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Business plans, five-year spreadsheets and other fairy tales

I have no business plan.

I have no spreadsheet with five years of projected earnings.

There are two reasons: most business plans never come to fruition, and five-year sales projections are about as accurate as political polls.

Oh, there is another reason: the people who you prepare a business plan for never read them, unless you put a one-page executive summary at the front.

This is what I recommend: prepare a one-page executive summary. Then create a forecast of what you believe sales will be over the next 100 days and the next 12 months. Nothing more. Beyond that, it’s a wild guess.

The reason to make a 100-day plan is to ensure that in the short term everything is much more intense and your blue-sky effort has a deadline.

I sincerely apologize if I have busted your bubble. But in the long run I have just saved you 100 hours of work, a huge consulting fee (charged by people who use boilerplated, cookie-cutter material) and the mental letdown of not achieving that plan anyway.

If your banker insists on a business plan try this: go online, download a business plan template, insert your name and logo and in five minutes you will have a document that your banker will never read anyway.

Ok, that’s a joke suggestion. Or is it?

Here is the serious suggestion: call a limousine service and rent a van. In the van, place your banker, any potential investors, some of your key executives and your best salespeople.

Create a road trip that touches five of your biggest customers in four hours. Start at 8 a.m. at the first customer’s business, bring coffee and talk to the people who actually buy from you. Find out why they love you, talk to their CEO, tell them what your game plan is for the next 12 months — maybe have it prearranged so that they give you an order right on the spot — thank them for their business, their support and their loyalty and then go to the next customer.

It is important that you bring a recording device (I recommend a Flip camera), so that throughout the morning you’re videotaping.

Each time you visit a customer, go through the same process, talking to the people who use your product or service, talking to the CEO, picking up an order, telling them your 12-month plan and filming the entire process.

Make certain you do this: get testimonials from each one of the five customers you visit. Ask why they buy from you. Get their history of doing business with you. Ask why they would refer you. And get a call to action from them. That information can be used separately on your website, in your proposals, in CD-ROM or DVD format in sales presentations, as part of your social media presence and/or in your follow-ups.

After you have visited the last customer, take everyone to lunch. Nothing fancy, but not fast food. A local restaurant will work best. Make certain that they’re prepared for you. Have a book or a small gift sitting by each person’s plate. And have a general discussion about what just happened.

Film the luncheon. Film everyone’s comments. Keep in mind that your Flip video only has about two hours’ worth of storage and you will be on a five-hour trip, so bring two cameras and make certain that you have someplace to download the video during the morning if necessary.

Spend the afternoon editing the film and get someone professional to help you. Make it real but make it spectacular. Edit the entire thing down to 30 minutes or less. What you will have as a result of the morning will be a business plan, a marketing plan, loyal customers, excited bankers and investors and a real-world look at your business and the relationships you have with your customers.

Reality news: In spite of banker’s euphoria, they have one prime agenda with respect to lending you money: making certain that you can repay. Period. Just keep that in mind as you listen to his or her glowing evaluation of the day.

What I’ve just given you is a rough outline and game plan to create spectacular engagement and results. It will take planning, it will take coordination and it will take some hard work but the results will give you sales, sales tools you can use forever and relationships that will never forget what transpired that day.

Or, you can write a fairy tale. Er, I mean a business plan.

If you want a few more ideas on what to ask your customers during the visit, go to www.gitomer.com, register if you’re a first-time visitor and enter the words “value motive” in the GitBit box.

Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of “The Sales Bible” and “The Little Red Book of Selling.” President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs sales meetings and conducts Internet training on selling and customer service at www.trainone.com.

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