SWOT’s the Plan?
Your Guide to developing long- and short-term business plans
While January and February are when other businesses first launch sales campaigns for the new calendar year, most Oil & Energy readers are already seeing the results of marketing plans that have been in action for months.
Of course, there is still time to pivot marketing for the rest of the season – we have all been through cold snaps and snowstorms in late February and March – and tweaks to your marketing strategies can increase sales. But more importantly, this is the time when many energy companies start planning for next heating season.
Before developing any new business strategy, it is vital to know where your company stands in relation to the competition. One way to do this is to prepare a SWOT analysis to help determine the most profitable and plausible steps to take.
A SWOT analysis outlines your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It takes some time, and facing hard truths, to create an accurate business analysis. When you develop a SWOT, it could be helpful to survey your management team as well as technicians and customer service and sales reps – and your customers. Your employees talk to your account holders and are hearing complaints (threats and weaknesses) as well as praise (strengths). They might also see a need in the community that opens a new revenue stream (opportunities).
- Strengths: These can be your reputation, community outreach, biofuel blend level, fuel storage capabilities, service and delivery teams, range of services, market share, pricing, or any other aspect of your business that puts you ahead of the competition and positions your company to withstand external challenges. Your strengths will be the foundation of the marketing plan that supports your new business strategy.
- Weaknesses: It’s time for brutal honesty. Have you been receiving complaints about staff, service or delivery times? Are there locations where you are underperforming? Is your customer communication limited to monthly invoices? Is your website so outdated that it won’t render on a smartphone? Many of these weaknesses may need to be corrected immediately for the business strategy to succeed; others can help you set sales goals for the near future.
- Opportunities: Is your nearest competitor struggling to meet customer demand? Can you utilize word of mouth to increase your market share in communities where your business already has a strong presence? Will coupons and promotions help you gain market share in weaker locations? Are you offering new diversified services that can be nurtured? Are merger or acquisition offers in play? Determining opportunities helps focus strategy and execution.
- Threats: We all face threats from many sides. In addition to industry-wide threats like electrification and natural gas conversions, each of us deals with company-specific challenges: competitors encroaching on our customer list, conglomerates undercutting prices, staff turnover, labor shortages, poor customer reviews, outdated delivery trucks and service vans, et al. While your business plan should not be based solely around reactive measures, it should include steps to address the most pressing issues quickly.
As you create a list for each category, consider each item’s importance in comparison to the others. Again, honesty is key – this document will help you plan investments in corporate infrastructure, vehicles, supplies and sales and marketing goals. When you think your SWOT is complete, ask a few trusted business associates to review it and offer feedback.
SWOT’s the Use?
A well-developed SWOT helps you develop both short- and long-term action plans. Tangible threats and weaknesses should be considered first. An aging fleet drains your bottom line and weakens your standing in the community: homeowners will choose the company with the cleaner, newer fleet over one that shows years of wear and tear. If it appears that you don’t maintain your vehicles, consumers won’t trust you to maintain their home. New trucks and vans are an investment – so be sure even the older ones are spotlessly clean, dent-free, and repainted or rewrapped as needed.
Aging websites can be as costly as aging trucks. Your customers expect to be able to view your site easily on their devices and access account information, make a payment, request service and more. Consider it the “Amazon-ization” of web services. Amazon has built a user experience that anticipates consumer needs before they even ask. Your online account platform does not need to be as expansive as Amazon’s, but should allow customers to complete basic tasks at their convenience.
Once you’ve identified the immediate issues to be corrected, start planning growth strategies – whether by leveraging the opportunities or mitigating weaknesses. How can your strengths be used to their best advantage? Will a reputation for fair prices and reliable service increase sales in slow-growing service areas? Will internships and training programs help your recruiting efforts?
Depending on your company’s goals, you may want to target low-hanging fruit first by promoting a new or slow-growing service to current customers. Alternatively, you may look to do the hard parts first, such as gaining market share in an area where you have a light presence. The goals are yours to choose, and the choosing is made easier when you have a SWOT laid out in front of you.
If you are not already working with a marketing company, now is the time to bring in an expert who knows how to best reach your target customers, make the most of your budget (whether four figures or seven), and create messaging that engages the consumer and conveys your company’s strengths.
Many businesses have sales or marketing goals but haven’t outlined these important metrics. Marketing companies will often create a SWOT analysis as part of the planning process and use that information to develop a creative brief, marketing plan and budget.
With a SWOT and creative brief, your marketing partner will develop an execution plan, which could include website revisions or overhauls, programmatic advertising for specific consumers or neighborhoods, social media, broadcast flights across radio or TV (including satellite, connected TVs, and spot cable, as appropriate), billboards, print and internet campaigns, and more. Each asset should be geared at reaching the consumers you need and delivering the results you want – both of which were identified by your SWOT analysis.
Whether you are developing quarterly, annual, or five-year targets, it all starts with SWOT.
Richard Rutigliano is President of integrated marketing and communications firm PriMedia, Inc. He can be reached at 516-222-2041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.