YOUNG MONEY asked Troy Byrd, co-founder of Bryant College’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, to review several software products intended for small business owners. This article is the third installment of a four part series featuring such products.
Installing Palo Alto’s Marketing Plan 6.0 was far from the hassle-free setup I took for granted when previously installing their Business Plan Pro 2005 software. After the initial launch of the install wizard, I was promptly greeted with a dialogue box requiring me to install a version of Adobe Reader nearly two years older than the one I was currently running on my machine (Acrobat 4.0 vs. 6.0).
After clicking "no," thinking the software would be fine with the newer (and obviously improved) software, I was thrown out of the install screen, and the application quit. I proceeded to do this once more, only to have the same thing occur again. I soon realized that the only way possible to get to the next step was to install this amazingly outdated version of Adobe Acrobat.
After clicking "yes" to the install of Acrobat, I was brought to the disk’s Adobe installer, and went through the normal installation process. The installer proceeded to quit once more; I was forced to open the actual CD-ROM icon and press "install" for a fourth time before I was finally able to launch the program.
The first set of questions asked to complete the plan setup was very similar to those asked in Palo Alto’s Business Plan software. They ran along the lines of what type of business I would be setting up, whether or not it was a nonprofit, and who I would be selling to. There was also a section to input my business SIC code; this was easily obtained through a search dialogue.
After entering my company’s name I was on to the next step. The following section was a series of written dialogues designed to input information about my company, such as a mission statement, product line, and my "keys to success." This was all very similar to information entered when I was setting up my business plan earlier. The market analysis section contained areas to input data about market demographics, needs, trends, growth, etc.
Next, I was led to a SWOT analysis page. SWOT analysis is one of the newer trends in analyzing and organizing a company’s "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats." It seems like a good idea to include something like this in a marketing plan because the industry has accepted this method of recording and analyzing these traits.
The next few sections, which fell under the "Strategies" heading, were more blank text boxes with prompts about what to write in them. I eventually reached the "Strategy Pyramid," which allows the user to mark out a business strategy, followed by a marketing tactic used with that strategy. This plan can further be broken down into programs associated with each tactic, generating a nice visual representation of different strategies and tactics associated with them.
A sales forecasting section allows you to input your anticipated sales figures, and an easy to use graphically displayed chart of those figures is available to assist in mapping out the per-month figures. The final section in the wizard is called "Implementation and Controls." There are various text entry sections as well as one numerical break-even analysis wizard. Both a chart and a text entry box are included for the recording of business "milestones."
The final step is to summarize the plan; this includes writing a brief description for various components of the plan, as well as an executive summary. After completion, I ran the "plan review" wizard, which found that I had left a few entry boxes blank. After the review was complete, I ran a print preview and checked out my new marketing plan, which included full color graphs and charts, a nicely organized index, as well as an appendix.
The major fallout for this piece of software was the installation process. The version I tested is almost three years old, but it seems that software like this should not be that difficult to install on a brand new computer running Windows XP Professional. It bothered me tremendously that I was forced to install a much older version of a utility that I use on almost a daily basis, for I do not know what conflicts it will impose on my system.
Contextual spell checking would also be something I would like to see in a future release, for both this and their business plan software. Even still, this software would be of some value to young entrepreneurs. It can most certainly generate a rough marketing plan, and for that reason is worth having.
Product: Marketing Plan Pro 6.0
Manufacturer: Palo Alto Software
Cost (website orders):
Standard Version – $99.95
Premier Version – $199
-User-friendly graphical method of altering sales figures (used in forecasting wizard)
-Consolidates market plan components for easy inclusion in business plan
-Sample plans available for review
-Nice visual representations of sales forecasts
– Sales Forecast Wizard application is inconvenient and slow in inputting new data fields
-Interface not aesthetically pleasing
-Marketing Expense Budget layout is less than adequate when inputting monthly figures
-Cannot pull reports out of marketing plans
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