When building a B2B strategic marketing plan for any business an in depth market analysis is of vital importance. Without analysis the resulting plan is likely to be of little practical use resulting in significant wasted resources on a document that simply sits on a shelf gathering dust.
What is strategic analysis
The basis of any strategic planning exercise is a route from where we are now to where we want to be in a set timeframe. To plan that route it is necessary to know what resources we have at our disposal, what barriers are we likely to face (environment) and what skills can we utilise (strengths and weaknesses) to overcome those barriers
Appropriate analysis provides the data upon which we can answer the above questions. Analysis is the foundation on which the strategic planning process is built. If it is incomplete, or worse inaccurate then the entire process is likely to be a complete waste of time and effort.
Problems – Where Theory falls down
All sounds wonderful in principle but the reality is somewhat different. Often the analysis process lacks focus or is superficial. Collecting key people in a room for half a day, drawing the dreaded cross on the flip chart and brainstorming through a SWOT analysis is not enough.
A SWOT is not the starting point but the end point, it is really only a tool to create a visual summary of a robust and quantified data collection phase. Appropriate focus is required or many hours can be wasted collecting data that is not relevant.
Before starting the analysis process it is worth asking some key questions including
- What is it (in simple terms) we offer to the marketplace?
- Who needs that offering and why?
- Who else satisfies that need (competitors)?
- Given the competition why should a customer choose us?
Pin the answers to these questions to a wall, or somewhere they can be easily referred to, make some assumptions, then challenge those assumptions using appropriate analysis and data collection techniques.
Marketing Analysis – Key Steps
The key issues to consider are:
- Products and Customers
- Competitive Environment
Product and Customers
Includes both a historic element and a projection into the future and includes:
- Historic data on key products and product groups including quantity and price trends.
- Current key customer analysis including establishing why they first became customers and what it is that stops them migrating to competition.
- A detailed market segment analysis – both existing and those to attack.
The PEST analysis tool can be useful to assess the larger environment, its existing and potential future impact on the business and the business of key competitors.
A Value Chain analysis may be performed to analyse what resources the business currently employs to deliver a competitive advantage. How can these resources be better utilized in future, what is currently weak / missing and what new resources may be required to take the business forward.
Where possible resources should be classified against any established industry norms. In war (and in business) it is the side with both the most resources and the best method to deploy those resources that wins. Any business therefore needs to analyse carefully its available resources and how they may be best applied for competitive advantage.
The Competitive Environment
Porters’ 5 forces analysis is a good place to start. It covers the threat of new entrants to a market, the threat of substitute products and the bargaining power of both buyers and suppliers. This is an essential analysis tool to understand how the market may change and adapt over time.
The B2B market analysis process then is both complex and time consuming. With the data in place it is possible to take the next step and create a number of potential scenarios (based on the solid data collected), decide which of those scenarios is the most likely and a potential way forward for the business. Eisenhower said ‘plans are useless but planning is everything’ perhaps he was referring to the power of the analysis and scenario phase.