It’s early January, and the entire year stretches out before us. We have big sales goals, and we are already active and busy, executing marketing and sales activities aimed at producing those revenue numbers and making this a great year.

But, before you implement any more sales or marketing strategies, stop and ask yourself this question: Am I sure I am doing the right things to make 2013 a success?

My answer: To ensure 2013 is successful, you need to plan the year backwards. Decide how you want 2013 to end, and then work back from there. Here’s how:

Step 1: Imagine it is December 31, 2013, and you are celebrating a very successful year. What is it you are celebrating?

Yes, you may already have created budgets and forecasts, but think beyond what you’ve “turned in.” Think beyond spreadsheets and columns of numbers. Describe a “picture of success” that describes, in detail, what you hope to accomplish this year.

Step 2: Which customers are most important to your success?

I define a customer as “anyone whose actions affect your results.” Who are the customers who are most important to helping you realize your 2013 picture of success?

And, looking back at my customer definition, answer Step 2’s question by thinking beyond your paying customers. What referral sources, vendors, bankers, board members and partners could act in ways that influence your success?

This is a very important step for focusing your sales and marketing activities. Most of us make the mistake of trying to communicate with too many customers, and we end up spreading our messages “a mile wide and an inch deep.” As you determine who your customers should be, you are also making the important decision about who your customers shouldn’t be.

Step 3: What do you want your customers to do to impact your success?

Sales and marketing are the things you do to encourage your customers to act in ways that impact your success. So, before you determine your sales and marketing activities, it’s critical that you decide what actions you want your customers to take.

Look at the customers you have identified in Step 2, and describe the actions you want them to take.

Step 4: Make sure your brand story is motivating customers to do the things you want them to do.

Customers will only act in ways that impact your results if their beliefs about your company and its offerings compel them to do so. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The ancestor of every action is a thought.” Does your brand story encourage the right customer thoughts and beliefs that will lead to the right customer behavior?

A brand story that focuses on who you are and what you do is usually not enough to motivate customers to act. And, importantly, a brand story that focuses only on the benefits you provide is also not enough, because your competitors probably offer benefits that are similar enough that your customer can’t distinguish them from your benefits. Your brand story must directly connect who you are and what you do to the impacts you can have on your customers.

Developing and refining a brand story is hard work, and, I’m sorry to tell you, it is work that is never complete. No matter what brand work you have done in the past, it is important that you refine your story for 2013.

Step 5: What do you need to do to communicate your brand story, in order to motivate your customers to act?

Now … finally, you can determine what you need to do to communicate your story and motivate your customers. What customer experiences will best communicate your brand story? What will motivate your customers to act?

Step 6: Who, from within your organization, can impact your success, and what do you need them to do?

Everyone in your company has an effect on the customer experience. Who within your company or organization do you need to “enlist” to help you motivate customers to act in ways that help you reach your 2013 picture of success? What do you need these people to do? How will you earn their collaboration?

It’s January 8th, and we have 357 days left in this year. Plan backwards, and you’ll make the most of that time, helping you create a wonderfully successful 2013.

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