Being in the right place on time

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The Independent Online
Owner-Managed businesses might make greater use of strategic planning than is often thought, writes Roger Trapp. But according to a survey it appears driven more by the instinct of individual executives than by analysis of data.

The study by Deloitte & Touche, the owner-managed business group of accountants, found that formalised procedures for establishing customer needs were lacking, that companies generally did not assess their relative competitive advantage, and that they had difficulty in defining this.

Kerr Mitchell, a Deloitte senior manager, commenting on the fact that some companies do not research customer purchase criteria, said: "It is no surprise that the proportion that rank themselves and their competitors against these criteria is lower still. There seems to be plenty of opportunity for those that do their homework."

He added that this lack of detailed research might not be a bad thing in smaller companies, where senior management was still likely to be directly involved in sales. "However, as a company grows, this close involvement diminishes and more formalised processes are needed."

The survey of 76 companies, with turnover from pounds 1m to more than pounds 100m, found that quality was the factor most often cited as a source of competitive advantage. Few companies did not claim a lead in this area, perhaps because it was the most subjective category, added Mr Mitchell. Other factors, such as reliability of delivery and after-sales support, required rather more research. So, given the general weakness in customer research, "it would be surprising to see a high positive response in these areas".

Nevertheless, for all the lack of formality and a certain confusion about how plans were arrived at, there seemed to be a sense of commitment to having a strategy.

Success ceases to be a question of being in the right place at the right time and instead becomes being in the right place, on time.

"For those who approach the exercise more rigorously, the rewards may be high," added Mr Mitchell.