In the business world, professionals are obsessed with tactics because they can help them meet their short-term goals. But if all you do is focus on the short-term, you won’t spend enough time or energy figuring out how you can succeed in the long-term.
Fortunately, building a strategy can help you achieve both your short-term and long-term goals. Strategy focuses on principles, which help you think, instead of tactics, which help you execute, so it allows you to concentrate on why your business does certain activities, not just how you do them or what you do. Read on to learn exactly what a business strategy is and how you can build an effective one today.
Your business strategy is a roadmap for achieving your business’ goals. It establishes a set of principles that inform your business’ priorities, decisions, and actions. It’s not, however, the actual tactics you’ll leverage to execute your business strategy.
Your business strategy should be based on your overall vision for the company. For some brands it will be global market expansion. For others it may be more important to double down investing in existing markets they are already successful in. Regardless of your end goals, creating an effective business strategy will require thorough research beforehand.
How to Build a Business Strategy
Identify your business’ aspirations and values.
Conduct a self-assessment.
Pinpoint which segments of your market you want to capture.
Determine how you’ll beat your competition.
Set clear goals.
Make a plan.
Figure out which competencies are needed to beat your competition and sustain your business’ success.
Decide which management systems are needed to hone these competencies.
Measure your results.
Be flexible and willing to adapt.
Consider hiring a business consultant.
1. Identify your business’ aspirations and values.
In business, traditional goal setting lets you measure what you do, but it doesn’t lend itself to gauging how you do it or why. And if you only focus on the results, it can sometimes incentivize you to take a course of action that prioritizes your organization’s needs over your customers’ needs.
To help you focus more on your purpose and process instead of just your results, consider setting and anchoring to an aspiration, or your vision for your business in the future when building your business strategy — it’ll inspire you to do work that better serves your customers. Once you set an anchor to an aspiration, you can add your goal to the equation, which will help you simultaneously produce customer-centric work and hit your numbers.
2. Conduct a self-assessment.
Once you’ve figured out your business aspirations and values, it’s time to conduct a self assessment to help you evaluate the best avenues for business growth and success.
You can do this by conducting a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your business. What do you do well and how can you capitalize on that? What can be improved and how?
3. Pinpoint which segments of your market you want to capture.
Your product or service most likely isn’t the best fit for your entire market, so it’s crucial to pinpoint the segment or segments of your market that benefit the most from your product or service.
Customers who genuinely need and want your product or service are also the customers who retain the longest and are least likely to churn, boosting your customer lifetime value and lowering your customer acquisition costs.
4. Determine how you’ll beat your competition.
Ricky Bobby’s legendary saying that “If you ain’t first, you’re last” doesn’t necessarily apply to the business world, but it does have some bearing on it. Your customers won’t buy two of the same products or services, so if you want to capture as much of your segment of the market as possible, you need to place first in the majority of your target customers’ minds.
Some of the best ways to stay top-of-mind are crafting a creatively refreshing brand, differentiating your product or service from the rest of the crowd, and pricing your product relative to its perceived value.
5. Set clear goals.
Now that you’ve completed your research and established a vision for your business, it’s time to set some goals.
Think about what you want to accomplish and work backward to figure out the steps to get there. Setting business goals will help inform your strategy and how each department collaborates to achieve your objective. To start, you can come up with:
Business goals: These are high level objectives you’d like the organization as a whole to accomplish.
Department or team goals: These are key objectives delegated at the department level to help the organization achieve their overall goals.
Employee-specific goals: Using departmental goals, establish goals for individual employees to contribute to reaching business goals.
These cascading goals will make sure that all stakeholders involved in executing your business strategy are on the same page and properly aligned.
6. Make a plan.
With your business goals defined, it’s time to make a plan to accomplish them. This plan should include actionable tasks your team can take and should outline the steps needed to achieve your mission or objective.
This plan can be rolled out as either a short-term or long-term plan or a combination of the two. Additionally you’ll want to check in with your plan often to make sure everything is still on track, and make adjustments as the business requires them.
7. Figure out which competencies are needed to beat your competition and sustain your business’ success.
Unfortunately, passion isn’t enough to beat your competition and rocket to the top of your industry. Talent and skill are just as crucial. Depending on your aspirations, goals, and market, you need to figure out which types of teams and employees you need to develop and recruit to not only beat your competition, but to also sustain your success.
For example you may need to recruit more engineering staff or hire a data science team with experience in your niche to achieve your goals.
8. Decide which management systems are needed to hone these competencies.
If your business is a team, then your managers are the coaches. They’re responsible for developing, supporting, and inspiring your employees to do their best work possible.
Establish check-ins with your team to ensure both employees and managers have what they need to succeed. Invest in technology that enables your team to work together more efficiently and propels your business goals forward. Because no matter how much raw talent your employees have,they’ll never reach their potential and, in turn, help the business reach its potential if they don’t refine the skills and discipline necessary to compete and succeed.
9. Measure your results.
It’s not enough to simply set goals and hope things work out. You’ll need to actively monitor your progress if you want to achieve greatness. As mentioned previously, you should be checking your plan monthly to make sure things are running as they should.
Evaluate your metrics to ensure your team is meeting key performance indicators (KPIs). If they are not meeting them, find out why and come up with a solution to get things back on track.
10. Be flexible and willing to adapt.
Along with measuring your results, it’s also a good to examine where your strategy is falling short and make changes.
Are their changes in the industry or external factors that impact your current strategy? This may be an opportunity for you to adjust your approach. Your plan is your roadmap, but it should also be flexible enough to pivot along with your business.
11. Consider hiring a business strategy consultant.
If all of the steps above seem overwhelming and you have the resources, consider hiring outside help. Business consultants can provide guidance and training to help you achieve your business goals.
Expertise: Consultants often have a narrow area of focus — meaning when you hire one, you’re getting an expert in your selected field. They can help you build a framework or structure that aligns with your goals. They can also add a different perspective to tackling issues your team has tried and failed to resolve on their own.
Unbiased: Since a consultant is not an employee of your company, they are not hindered by existing viewpoints or tradition and can look at your company with fresh eyes. This makes it easier for them to hone in on your goals and the best strategy to achieve them.
Expensive: Hiring a consultant is definitely an added expense and will most likely cost more than paying an existing employee.
No guarantees: Although consultants are experts, they don’t come with guarantees of success. Their is no guarantee of reaching a certain performance metric or number of sales. However, you can always vet consultants by asking for recommendations, looking at references and examining their work history.
Hiring a business strategy consultant is a great option if your team has been struggling with the steps above without success. A third party may pick up on business insights you may have missed.
Principles Over Tactics
We live in a day and age where the internet is overloaded with advice. You have access to countless amounts of tips and tricks that could potentially help you build a successful business. But without the ability to think critically about whether these tips and tricks actually apply to your specific situation, you’ll never reach long-term success.
That’s why strategy is so important. It grounds your business in principles that can apply to almost any situation and, in turn, help your business achieve both its short-term and long-term goals.
This article was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Having worked at several organizations and dealt with many more vendors, I’ve seen my share of client-vendor relationships and their associated “gotchas.”
Contracts are complex for a reason. That’s why martech practitioners are wise to lean on lawyers and buyers during the procurement process. They typically notice terms that could undoubtedly catch business stakeholders off guard.
Remember, all relationships end. It is important to look for thorny issues that can wreak havoc on future plans.
I’ve seen and heard of my share of contract gotchas. Here are some generalizations to look out for.
So, you have a great data vendor. You use them to buy contacts and information as well as to enrich what data you’ve already got.
When you decide to churn from the vendor, does your contract allow you to keep and use the data you’ve pulled into your CRM or other systems after the relationship ends?
You had better check.
There are many reasons why you would want to give funds in advance to a vendor. Perhaps it pays for search ads or allows your representatives to send gifts to prospective and current customers.
When you change vendors, will they return unused funds? That may not be a big deal for small sums of money.
Further, while annoying, processing fees aren’t unheard of. But what happens when a lot of cash is left in the system?
You had better make sure that you can get that back.
3. Service-level agreements (SLAs)
Your business is important, and your projects are a big deal. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a prompt response to a question or action when something wrong happens.
That’s where SLAs come in.
It’s how your vendor tells you they will respond to questions and issues. A higher price point typically will get a client a better SLA that requires the vendor to respond and act more quickly — and more of the time to boot (i.e., 24/7 service vs. standard business hours).
Make sure that an SLA meets your expectations.
Further, remember that most of the time, you get what you pay for. So, if you want a better SLA, you may have to pay for it.
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Clients and vendors alike are always looking for quality people to employ. Sometimes they find them on the other side of the client-vendor relationship.
Are you OK with them poaching one of your team members?
If not, this should be discussed and put into writing during the contract negotiation phase, a renewal, or at any time if it is that important.
I have dealt with organizations that are against anti-poaching clauses to the point that a requirement to have one is a dealbreaker. Sometimes senior leadership or board members are adamant about an individual’s freedom to work where they please — even if one of their organization’s employees departs to work for a customer or vendor.
It is not unheard of for vendors to offer their customers freebies. Perhaps they offer a smaller line item to help justify a price increase during a renewal.
Maybe the company is developing a new product and offers it in its nascent/immature/young stage to customers as a deal sweetener or a way to collect feedback and develop champions for it.
Will that freemium offer carry over during the next renewal? Your account executive or customer success manager may say it will and even spell that out in an email.
Then, time goes by. People on both sides of the relationship change or forget details. Company policies change. That said, the wording in a contract or master service agreement won’t change.
Make sure the terms of freebies or other good deals are put into legally sound writing.
There are many ways vendors can price out their offerings. For instance, a data broker could charge by the contact engaged by a customer. But what exactly does that mean?
If a customer buys a contact’s information, that makes sense as counting as one contact.
What happens if the customer, later on, wants to enrich that contact with updated information? Does that count as a second contact credit used?
Reasonable minds could justify the affirmative and negative to this question. So, evaluating a pricing factor or how it is measured upfront is vital to determine if that makes sense to your organization.
Don’t let contract gotchas catch you off-guard
The above are just a few examples of martech contract gotchas martech practitioners encounter. There is no universal way to address them. Each organization will want to address them differently. The key is to watch for them and work with your colleagues to determine what’s best in that specific situation. Just don’t get caught off-guard.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Steve Petersen is a marketing technology manager at Zuora. He spent nearly 8.5 years at Western Governors University, holding many martech related roles with the last being marketing technology manager. Prior to WGU, he worked as a strategist at the Washington, DC digital shop The Brick Factory, where he worked closely with trade associations, non-profits, major brands, and advocacy campaigns. Petersen holds a Master of Information Management from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Brigham Young University. He’s also a Certified ScrumMaster. Petersen lives in the Salt Lake City, UT area.
Petersen represents his own views, not those of his current or former employers.