​In many mid-sized B2B organisations, there is no formal business strategy process. There may be a rough guide to the future direction and a financial plan, but that is all. If a strategic analysis process does exist, it is often little more than a box-ticking exercise.

If we believed the theory we learned in our college days we should recoil in horror at this situation. Surely a business that does not assess its market, identify threats and opportunities and plan a way forward will fail?

The reality is most businesses without a strategic process don’t die. Many thrive, at least in the short term. So what is the point in allocating time and effort to developing a strategic direction for a business? Let’s start by looking at what strategy is and is not.

What Is Strategy

In essence, it’s simple. Let’s take an example. Let’s suppose next year you want to publish your first book on Amazon. That is your goal.

To achieve your goal, you calculate you will need to write 2,000 words per day, six days a week. That is your objective. It is quantifiable and time-limited.

Your strategy is how you are going to achieve that objective. Where are you going to work? What proportion of your time will you spend on research?

Crucially, a strategy is also about dealing with obstacles. How will you lock out distractions? If you know you are prone to procrastination, how will you deal with that?

A strategy is the best guess (a hypothesis) on the best way forward given the information available.

So why bother with a strategic process?
Survival is one issue to consider (see above). It is also important to reflect on business performance. Could a business achieve better results and higher ROI if it had a business strategy process in place?

Taking survival first, the issue is survival over what timeframe. There are many examples of once very successful businesses that no longer exist. They made bad decisions, or something changed around them that they did not address.

Could a business do better if it completed regular strategic reviews? Here, I submit, yes, it could. Market analysis should identify both threats and opportunities. Strategies implemented to capitalise on those opportunities should deliver improved business performance.

Why do so many B2B marketing plans fail? Often, they are merely a box-ticking exercise. When they are implemented, the initial enthusiasm often quickly dissipates. We outline four common problems and discuss potential solutions.

Lack Of Analysis

The market information available constantly changes. That is, I suggest, where the standard strategy process fails.

Many years ago, I attended a short talk given by Malcolm McDonald. The author responsible for Marketing Plans (How to prepare them and how to use them) and many other leading texts on marketing practice.

I remember that talk, as it was both entertaining and enlightening. I particularly remember his comments on SWOTs. He shuddered as he walked down the halls of hotel conference rooms, peered inside and saw that cross on the whiteboard time and again.

His point was (from memory) that the SWOT process was generally poorly implemented. It was full of fluff, built on sand, with no focus. Often, the strategic analysis process fails to identify the key issues. Or if it does, they are conveniently pushed aside

Sell The Marketing Plan

You could construct a strong, well-thought-out, marketing plan. It may have sufficient flexibility to deal with the unexpected, but unless that plan is sold to those who need to implement it and buy-in secured, it will be a complete waste of time and effort.

The word ‘sold’ is the key term as it has to be a standard sales exercise, illustrating the benefits and quantifying ‘what is in it for them’. With buy-in secured, appoint a plan champion. Their job should be to ensure the marketing plan is utilised when making key business decisions.

Whatever sub-plans and objectives fall out of the plan must be progressed and followed through. That can be difficult, given the many competing business priorities.

Many good B2B marketing plans fail because, once in place, they are not referred to or utilised and the business continues to bumble along as it did before.

Beware Of Strategy Process Hijacking

A cautionary tale. In my early marketing career, I worked with the Sales and Marketing Director on building a B2B marketing strategy and plan for a medium-sized manufacturing business.

We worked hard on the process for several weeks. We worked through the analysis, undertaking internal and external discussions and progressing each step of the process.

One of the final steps was to present the analysis, our conclusions and the draft plan to the senior management team. After a half-day of discussion, we were near agreement. Then in walked the company founder. He was a brilliant innovator and technologist who had delegated Managing Director responsibilities several years earlier.

His strong view was that the carefully calculated future growth and turnover figures should not be ‘X,’ but should be ‘Y’(where Y = X++). This view was based exclusively on a new technology (and potential product line) he was working on. He forced through his view with the detailed planning for entry to this new market to be added later.

The result was a strategic plan with no foundation, unrealistic expectations and (crucially) no buy-in. Looking back, the suggested technology and product line were at least a year ahead of its time.

Unfortunately, the founder failed to explain or convince those around him of its benefits. He kept analysis and product planning to himself and detailed plans to take the product forward never materialised.

I wish I could say the above was a one-off case, but I have seen several similar situations since. Setting unrealistic targets and outcomes is certain to deliver limited (if any) buy-in by those who have to implement the plan.

B2B Marketing plans fail because people (and the businesses they work for) rarely conform to expectations. Senior people may force through their view (as is their right) regardless of what any carefully crafted plan may suggest.

Business Strategy, Turbulence and Chaos

One of the main reasons strategic plans are not implemented is they lack flexibility. They follow a rigid path based on assumptions about the future and what the market and competition will do.

Does your plan have the flexibility to cope with changing circumstances? Or is it so rigid that it no longer applies to any new situation?

The way markets, competitors or individuals operate is not linear. The situation businesses find themselves in is often turbulent, even chaotic. A quote from James Gleick excellent book – Chaos “the solvable systems are the ones shown in textbooks – they behave.” Unfortunately, people, markets and competitors do not.

The strategy and tactics exercise assumes some level of stability and predictability that does not exist. While it is true some markets are more stable than others, all can be knocked into a turbulent state by some unexpected event.

Worse still, the input (the analysis) is also constantly shifting. Too often, businesses carry out a strategic planning exercise yearly. That is way too slow. The only part of the process that remains fixed for more than a few months is the mission and goals.

Dealing With Market Turbulence

So what’s the alternative? You know what you have to achieve. You know what tools you have in your armoury and what stands in your way. You can build a plan and take the first steps. From that point forward, your plan is useless. You cannot assume C follows B, follows A as the environment will constantly shift around you.

There is value in taking the time to analyse a situation. Detailed plans may be useless, but studying the current situation and what could happen in future is not.

With analysis in place, it should be possible to create a series of scenarios. Then, construct a basic outline plan of what the business should do if a given scenario were to come to pass.

Strike a balance between a plan with sufficient detail to flow down through the organisation, but with the flexibility to accommodate unexpected events.

So what is the solution? Part of it is organisational, part relates to communication and part relates to the speed of response. Trust and value chain and the skills of the workforce are key.

These elements are discussed further in our guide Business Strategy – A Different Approach.

For businesses happy to focus only on the short term a formal business strategy process may have little value. But, for businesses worried about both maximising opportunities and avoiding longer-term threats analysis, strategy and planning are vital.

Read our free guide  – Business Strategy –  A Different Approach HERE

I help your B2B marketing person (or team) with market analysis, strategy, marketing planning and product and market development.

I work with B2B services businesses, installers, distributors, manufacturers and technology companies.

Call 07716 871892 to discuss your requirements. Let’s see if I can help. Or complete the contact box and I will call you back.

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