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
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 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.