By Gary Coon

There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.” And flying without a flight plan can land you in the wrong fraternity (pun intended). This was part of the routine sermon served up by my flight instructor before each lesson. Business plans are just as important; they should be written, well developed, clearly articulated and internalized by every department head of your company. Otherwise, you’re flying by the seat of your pants, which brings us to goals and strategic planning.

A goal is a declaration of a desire and, by itself, worthless. Goals must be accompanied by objectives and action plans. For instance, let’s say your goal for this month is to make $10,000. Your objective would then be to fashion a methodology that supports this goal. If you are a water treatment salesman, your pursuit of this objective might entail seeing more people and closing more sales. STP: see the people! The more demos you do, the more sales you make. It’s a simple concept. The action plan then becomes the means by which you do more demos and close more sales. Goals, objectives and action plans do not exist in a vacuum. The most productive sales managers help their salespeople understand the necessity in formulating all three.

My definition of marketing is identifying problems, offering solutions and issuing a call to action, resulting in a presentation of your product. In most businesses, it’s the sole purpose of the marketing department to perform these functions. For the vast majority of water treatment dealers, however, it’s the salespeople who perform these functions. That is to say, they are the market- ing department. This concept is lost on many dealers. For instance, when your telephone operation sets an appointment for an in- home water test, the salesman identifies the problem, offers the solution and in a call to action, closes the sale.

This business model hasn’t changed in over four decades; it didn’t maximize productivity then and it doesn’t now. The detergent manufacturing industry has proven to be more plau- sible in putting forth the nonsense that squeaky clean means that the soap has rinsed off and your clothes are clean if they smell springtime fresh, than the honest people who are trying to reveal the truth. Most people are unwilling to think through to the correct conclusion that if soap dries your skin, it isn’t rinsing off and if your clothes smell like detergent, then the detergent remains. Changing the hearts and minds of one person at a time isn’t the path to maximum productivity. Imagine the demand for conditioned water if everyone knew the truth. In the beginning, supply couldn’t begin to keep up. But rather than getting into the specific language of marketing messages, I’d like to share with you my methodology regarding marketing and sales strategic planning.

Preliminary assessment of marketing function

  • Review the company’s business plan and organizational structure.
  • Measure the effectiveness of current and past marketing/ sales efforts.
  • Assess existing in-house marketing/sales capabilities, including staff and technology.
  • Evaluate the current process and activities related to:
    • ensuring the company’s corporate identity is consistently communicated
    • building joint-venture relationships
    • measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of the strategic marketing/sales plan.
    • tracking competitors
    • communicating with management and internal staff
    • obtaining appropriate, positive exposure for the firm (media coverage, speeches, seminars, newsletters and trade shows)
    • training staff and reviewing marketing/sales staff performance
    • establishing priorities.

Implementing a successful marketing strategy

  • Develop a strategic marketing plan and a budget to support the company’s overall business plan.
  • Develop a marketing infrastructure operating plan with achievable goals and a realistic timeline for establishing or upgrading the marketing function in the firm.
  • Gain approval for the strategic marketing plan and the marketing infrastructure operating plan, and then implement them!
    • Identify resources (personnel, technology, information and budget) available in the firm that can be used to meet the objectives of the strategic marketing plan.
    • If required, add and train personnel.
  • Establish processes that promote marketing efficiency.
  • Define a methodology for resolving priority conflicts.
  • Schedule check-ins to track progress and determine if the strategic marketing plan or the company’s expectations concerning the marketing infrastructure need to be adjusted.

Once you’ve developed your strategy, act upon it. Only action leads to productivity. An unimplemented strategy is less than worthless; random actions are just as valuable. If your actions aren’t in line with your strategy, then entropy ensues and success, however unlikely, is little more than luck. I don’t disbelieve in luck, but I’ve never thought it a good idea to build a business plan around it. And I’ve never met a banker who disagreed with me.

If you don’t know how to incorporate the details of a strategic plan into your business model, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are libraries full of books on the subject and legions of consultants with planning expertise at the ready. One of my favorite stories has to do with a court proceeding involving the great American industrialist, Henry Ford. The story goes that the attorney for the plaintiff was trying to make light of Henry Ford’s lack of a formal education. The attorney asked Henry (or so the story goes): “Mr. Ford, isn’t it true that you only have a third-grade education?” “That’s correct,” replied Ford, “but there are three buttons built into my desk, and anytime I don’t have an answer to a question, I can press any one of them and a dozen guys just like you will rush into my office and give it to me.”

There is an old business adage that goes: “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” Be clear about your goals, objectives and action plans. Know your market and devise and execute a marketing strategy that supports your business. It’s true that business plans evolve and have to be tweaked, but take it from me, without one, you really can’t get there from here. Good luck, good selling and above all, have a great day.

About the author
Gary Coon, a 16-year veteran of the water conditioning industry, has successfully trained hundreds of water treatment sales professionals. His seminars,‘What They Mean by What They Say’ and ‘The Theater of Selling Water’ offer instruction in closing methodologies and presentation techniques. Learn more by visiting


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