, Marketing, Finance and Operations build their go-to-market plan together. Lots of work before and after, but the centre-piece is this 3-day series of workshops. It is a great way to build powerful growth shift into a business, and in the process achieve great Sales and Marketing alignment. The end product is a blisteringly clear, highly actionable plan that we distil down to a one page Funnel Plan. We’ve done it hundreds of times and it works very well. This isn’t an ad, so I’ll stop going on about it.

Here’s the problem: Some companies buy the logic, but just can’t take 3 days out of the field for the senior team, or can’t afford to spend the money – especially if they have one hundred divisions, regions, partners or whomever, each of whom needs the same level of planning.

So we’ve built a process for building their Sales and Marketing plan online, iteratively, remotely, progressively. It still uses all of the exact same processes, and the same instructor-led content, and it still uses a savvy professional consultant to help with each wrestle (we call them Funnel Coaches), but this is self-paced. There’s lots about it that we’re excited about, but there’s lots about it that sucks too. We’re learning at warp speed. We have about 50 of these lined up for as soon as we’re ready to launch. You’ll see in a moment why we are not.

Dave (his real name) is one of the two partners in an Australian consultancy who agreed to be one of our test customers for our online version. He’s super-smart, a process junkie, a big fan and also very active in constructive feedback. Perfect for a test customer.

Yesterday I led the plan development for one client using a Funnel Camp (the 3-day version) and am about 1/3 of the way through for another using the online version (which doesn’t have a name yet). cards and flowers from the Funnel Camp participants who have a great new path they all believe in, and strong (slightly negative) feedback from Dave and his partner.

“I think the process would be easier (just mentally!) if we knew what, during one step, the next step is going to be. At the moment we lack the context on what the output from each step is going to be used for.”

Dave’s point holds true in our physical workshops also. That is, participants need to know where they are going. But in a 3-day ‘lock down’ of a Funnel Camp we have a little more hostage syndrome (learn to love your captor) and we work this to advantage. I need to address this need (and will) for the online version, but let me explain why we don’t over-articulate the end-to-end process at the moment.

The overall flow of plan development that we follow is not too contentious (from 40,000 foot) so explaining at that very high level is low risk. At ground level, we just ask the troops to climb out of the ditch on the mark and start shooting; grinding but universally described as a satisfying experience by all those who took the hill together. As facilitator (again, we call them Funnel Coaches), we lead the plan development strongly.

“We trust our commander, I did well individually, I didn’t know where were going but our Commander sure seemed to, and collectively we made it. Wow!”

The risk is at 5000 feet.

Each of the twists and turns we take in the development of an aligned sales and marketing plan is defendable, proven, powerful, but counter-intuitive. That’s why we need videos (for the online version) and instructor presentations (for our Funnel Camps) to explain each new twist, carefully. This is why we build powerful, careful content, and train our guys until their brains burst. Only partially explaining each of those twists leaves to participants us open to great debates about process, choice of hill etc.

The online process is an episodic version of Funnel Camp because the participants and the Funnel Coach drop in from time to time. So we need to address Dave’s concern without introducing the risks I spoke of above. Turning up to the party maybe 20-50 times over the course of plan development invites the “why am I here and where are we going” internal dialogue 20-50 times. This is why the Funnel Camp is 3 contiguous days rather than every 3rd Friday (for example), and it works – powerfully.

My challenge is to translate the power of the 20 carefully sequenced decisions and their implicit twists and turns into a series of speed dates. Keep everyone engaged, but also honour the process.

Thanks again for providing the feedback Dave.

If you followed the story this far and wonder what the lesson is, I’m going to disappoint you this time, because to some extent, so do I. Most companies cop out at this point. They give their divisions. regions, partners a form to fill in and they call that planning. It is not. Planning is following a process to build a plan – a sequence of inter-connected decisions. Form-filling is an articulation exercise only; the formation of the plan has to happen via some un-known and random magic prior to filling on the form.

If you are responsible for building clear plans for many stakeholders, I’d like to engage you in the thinking process. I’ll share what we’ve learned so far, and you share what you know. Perhaps we can learn more together. Are you up for it?

I’d prefer to engage with practitioners than consultants – I want shared frustration (and learnings) rather than another’s view of the perfect process. We think we have the perfect process, but don’t yet have the secret sauce to translating that online.