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The Danger Signs of Short-Term Thinking

When it comes to building a successful business, you need to take a long-term view. Here are some indicators that you’re not thinking enough about the future.

By John R. Graham

While there are always immediate needs for your business, there are also long-range issues that you must address. These include taking care of customer needs, tending to your brand, thinking through future growth issues and refining your products and services. While these are important aspects of business planning, day-to-day pressures can keep you thinking only about the short term. Here are some indicators that your company may be taking a short-term view of long-term problems.

No planning or plan
It seems as if what passes as planning is often nothing more than talk. Little gets actually nailed down; meetings end with an aura of vagueness in the room. Even if assignments are made, there’s often little follow-up. Everyone knows that nothing has changed and nothing is going to happen. The clearest and easiest way to understand good planning may be to ask the bottom-line question: “Who’s going to do what to whom, why and when?”

Scrambling for sales
“We’ve got to get sales up” is the common cry. The answer is too often throwing together a quick sales contest. Yet, this can leave agencies short on consistent prospecting. Developing, implementing and managing a carefully crafted prospecting program that has management’s support is the ultimate answer to increasing sales, but we find quick fixes more attractive than the hard work involved in program management.

The tendency to play “follow the competitor” may be a major error since competitors make mistakes, too.

Jumping from one activity to another
Broken-field running is a fine art in many companies—with everyone dashing about, zigging and zagging. Unfortunately, they aren’t as agile as they like to think they are. First it’s a sales contest, next comes a newsletter, then it’s an email blitz, a broadcast fax or signing up for a trade show booth. Then everyone comes back from the event and says it was a waste of time. As a matter of fact, it was exactly that because there was no plan.

Constant crises
Periodic crises occur, of course. It’s the pattern that’s the problem. Have you ever thought something’s wrong if you’re not having a crisis? Even if there is marketing and sales planning, programs can often be derailed by one crisis or another. It happens in every company because no one says that staying on track is essential.

Focus on competitors
It often appears that companies lacking good planning may be taking their direction from the competition. While competitive intelligence is essential, too often companies make decisions based on unsubstantiated rumors picked up on the street. The tendency to play “follow the competitor” may be a major error, since competitors make mistakes, too.

An unclear image
The image inside a company may be quite different from the way it is perceived on the outside. A financial-services firm may think it has a very clear picture of itself. A customer survey, however, reveals that what the company views as its strengths are perceived as less than adequate. One of the essential objectives of good planning is shaping and protecting the brand based on what customers want.

Confusion between strategy and tactics
To put the issue in as few words as possible: Tactics are fun; strategy is tough. It’s easy to get interested in what the direct mail piece will look like. The question is why it’s being done and who should receive it. Far too many ads and brochures are designed with the idea of winning awards rather than figuring out how to meet a clearly defined objective.

Difficulty in understanding branding
It’s almost impossible to escape a new book, article or seminar on branding. Yet, for all the talk, it’s amazing that so few companies make certain every aspect of a business reflects the company’s brand concept. Branding doesn’t begin and end with a great logo and a glitzy tagline. Planning makes branding possible.

The best has been saved for last. Errors are some of the clearest indicators of poor planning. Mistakes in marketing and sales programs generally occur because of a lack of serious thought or, as we call it, anticipatory thinking. We all make mistakes, of course, but good planning keeps us from making them all the time.

If you don’t write it down, and if you don’t review it regularly and update it often, it isn’t a plan. It’s just another exciting idea that will waste time and turn out poorly.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. You can contact him at 617-328-0069 or through The company’s website is

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