The New Normal: Strategic Planning In a Time When Past Lessons Don't Teach All

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Midmarket Forum was pleased to open the 2010 speaker series season with Ram V. Iyer, founder of The Midmarket Institute. On March 16, Ram spoke to an enthusiastic room of 75 people, at the Nixon Peabody law offices, 300 S. Riverside Ave., Chicago.

Central to his talk was to identify midmarket companies and the common issues they face. He focused on providing market data, tools, and most of all, the offer to participate in a community for ongoing dialogue, for everyone involved in the midmarket.

Ram's process: midmarket companies need to understand the macro economy, as it relates to them. Their approach should be to hold onto their core customers and focus on understanding what they do best – their core business. Then they can evaluate options available to them.  This enables midmarket companies to use many available tools to effectively turn around, or to really thrive in their business.

So what characterizes a midmarket company? They are defined mostly by the common challenges they face, not just their revenues or employee count. They face marketplace challenges, such as limited access to funds, broad economic issues that often hit them disproportionately, and new non-traditional competitors. Further, they face internal challenges, including CEO succession with one strong leader supported by a relatively weaker bench. Operationally, they are generally good but impaired with knowledge lockboxes, individuals who perform specific tasks rather than practices and procedures. And they tend to hold onto vendors too long. But overarching everything is that midmarket companies are "too busy doing" to develop good strategic plans (making sure they are working on the right things and applying the right resources). And without strategic plans, midmarket companies are in peril.

Times might be tough for midmarket companies, but they shouldn't waste a good crisis: theirs, their customers' or their suppliers'.

Midmarket companies have the opportunity to wake up to the new normal. What is the new normal? Many of the "old rules" don't work.  Consumer spending in the US is down and is expected to remain below recent historic highs. Most of the growth will occur overseas. Globalization is ‘spiky’ and requires new skills that are scarce in smaller companies. Regulatory changes create enormous uncertainty. All of these events characterize the foreseeable marketplace future, to which midmarket companies must adapt if they want to thrive.  Let’s continue the dialog.