Is it any wonder that so many experienced business people turn and run when the dreaded term is uttered in their presence?
So, before we go any further, we need to have a very clear idea of what we are talking about. A ‘strategy’ is simply a plan put in place to achieve defined objectives - no more, no less. As business people, we spend our lives designing and implementing ‘strategies’ of one form or another.
Within a customer acquisition or marketing context, these strategies will relate to the volume of business to be won, the methods used to win it and the management of the associated costs. After all, that is what customer acquisition is about.
So, the first requirement of any successful marketing strategy is to understand what needs to be achieved (the objectives) and why.
If your business is growing sustainably and generating positive cash-flow, it's reasonable to assume that your objective is merely to maintain current levels of performance. The ‘strategy’ will be carry on as before and maintain a watching brief. You don’t need ‘strategy away-days’ or a gaggle of over-paid consultants to work that one out. Your existing plans are apparently working, so why would you want to do anything differently?
But, what if your business has stalled? Perhaps growth rates have started to decline or profitability may be under threat. These are issues faced by many SMEs at some point in their development. In such cases, the ‘why’ is very clear. A workable plan to re-invigorate growth is needed; otherwise the business is heading for trouble.
A serious problem has been identified but what's to be done? After all, you cannot expect your strategy to work if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve. Getting this right involves understanding the causes, not just the symptoms. Growth may have stalled but do you know why? Or do you just think you know? The first step in developing any successful marketing strategy is to…
At its simplest, declining growth will be the result of changes in the external environment or within your business itself. Externally, customer demand may be shifting, or competitor behaviour may have changed. Internally, the company may have outgrown its customer acquisition processes, or you may just have taken your eye off the ball!
But, whatever the cause, you need to have a clear, unbiased understanding of the actual problems your strategy has to fix. Once that's done, you can think about…
This part of the process is about identifying practical, achievable methods of fixing the problem. The specific nature of these solutions are obviously problem specific but, in all probability, there are a number of solutions worthy of consideration. Don’t just jump on the first idea that comes to mind!
For customer acquisition or marketing strategies, it's almost certain that your solutions will be derived from a combination of -
‘Growth plans.’ Suitable in cases where you are confident that growth can be achieved by selling more of your existing products into your current markets. It implies no fundamental change in your external environment but a need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your customer acquisition processes. You would expect to see tangible improvement over relatively short time-scales.
‘Pivot plans.’ Significant changes in your market environment will require radical steps to develop a new product and or move into new markets, almost certainly requiring the development of new approaches to customer acquisition. The process will be complicated, long-term and uncertain.
‘Cost reduction plans.’ This is the easy one! If it is merely the case that customer acquisition costs are running out of control, efficiency savings and process re-design will be needed. But, remember, long-term savings will require short-term investment. Costs are likely to go up before they start coming down!
Sketch out a range of possible solutions and prioritise based on a realistic assessment of costs, times-scales, risk and return. You are then ready to…
It is now time to stop strategising and start doing using the lean management toolkit. Each potential solution you decide to try will require a ‘minimum viable process’ - the core assumptions, tests, metrics and methods used to validate a solution that works.
A ‘strategy’ is just a plan to achieve a set of objectives
It is created to address a defined problem
The causes of the problem need to be understood clearly and objectively (otherwise the strategy is likely to fail.
Sketch out and assess a range of solutions rather than jumping on the first thing that comes to mind
Use lean and agile management techniques to build and test implementation processes.