Like many managers at this time of the year, I have been actively, but not easily, trying to carve out bits and pieces of my day to deliver my 2010 sales and marketing plan.

While I have never met anyone who actually enjoys this process, most business-minded individuals understand the value it brings if done well.  The interesting thing I have to come to learn about the annual budgeting and planning process, is that the most successful plans begins with a thorough and honest look back at the success and failure of the previous year’s activities.

It’s an interesting parallel to a question we ask every prospect for our web application and service, “What do you want to do better?”

For our business, and for my particular role in our company, the answers are fairly straightforward:  I want to increase sales to meet and exceed our targeted growth plan.  I want to increase the effectiveness and ROI of our marketing programs. I want to lower customer acquisition costs by X.  I want to reduce our sales cycle by X.  Just to name a few…

One of the common pitfalls of  budget creation and planning, is forming a plan based on a 10,000 foot view; you are bound to miss the details, destined to recreate previous mistakes and will most likely anchor your company in areas where it should be progressing.

Let’s apply this statement to trade show attendance.  The “10,000 foot view” examination involves looking at trade show related expenses, qualifying the resulting leads and value of trade show generated business, and calculating the monetary return for attending those shows.  However, to truly understand the value of a specific event and whether future participation is warranted, a deeper and more detailed examination is required.

Take your planning to the next level:

What was the internal cost of resources used for pre-show preparation and post-show follow-up? Was there an associated opportunity cost by diverting those resources from other activities that may have yielded comparable or better results? Is there a more cost-effective or efficient way to reach the target audience this show represents?

These are just a few considerations you might apply to all of the previous year’s sales and marketing activities. Too often, we do something because “that is the way we’ve always done it.”  If that has been successful for you, then, by all means, continue.  I think for most of us, honestly assessing the past illuminates the path to a brighter future.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a prosperous 2010.