New Year’s Plans (Issue 653)

In which we are reminded that January is a good time to step back for a more strategic look at our clients and prospects and, perhaps, to help them articulate their plans more clearly so we can help them more powerfully.

“So, what are your big plans for next year?”

I was standing near the gleaming granite-topped island in a neighbor’s expansive kitchen, surrounded by smiling holiday party neighbors, brownies, teenaged and pre-teen children (attached to either the smiling neighbors or the brownies), bathed in neighborly babble and the evocative aromas of pot-luck supper dishes.

I must have paused too long because he asked the question again, a little louder, thinking I hadn’t heard him the first time. “WHAT ARE YOUR BIG PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR?” He’s a big man with an enormous barrel chest and the question boomed around me, filling the room.

I had heard him the first time, as it turns out; the pause was the result of my attempt to extract something meaningful to say from the train of thought that glangled through my head after he asked the question the first time:

“San Francisco. The Tetons. Launch a new marketing program for my business. Deal with the accounting issues that caught us short. Get back to the Cape this summer to see a couple of baseball games. Clams, I’d really like some clams. Community Rowing. Ultimate Frisbee. Sailing. Physical therapist for my shoulders. Read more – get to the stack of books in my office.  Stay in touch with my cousins and friends more frequently.”

My internal voice hissed, “Are you listening to yourself?  Not only do you not have BIG plans… you don’t have ANY plan!”

“WHAT ARE YOUR BIG PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR?” My neighbor had done me a great favor by asking the “obvious New Year question.”  In the midst of holiday reverie, it reminded me I still had some work to do.

We can do the same favor for our business clients and prospects by asking them the same general question and listening just as patiently as my neighbor did. Notwithstanding their “I’m completely put together” demeanors, chances are pretty good that some loose ends remain.

While we could ask our business clients dozens of questions covering every part of their strategy, operations, and finance, here are four that start the ball rolling in a constructive direction, like:

  • What are your big plans for the coming year?
  • What are you most excited about?
  • What’s changing in your environment (that might be helpful or an obstacle)?
  • How are you thinking you’ll address them (the challenges and opportunities)?
  • How do you think the year will go financially?

Depending on how deep we want to pursue, we can ask follow up questions like, “How will that work?” and “What will you need to put in place to make that happen?” and “What time frame do you have in mind for completion?”

Some of our clients and prospects may be completely buttoned up by this point, and many may not be – their plans are still works in progress. Think “holiday party.”

Without seeking to sell them anything, we can be curious, listen so they can articulate what they’re thinking. At a later time, perhaps planned, perhaps not, we can return to them, saying: “You know, I’ve been thinking about what you said, and I have a couple of ideas for you…”

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