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Are You Ready for 2024?

By Todd M. Zielinski and Lisa Benson

November 13, 2023

In May 2020, the inflation rate was at 0.12%. By July 2022, it had reached a historic high of 8.5%, a number the United States hadn’t seen in more than four decades. To fight inflation, the feds have incrementally raised interest rates. Its hike of 0.25% in June meant interest rates had gone up 5.25 percentage points over the previous 18 months, reaching its highest level in 22 years.

Although inflation has come down and the feds are hoping for a soft landing, financial giant JPMorgan Chase & Co. predicts a recession at the end of this year or in early 2024. Other experts have noted that while consumer sentiment has been positive, companies are noticing consumers pulling back. It is expected that the lagging effects of interest rate hikes impacting credit, depleting COVID-19 pandemic savings, and restarting student loan payments will significantly impact spending. A reduction in consumer spending will lead to a decrease in packaging needs in some industries.

As we approach 2024, many have begun planning for the coming year. The uncertainty of the upcoming year makes planning more critical than ever. A strong annual business plan can set the tone for a successful year ahead by outlining clear goals, metrics, resources, implementation strategies, and timelines. It should build upon your broader strategic plan and allow flexibility to adapt to unpredictable market shifts. Business development is critical to this plan and should be purposefully considered. With careful business development planning and execution, you can pave the way for a prosperous year.

Overall Sales Goals

Defining overall sales goals is the foundation for creating a business development plan. This includes not only having a revenue goal but also understanding where the revenue is expected to come from. This involves identifying specific markets, products, or customer segments that will contribute to achieving the revenue goal.

Some questions to consider are as follows:

  • What is my annual sales goal?
  • How does it break down between new and existing customers?
  • What is my expected customer retention rate?
  • How does this break down by
    product/service and market/industry?
  • How do I define the steps in my sales cycle (specific actions taken to convert a prospect to a customer) and the conversion rate at each step?

It also includes setting realistic timelines, allocating resources efficiently, and establishing performance metrics to track progress. By focusing on these areas, a company can create a solid plan that aligns with its strategic vision and ensures growth and success in the market.

Defining and Prioritizing Your Targets

To achieve sustainable growth, a business must carefully identify potential customers and industries that fit its products or services well. This means identifying not only those that need your product or service but also those for whom your value proposition will be most compelling. It is also essential to prioritize these prospects to allocate your resources efficiently and focus on the most promising opportunities.

Specific steps to be taken and questions to ask include:

  • Identify potential customers. Ask, “Who is my ideal customer (industry, sales potential, geography, etc.)? Who is not my ideal customer?” Remember, not all customers are created equal. Some will be more sustainable than others. Identify those for whom you can have the most significant impact. Prepare to eliminate those that are wasting your resources.
  • Categorize and prioritize customers. Once you have identified the most promising customer types, categorize them in a way that makes sense
    for your business (e.g., e-commerce, large industrial, etc.). It doesn’t matter what they are called as long
    as it is clear what it means to your company. For example, “large industrial” may mean companies west of the Mississippi that sell products larger than washing machines and require at least 1,000 boxes per month. Just be specific. Then, prioritize the categories so you know which to focus on first and allocate resources to.
  • Identify the needs of the category. What are the challenges it is facing? What are the unmet needs of the customers?
  • Assess your proposition. What makes our products or services unique and valuable? How can our business solve the problems this group is facing?
  • Determine prospecting goals. How many prospects are needed to achieve the desired revenue from a new business based on our sales cycle conversion rates?

Creating Awareness and Educating the Market

In today’s competitive business world, making people aware of your company, product, or service is vital. This involves helping them understand why your offering is valuable and how it benefits them. Some important aspects to consider and questions to ask include the following:

  • Define your value proposition. What does my company/product/service bring to the table that competitors don’t? Does my value proposition address the real needs of my target market?
  • Communicate consistently. As a company, are we consistent with what we communicate to the market?
  • Relay your message. What marketing channels will we use to relay our message (e.g., emails, case studies, cold calling, pay-per-click, blogs, search engine optimization [SEO] strategies, advertising, and trade shows)?
  • Anticipate objections. What objections do we anticipate? Which can we overcome? How will we address those objections?
  • Track performance and adjust. What metrics will we use to track performance? How will we determine success? When will we change if our message isn’t resonating?

Secure Opportunities and Develop Relationships

The ultimate objective is converting a marketing lead to a sales lead, one that aligns with your ideal customer profile and expresses genuine interest in your offerings, and moving it through the sales pipeline until it results in a sale. Achieving this goal demands consistent engagement at regular intervals as follows:

  • Define your process. Do we have a precise sequence of steps to follow when engaging with potential clients?
  • Prepare your team. Do we have the right people in the positions that are a fit for their skills? Is our team well-trained, and do they understand the nuances of relationship-building and lead conversion?
  • Define your outreach. Do we have a marketing communication plan with an outreach frequency for each channel that will help us reach our goals? Do we have a plan for regular opt-in nurture emails or follow-up calls for those who aren’t ready to commit but express interest?
  • Track performance and adjust. What metrics will we use to track performance? How will we determine success? When will we adjust if our process isn’t delivering?

Sales Process Management

Regularly reviewing the sales pipeline and managing the opportunities as they move through it are critical. Your business development plan should have a mechanism for ensuring opportunities do not age and become forgotten as follows:

  • Define responsibilities. Who will be involved in reviewing pipeline lead flow and follow-up steps? Who will schedule next-step appointments, obtain requests for quotes/drawings, quote follow-up, and capture win/loss feedback?
  • Track opportunities. How will we track and record active sales activities through win or loss, including subsequent step disposition and date, estimated revenue, and probability of closing?
  • Review pipeline activities. How often will we review activities to ensure we are on track to meet our sales goals?


The resources you need to execute your business development plan are pivotal to your budget. Specific steps to be taken and questions to ask include:

  • Put the right people in place. What staff will we need? Do we have hunters and farmers in the correct position for their skills? Do we have a content creator and graphic designer? Do we have the administrative help required
    to free the outside sales team to focus on selling?
  • Create processes. Do we have processes in place with defined tasks, intervals of execution, and roles and responsibilities? Do we need multiple processes (e.g., inside sales versus outside sales and inbound leads versus outbound leads)?
  • Determine and acquire technology. What technology is required (e.g., customer relationship management, marketing automation tool, graphic design software, sales intelligence software, website chatbot, website visitor tracking, analytics, and SEO tools)?

Business development is a critical component of any company’s annual business plan. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can create a business development plan tailored to your specific needs and goals, and it will help you grow your business in 2024 and beyond.

Todd M. Zielinski is managing director and CEO at Athena SWC LLC. He can be reached at 716-250-5547 or

Lisa Benson is senior marketing content consultant at Athena SWC LLC. She can be reached at