As publishers, we make decisions every day that impact the future of our business. And as small-businesspeople we tend to rely on our experience and gut feelings rather than upon external objective data. But by relying too much on intuition we reinforce the assumed precision of our decision, and possibly inhibit innovative thinking.
Trusting your gut when making marketing decisions is not bad in itself. The problem is that if you have not tested your intuition by going against it periodically, how do you know if it is helping you make the right decisions? You may only be reinforcing your closely held preferences.
There are three things you can do to check the accuracy of your automatic decision-making process. First, have a long-term perspective. Second strategically choose objectives, and third, consider multiple options for reaching your goals.
Plan beyond the near term
Creating plans for the next year or two is relatively easy. The process is based upon historical information or on the results of similar titles. You know the new titles you have in the pipeline and your distribution channels are in place. While these facts can guide the decision-making process they should not be sole criteria.
So why plan through the “fog of the future” where the business circumstances are less clear? It is because the distant future is murky that you should plan for it. Provisional plans help you respond to changing conditions rather than reacting to them. Here are some things you can do to help clear the fog.
Instead of applying hindsight to the cause of a past failure (postmortem), imagine a future malfunction and analyze its cause (premortem). Play the Devil’s Advocate to identify potential problems and then devise actions that will avoid those results. Then play the Angel’s Advocate and prepare alternative plans and exit strategies.
Another way to create your future is to formulate three potential futures: the good, better and best forecasts of revenue three to five years from now. The middle ground could simply be the average of the two plausible, perhaps unlikely extremes. But this process forces you to at least consider different scenarios.
You can perform either of these techniques with your employees. Or, participate in a mastermind group for an outside perspective. People unassociated with the outcome of your decisions may be in a better position to see and vocalize potential obstacles and opportunities.
Once you complete your future plans, put them away for reconsideration later. It may only be a week, but give yourself some time to reflect upon the variables that led to your decisions. Will the author be as heavily involved in promoting the title as you originally predicted? Will you get the retail-shelf placement you assumed? What if it takes longer than expected for that corporate sale to close? Is your sales team capable of steering the large-quantity sale through the negotiating process? How will the answers to these questions change your initial plans?
Create strategic objectives
Creating your long-term plan is like laying tracks for a train. It keeps you heading in the right direction, but it does not create the power behind your progress. Clear, measurable and time-destined goals clarify your destination and generate the energy to keep you moving toward them.
Many publishers limit themselves by defining a major target such as unit sales or gross revenue simply as a percentage increase over last year’s performance. However, there is a better path to greater results, and that is to build objectives for sales, revenue and profit for each title, one market at a time.
Create three matrices similar to that shown below — one for unit sales, a second for gross revenue and the third for profits. Then fill in the intersecting areas with the unit or dollar figures you predict. This forces you to consider how you will generate profitable sales by title, within each market.
Increase your tactical options
You cannot control sales and revenue, but you can influence them. Place your attention on the actions you can take to realize your objectives. Decide which of those you can implement to improve your product development, pricing, distribution and promotional practices.
These decisions can be no better than the best options under consideration. Therefore, a key to better decisions is to have more options from which to choose. The exercise above facilitates decision making by forcing you to think about how you are going to reach your targets for each title and market. It requires that you think about where and how you will generate profitable sales.
You can weed out those titles that are not destined to succeed in any particular markets, so these matrices yield a critical mass of options for sound decision making. Yet, people tend to pay attention to what they can easily evaluate by framing decisions with answers to yes-no questions, such as, “Should we sell Title B in Market C?” A technique to broaden the discussion is to follow a yes-or-no answer with, “Why?” or “Why not?” Another factor that limits options is asking questions like, “Should we sell through chain stores (bricks and clicks) or sell through independent stores, too?” This forces a choice between two familiar options. Instead ask, “In how many other places can we sell our books?” Or, “What if there were no bookstores? Where and how would we sell?” Questions like these force you to expand your thinking to non-traditional outlets, both retail and non-retail. Adapt this technique to help plan for the long term by asking, “What if this (pertinent) current trend continues. Where and how will we generate revenue?”
Anticipate good, better and best futures, establish stretch objectives and generate multiple actionable options. Your decisions can directly and positively impact your sales, revenue and profits for many years to come.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS – www.bookapss.org– formerly SPAN) and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books. Contact Brian at email@example.com or www.premiumbookcompany.com and twitter @bookmarketing
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