Category Archives: Strategy And Planning

A B2B Market Analysis Template

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 B2B market 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.
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Where The 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
  • Environment
  • Resources
  • 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.

Environment

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.

Resources

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Problem With B2B marketing Strategy

Let me get one issue out of the way straight away I am a big fan of B2B marketing strategy but too often the strategic planning process fails to achieve the desired outcome. Many strategic plans that take extensive time and resources to produce then spend time gathering dust on the shelf. In his re-thinking strategy lecture Sir Lawrence Freedman (really worth a watch if you have 30 minutes to spare) quotes Mike Tyson – ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ and therein lies the problem

The Theory

At its most basic level a strategy is a means to control future events. It is a process to get from where you are now to where you would like to be. Based on a detailed analysis of where the business is now, how it got there and the likely future shape of the marketplace it builds possible scenarios for achieving the goal. Those scenarios are then analysed a way forward chosen and plans put in place along a path to reach the goal.

The Problem

The plan assumes if we do A then B will unfold but the real world of business is populated by people and they do not always act (some would say rarely act) in a way that is predictable, or even logical.

It is true that a plan could be built based on if A happens we do B or if C happens we do D but what happens if several issues do not fall into place as expected at the same time. People, markets and the World in general is unpredictable. A military planner once said (I paraphrase) ‘No battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy’

A Possible Solution

Another great quote from Sir Lawrence Freedman’s lecture. Eisenhower said Plans are worthless but planning is everything () and that perhaps is the key – it is the process that matters.

The solution may be to employ a less rigid strategic planning process in B2B markets. Months, perhaps years, of planning went into D-Day. I guess Eisenhower and his generals new little would go to plan but that they had a basic structure in place.

They were probably well aware they would need to rely on their men in the front line and their immediate commanders to modify the plan (or what was left of it!) as the situation demanded. If the tanks did not turn up, or the enemy strength was more than expected the men on the ground needed to find a way to get off the beach. However, once they were off the beach they were well aware of what the plan stated as their next task.

The long established B2B strategic planning process remains valid but it does not need to be as resource intensive or as rigid. It does not need to be complicated but it does need to cover the basic key issues including what do we sell, what need does it satisfy, who needs it and why.

Analysis remains a key process as it is important to understand exactly where the business stands and why but given the uncertainty factor any analysis that tries to predict the future is perhaps futile. Scenarios should still be constructed so the business has at least thought about what may happen and potential solutions.

Objectives remain important for the short to medium term but tend to be irrelevant in the long term. Overall the basic plan should be understood by all but it should be flexible and a living document that changes and adapts. Perhaps all that is fixed should be the start and end point.

How To Simplify The Strategic Marketing Planning Process

Although the importance of a periodic strategic marketing planning process is well established relatively few businesses actually have a strategic plan in place and fewer still utilize and implement any existing plan. We discuss the two main reasons the strategic planning fails to deliver results and a potential method to address these issues.

To survive for any length of time a business must be expert at whatever it delivers but this leads to a focus on today’s market and the short term that makes it difficult to step away and take a longer term view. Key staff often grow up with a business which blinkers their view of the market. The impact on growth (or even survival) of a short term view may be recognised but many businesses avoid market evaluation and long term planning for two key (and interrelated) reasons:

  • The complexity of the process and the time and resources involved.
  • The perceived usefulness of the finished plan to the day to day running of the business

The complexity of the planning process often generates information overload, a lack of clarity and a final plan which is difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Hence, if a strategic plan is produced it often sits on a shelf gathering dust. Kaplan and Norton research shows that >90% of organisations fail to implement their strategies.

Strategic Marketing Analysis

To simplify the process and to provide clarity and focus it is worth answering some simple questions before diving headlong into the market analysis and planning process, they are

  • Evaluating strategic optionsWhat does the business offer?
  • Who needs what the business offers and why?
  • Which other businesses offer the same product/service that satisfies that need?
  • Given the above why should potential customers pick your business to service their needs?

Simple questions in principle but not so easy to answer in practice. In our experience it is often the last question that causes the most problems.

A brainstorming session can usually answer these questions in 40 minutes or so. Answering the last question often stimulates a re-evaluation of the answers to previous questions. A further 20 to 30 minutes can therefore be required to work back up through the relevant questions.

Identify Customer Needs

What basic customer need does whatever the business supplies satisfy? It is important to stop thinking in terms of products and services and to think instead about what customer problems are addressed. Fail to answer this question properly and any marketing analysis and strategy process will fail.

The natural next step is to define which potential customers (or groups of customers) may have this need and to profile and segment them appropriately. Unfortunately, in almost all cases, there will be other businesses attempting to satisfy this need and it is important to list them and their relative strengths and weaknesses.

When starting with needs and not product and services competitor analysis often throws up surprises. New potential competitors enter the mix and others that may have seemed a major threat may turn out to be less dangerous than previously imagined.

With competitor analysis complete it should be possible to answer the final key question and define what sets the business apart from the rest. It is the answer to this question that is the key and, once the answer is in place, an evaluation of which businesses may require what the business offers and competition is required.

Although the above short form method can be no substitution for a thorough strategic planning process it does give both some clues where to start and some focus to the activity that ensures the final plan has more relevance to the business and more chance of being implemented rather than just gathering dust.

Build An Effective B2B Marketing Plan

The lack of an effective B2B marketing plan can often result in lost opportunities, a long term decline in business and market changes that catch a business unawares. However, too many marketing plans are poorly constructed and a complete waste of time and money. This post outlines a marketing planning process, some tips on how to maintain focus and some mistakes to avoid.

The strategy and planning process can seem complex and time consuming and therefore often drops to the bottom of the priority list. In a previous post on marketing strategy and return on investment I outlined the steps in a typical marketing planning process. Often, it is the early steps in that process that are the both the most difficult to understand and the most crucial to achieving the required outcome.

Retain Focus During The B2B Marketing Planning Process

B2B Markets are complex and there can be a wealth of data (see below) to analyse and crunch. It is therefore often all too easy to lose focus. Three simple techniques can help retain focus without influencing the outcome of the marketing process.

At a top level briefly answering some key questions and pinning these to a wall or some other place they can be easily referred can often bring a process that is starting to wander back on track. Key questions to ask:

  • What basic product / service does the business provide?
  • Why are those products / services needed?
  • Who needs them and why
  • Who else can satisfy that need?
  • Why should a potential customer pick me?
  • How do raise awareness of the business and its product / service

At the bottom level it is worth drawing out the well known sales funnel on a large sheet of paper (trust me – there needs to be plenty of space for notes and alterations). You can go at the funnel from either end but during the marketing planning process it will need some numbers. What is the growth target, how many leads are required, where are those leads going to come from, conversions, resulting in sales, by segment.

B2B Marketing Planning – The Key Steps

The first step is to analyse the current position understanding where the business is now and how it reached there. The key point to remember is this data collecting process must be completed without bias or any pre conceived ideas. With the analysis complete the results may be summarized and considered in conjunction with the desired future direction of the business over the next 3-5 years set by the business owners or senior management.

Many text books fail to cover the next step in sufficient detail (if at all) but it is important to draft out a number of possible paths (scenarios) to get from where the business is now (based on the analysis) to where it wants to be. These scenarios should include well defined target customer groups or segments.

A step often missed is the sign off by senior management of the chosen path before proceeding into the detail of how the business is going to progress down its chosen path, its objectives and the strategies to achieve those objectives. With the above in place the rest of the process building out the detail of the plan, estimating results (go back to the funnel mentioned above), modifying plans and setting programmes and schedules should be relatively easy for most professional marketers.

Most marketing plans fail because the analysis is performed without sufficient detail or with bias and the scenario developed is incorrect. Incorrect analysis and segmentation of customer groups is also often an issue. If the early part of the process is performed correctly the rest should flow without major problems.

Measurement, Control and Feedback

With the plan in place it is then important to measure actual performance against that stated in the plan and to take appropriate action. A well constructed plan should layout in detail programmes, events, timescales and expected results so it should be a simple process to go back and measure actual against expected.

Too often marketing plans are constructed and then spend the rest of their life on the shelf. This is a wasted opportunity and a significant waste of time and money. The prime reason plans never see the light of day is they are badly constructed and fail to deliver the required detail on programmes, events and outcomes.

Although building an effective marketing plan is a time complex and time consuming activity if focus on the key issues and process is maintained and some common mistakes avoided the activity can pay for itself many times over. Without a plan a business is more likely to drift which in the longer term can be fatal.

Marketing Strategy And Return On Investment

Does the time and effort expended in preparing a marketing strategy really deliver an appropriate return on investment? This post sets out to answer that question for a small business (30-99 employees) involved in B2B markets.

The first step is to estimate the costs involved based on the time taken and the level of people involved. The costs can be relatively easy to determine to a reasonable degree of accuracy but the returns can be more difficult to establish. Generally, the returns can only be estimated based on a percentage increase in sales directly associated with the marketing strategy and planning process.

When considering the costs it is useful to first define the steps in a typical marketing strategy process before allocating time and personnel to each task. A typical process may be:

  1. Decide on the overall long term company objectives.
  2. Detailed analysis of the current situation.
  3. Summarize and consider findings.
  4. Consider various scenarios and the best way to achieve long term objectives.
  5. Once a way forward is defined establish a set of defined steps.
  6. Set objectives.
  7. Decide on strategies to reach those objectives.
  8. Set measurement criteria.
  9. Review, make required changes, sign off and agree.
  10. Implement.
  11. Measure and refine.

Steps 1, 4 and 9 require detailed involvement of the business owners or senior managers but all remaining steps can be completed by suitably qualified more junior personnel. Steps 10 and 11 are key parts of the overall process but are not included in the cost analysis.

Assuming one key decision maker or business owner then two days of their time should be sufficient to complete steps 1, 4 and 9. The most time consuming tasks in the entire process are steps 2 & 3.  Part of these tasks must be completed with by a suitably qualified marketing person but part can be completed by lower level staff to research, analyse and number crunch data. In the size of business outlined above one week of marketing person time and two weeks of administrative time should be adequate.

The analysis task often extends beyond the marketing team as data is often required from other business departments. Typically each department head may spend half a day on the task with up to a day of work required in each department by more junior staff. Department heads input will, in most cases, also be required during stage 9, taking up to a further half day each.

All other tasks may be completed by the senior marketing person with some lower level support. For the business size outlined above this may take a further two weeks of their time and a week of lower level support. Based on the above and some assumptions on salary costs alone then the total cost of the marketing planning process (excluding steps 10 and 11) will be in excess of GBP 4,700.

The returns on this investment are more difficult to quantify. At a base level it should be possible to determine what level of sales will return a margin to cover the above cost. This will then identify the breakeven point that may then be broken down further into the number of items to be sold to cover the costs.

If, as a minimum, the marketing strategy and planning process identifies the real unique selling points of the business and the promotional plan can be refined to ensure only this message is delivered by the most appropriate channels then the savings on wasted promotional effort alone are likely to more than cover the cost of the strategic process.

If the strategic process identifies a single new opportunity for the business or ensures that the business does not blunder down a strategic blind alley then the costs will be covered many times over. The issue then becomes how to make the time available to the marketing department, senior management and divisional management to complete the marketing strategy process.

Focus On The Key Marketing Strategy And Planning Issues

When working through B2B marketing strategy and planning issues it is all too easy to get bogged down in detail and miss the overall picture. Although there are some problems with generic strategies (discussed below) Porters competitive strategies do deliver a useful starting point.

Porter stated there were three basic ways a business can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage as follows:

  • Cost leadership
  • Differentiation
  • Focus

He also argued businesses need to avoid implementing parts of one or more of the above and to make a firm decision on a single route to follow.

Provided a business can maintain industry standard pricing then if it can achieve overall cost leadership it will be among the better performers in its market segment. Cost leadership is based on taking every opportunity to drive out cost to become the lowest cost producer in the market.

As the name implies a differentiation strategy is based on delivering a unique offering of real value to buyers. Differentiation involves charging a premium price and, assuming costs are under control, businesses that successfully employ this tactic are above average performers. To be a success the offer must deliver distinct advantages over anything else in the marketplace.

Finally, a focus strategy is based on selecting a few market sectors (excluding all others) and delivering a specific offering of interest to those specific segments alone. The offering may be based on cost leadership or differentiation.

Each of the above marketing strategies is too simplistic to be applied in its pure form in a real world situation but they are a useful starting point when preparing a marketing plan for a business. If it is not practical (or desirable) for a business to follow the cost leadership route then the focus must be on the other two. This process narrows down the options available to a business.