With the many tools available to help you craft a great for your business it could be easy to get overwhelmed. My first caution on this is not to boil the ocean. I presented this large set of tools to highlight some of best tools available. You should understand the gist of each tool to help you with the various subtleties you encounter, but you should focus on the tools that you feel are most suited to where you are with the current state of your business.
Second, because your strategy will almost certainly evolve as you learn, as your markets mature, and as our business grows, you will need to re-asses your strategy often. One of the biggest mistakes that I see in business is for leaders to make very sound decisions based on a set of critical facts – but then the facts change –and leadership never recognizes the need to course correct and wastes valuable money and more valuable time pursuing a bad strategy. So, keep your final framework simple enough to regularly test against known facts, market dynamics, the dynamics of your business and customer insights.
Third, leverage your team in the strategic planning and deployment process appropriately. Place different functional leaders in charge of different pieces. Developing strategic business growth plans that are informed (data driven), that are customer focused, that anticipate and leverage disruptive industry changes and that have high likelihoods of success, require the input, collaboration and creativity of multiple disciplines. Ultimately, the development of strategic growth plans must involve input from key customers and the top talent, leadership and innovators available. The most impactful and complete strategic growth plans are the result of iterative feedback and improvement on the best ideas from multiple disciplines and stakeholders, structured into an overall Strategic Growth Plan.
While an overarching strategy will guide the business, each functional leader will have very important key deliverables that will make or break execution. Share the load, delegate, collaborate, mentor – and expect great things.
Having said all of that, here are the highlights that I believe are fundamental:
- First, restate your vision and validate that you have a reasonable market segment scoped, and that your approach to that market has reasonable positioning that customers will understand.
- Next, complete a SWOT and 5-Forces analysis to create a competitive framework for your business. Your strategy needs to support your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses and act on the most salient opportunities – and, you need to be very cognizant of the threats to your success. Further, your strategy should respond to the competitive forces on your market, make them less relevant, or – like the Blue Ocean Strategy – make them irrelevant. Complete this exercise by identifying any “macro-economic” forces that may be at play with a PEST assessment.
- Build on the context you have created by developing either a Value Chain template or a Business Model Canvas to flesh out what is your “unfair advantage” – the elements of your plan that are critical to your success – and frame out how you will ensure that you develop and exploit these completive weapons.
- Whether it is highly accurate, or only a set of very solid approximations, you need a model for your market, and how you mean to drive revenue and profit. Identification of the total market size, expected share, share of competitors, and the key metrics such as share capture, new design wins, partners signed up, references, clicks, trials, or whatever need to be clearly identified so that you can align your strategy to drive for success. Clearly, revenue or profit goals are the most straight forward, direct and preferred. Develop this with an eye towards measuring whatever is most meaningful, such as revenue by product, division, region, market, partner or whatever. As your company grows this data becomes more and more valuable so start developing this early.
- At this point, you have enough information to state strategic objectives and to develop a simple Pareto Analysis of your possible investments. Because it is almost never possible to invest in everything you would like to, it is critical to use a fact based decision making process to build out the programs, tactics and operations that “make the cut”. In practice, I perform my Pareto Analysis in Excel by creating one line for each potential investment (with a column for project number, priority, cost, time to market, 1 year revenue, 4 year revenue, Gross Margin, and NPV) and weigh the value of each investment heuristically – as a set of what I can afford – but based on the best data and facts available about each possible investment.
- Finally, you have the raw material to lay out your strategy:
- What is your market, who are your customers, and why are you unique.
- What are the competitive dynamics that you will need to overcome.
- What is your “unfair advantage” and how will you sustain this.
- What is your financial model, your goals, and the key metrics needed to succeed.
- The list of prioritized (one to N) – and fully funded – actions that you will execute to win.
The obvious piece that is missing here is customer validation. For this, I submit that you need to focus on collaboration – with your key stakeholders, industry luminaries, customers, and any available experts interactively as you proceed, and then where feasible from a competitive perspective, share your plan (or non-proprietary) versions of it with customers to test enthusiasm, potential and engagement. And, as discussed earlier, while we don’t want to re-direct our plan whimsically, we do need to change, adjust, and re-direct as needed.
While the process above is “fundamental”, businesses at different stages should invest more in different aspects of strategy formulation. For example, if you are a startup, you should look closely at the Skok business concept validation tools. If you are a larger company, or even one now developing a larger portfolio, development of a BCG or GE/McKinsey matrix will provide great business management insight for developing an optimal plan. In markets where the competitive forces are particularly strong, executing the Blue Ocean Canvas may provide breakthrough results.
And, as you are developing your plan, take several opportunities to step back mid-way through and test to see if you are developing your strategy in a balanced approach. Sometimes strategies get become very heavily weighted by one function, such as sales or product development. You need to assess if you are investing appropriately to deliver your “Whole Product” to your served market that will secure and protect your “unfair advantage”. This should optimize your investment in R&D, Sales, Marketing, Channels, Operations, Finance, Business Development, Insourcing, Outsourcing, and Corporate Infrastructure to give your business the best chance of winning. Further, also carefully review your competitive ecosystem and be sure that you are positioning your company to develop, provide benefit to, and to benefit from key partners in delivering your markets complete solutions.
And a very important watchword: As you near the creation of your final draft, take a critical view of all spending. Be very thoughtful regarding what you need to spend now, versus what you can defer, and look for pet programs and “nice to haves” that can be cut or deferred. If you believe – as I do – that strategies are emergent, that circumstances change, and only by moving forward will some of the best next steps become clear – it is important to always “keep some powder dry” and conserve cash. Along similar lines, in a tie, favor programs with fast time to market over more earthshaking plans. Plans that allow for near term victories – and sales, revenue and profit – should be favored over long term investments because the more complex plans always have hidden costs and surprises. Adopt Agile development methods to avoid the unnecessary gamble on big monolithic projects.
With the formulation of your strategy, it now comes to execution and actual strategy deployment. While strategies must be tuned, tweaked and modified as conditions change, strategy implementation needs to be pushed into a business execution mode where functional management drives the identified initiatives, measures for results, and corrects as needed using best in class execution practices.
For a detailed dive into execution best practices, see Operational Excellence and Execution.
And, this all should become a part of your culture. Whether you have a traditional marketing department responsible for all of marketing and the responsibility for maintenance of the plan lies there, or if your marketing department is really more Marcom, and responsibility for maintaining the strategy lies with Product Management, it is critical that you engrain strategic thinking and the use of strategic management tools into the mentality of your team. And this goes beyond the keepers of the plan. Strategic thinking needs to be adopted by each functional leader, middle management, and should be pushed as far down into the organization as possible.
From a logistics perspective, you should at minimum create a shared folder where key individuals can access elements of the strategy, critical data for decision making, and communications tools to educate and motivate team members. Better still would be to implement a tool like Microsoft SharePoint or a wiki maintained by your IT staff (don’t burden Marcom or Product Management with this).