Some perceive the B2B marketing planning process to be flawed and a waste of resources, perhaps rightly so. In this post we consider the traditional marketing strategy and planning process, some of its major flaws and one possible solution.

The Traditional Marketing Planning Process

There are many texts on the B2B marketing planning process ranging from basic to highly complex but my favourite is the version laid out in Malcolm McDonalds book ‘Marketing Plans – How to Prepare Them How To Use Them’.

It outlines a process that flows from company objectives through several logical steps to finally arrive at a set of plans. All perfectly logical and sensible but there is a problem.

A great quote from Mike Tyson ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ is quoted by the military strategist Sir Lawrence Freedman in his re-thinking strategy lecture. He suggests any planning exercise assumes future events fall into place as predicted and that rarely (if ever) happens in reality. 

In practice, the marketing environment is complex and worse still it is populated by people (employees, competitors, stakeholders) that are anything but predictable. Perhaps this is the reason so many strategic marketing plans end up on the shelf gathering dust. The well thought out plan and process fails to survive the first series of events that do not fit with what was predicted.

There is a feedback and analysis loop in the process suggested by Malcolm Mcdonald but what about time. The time to understand what is happening and the time to react are crucial.

How Scenario Building Can Help

On completion of the analysis phase, it is useful to try to fit the data available with a number of future scenarios (what happens if!). Some assumptions need to be made so scenario building is not a exact science but it does allow a business to at least be prepared should the predicted events unfold.

Business strategy experts suggest it is best to build up to four scenarios, at least one of which should be based on worst case events. It is then possible to play through these scenarios to identify key risks and take appropriate decisions on how these risks may be mitigated. It is also possible to identify opportunities that may not be a priority but are worth further investigation.

Scenario planning is intuitive to an extent. It takes time to grasp and fully understand the concepts. The Art Of The Long View by Peter Schwarz is a good primer on the process.

Although a useful exercise the business still needs to move forward so it is necessary to choose the most likely scenario and complete the strategic marketing plan based on those assumptions. However, plans should always be constructed with a degree of flexibility so that they may be modified (or abandoned) if necessary. With alternative scenarios considered the business is then well placed to react as necessary and the strategic plan can become a living document.

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