April 28, 2020
The words “strategic plan” can bring to mind a phone-book-sized document full of corporate jargon. But strategic plans don’t have to be dull, and they don’t have to collect dust on a shelf. If approached thoughtfully, they’re excellent tools to grow business.
We talked with Mitch Goozé, an expert in strategic business planning, customer relationships, and marketing, to talk strategy for independent pharmacy. He offered some practical advice on how to hammer out a strategic plan, stick to it, and create a pharmacy experience customers will come back for.
You’ve been helping businesses develop strategic plans for many years now. What are the biggest mistakes you see small businesses make, and what should they do instead?
The two biggest mistakes they make are not having a goal and not understanding the need for a strategic plan. They either keep it all in their heads and believe they have a plan, or they just don’t have one at all. If it’s only in your head, then nobody can help you. The value in writing it down is that you can then share it.
How does a pharmacy owner go about making a strategic plan for the future?
Start out by asking, ‘What’s the goal?’ Then, ‘What’s the strategy to achieve the goal?’ Next, pinpoint the critical success factors necessary and sufficient to execute the strategy and achieve the goal. For most pharmacies, there probably won’t be more than 10 critical success factors. The next step in the process is determining what key activities are required for each critical success factor to happen. The last step is to decide how you will measure and monitor the strategic plan. Because the world changes, and your plan might change with it.
Once a pharmacy has a strategic plan in place, what’s the biggest problem you see in terms of executing it?
What most people do is they create a strategic plan that says: Here’s our vision; here’s our mission; here’s our strategy. And they’ll write down a lot of pontifications and use big words, and they never really get to ‘What do we have to do to make sure this happens?’ They impress whoever forced them to create a strategic plan, or themselves, and they put it on a shelf because it really isn’t part of their daily operations. That’s why I recommend completing a strategic execution process that focuses on the important question: What are we going to do? Your plan has to tie to what you are going to do, or it won’t make it off the shelf.
When setbacks come up, how do you recommend adapting a strategic plan to keep things moving forward?
Quickly and appropriately ask yourself: Is my goal still reasonable? It isn’t just what happens in the outside world that makes it hard for your strategy to work; your goal might actually change. So step back and ask, ‘Is my goal still the right goal for me?’ Then, if you want to achieve that goal, decide if your current strategy will still make that happen. If your strategy is wrong, then you have to redo your strategy. If the strategy is still right but the critical success factors are no longer necessary or sufficient, then adapt at that level.
If the critical success factors are still viable but the key activities won’t accomplish them, then you have to adjust those. So you start at the top, and as soon as the answer to any of those questions is ‘no,’ that’s where you have to make the change, and then the changes ripple down from there. Start at the top and work down, don’t start at the bottom and work up.
You help retailers see their customers’ point of view. That can be hard to do. Do you have any tips?
One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is that great customer service is very rare. Many people have never experienced great customer service. And so one of the things that I recommend to independent retailers, including independent pharmacies, is to find some place near your town or in your town that has great customer service and take your staff there. Not to observe it, but to experience it. If there’s a restaurant in your town that does a phenomenal job with service, take your staff out to dinner there. In southern California, people will take their staff to Disneyland®, so they can see how the people who work there make you feel special.
As for what the pharmacist or the owner can do, I recommend that he or she walk around competitors’ pharmacies. And then, as often as you can, walk into your pharmacy at a different time of day. Just stop outside the store and look at the windows; look at the parking lot; look at the landscaping. Ask yourself, ‘Does this look like a store people would want to shop in?’ For example, if you have a neon sign, are all of the bulbs working? It makes you look sloppy if your neon bulbs are out. Is your parking lot clean? When you walk in the store is there trash? Pick it up! Teach your people to do that, too.
Stop at the front door and then look. What do you see? Don’t be in a hurry to walk back to the pharmacy counter, put your coat on and go to work. Look at your store as if you were a customer and then do that in other stores, not even necessarily in the pharmacy category, and see what they do.
How can a pharmacy differentiate itself from its competition and why is that important?
If you’re not going to sell on price, you have to create a valuable difference. Selling on price is a valuable difference, but only one business can be the low-price leader. For independent pharmacies, it’s more about customer experience. What customer experience are you trying to provide?
To help figure out what makes your pharmacy different, ask this question: What would happen if my pharmacy closed? Other than your patients would have to find another pharmacy, and their prescriptions would have to be transferred. Forget all of that. What would they give up if they couldn’t buy from you anymore? What would they be missing? That’s how you find your value statement.
Is there any other advice you’d like to share with pharmacy owners?
There are going to be things that are outside of your control, but they’re outside of everybody’s control. What you have to do is go leverage the things that are to your advantage. You can’t get the old days back, so go make the new millennium work for you.
About the expert
Mitch Goozé is the president and founder of Customer Manufacturing Group, a company that helps businesses gain a competitive advantage in their market. He’s a recognized expert in marketing, strategic business planning and customer relationships.
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.
PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.
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