Creating a successful b2b marketing strategy is all about shortening the odds of winning in the future.  But it doesn’t need to be complicated. 

The simple yet highly effective ‘5 questions’ approach to strategy development of Roger Martin – former P&G executive, former Dean of the Rotman School of Management and regular in Harvard Business Review – is a cracker!

In his 2014 HBR article A Playbook for Winning Martin rightly points out that ‘strategy’ is a bit of a black box for a lot of leaders. We all seem to get tangled up in strategy, but he says it shouldn’t be mysterious or scary. Rather, developing strategy should be about using a simple framework to answer 5 questions:

  1. What is your winning aspiration?
  2. Where will you play?
  3. How will you win?
  4. What capabilities must be in place?
  5. What management systems are required?

What is your winning aspiration?

Aspirations are usually wrapped up in mission and vision statements. The problem is that these statements lack context. To make them work they need to make reference to your competition. To your customers. To the way you are going to win. And where you’re going to play. Essentially, they’ve got to be an extract explaining your playbook for winning.

Where will you play?

This question is about where your company or organisation is going to compete and which customers you’re going to target with which services. The ‘where to play’ question represents choices that narrow the competitive field. After all, no one can win by being all things to all people.

An organisation can choose to be inch wide and mile deep in its choice of markets or offer a limited service offer to a wide market…and everything in between.  Considering the web and our buyers’ propensity to self-educate is now a critical factor in determining the where to play question as barriers fall away and accessibility increases.

The choice of where to play represents a strategic ‘playing field’ for the organisation.

How to win?

The ‘where to play’ and ‘how to win’ questions are tied together. Martin talked about the fact that where to play is about the playing field. How to win is then about what you’re going to do to win when it’s ‘game on’.

How to win has got to be considered in the context of the playing field.  For example, I run a b2b inbound marketing agency in Perth, Western Australia. Our primary market at the moment is Western Australia, but my Hubspot Agency licence now allows me to effectively deliver inbound service to b2b companies worldwide. If we choose to play purely in Perth our how to win strategy will be fundamentally different to what we’ll do if we decide to compete Australia wide or internationally.

The answer to the how to win question is about finding the right combination of decisions for the market the company decides to play in considering its strengths. More specifically it is about working out how to leverage your advantage to create better value for your target customers while delivering superior returns to your organisation.

The where to play question is governed by usual ways of segmenting b2b markets (geography, industry, psychographics, demographics, service categories etc). But the how to win question is a lot less structured and categorical. There is no checklist.

That said, Martin suggests that the how to win question does start with a choice of whether you are going to compete on lower price (eg Bunnings or Officeworks) or on the basis of brand differentiation.

What capabilities must be in place?

According to Martin every organisation has a set of activities that truly matter. These are the activities that make a big difference to the organisation. These are the organisation’s core capabilities.

Determining core capabilities is about asking what you’re really really good at now.

Determining the capabilities that must be in place is about asking what an organisation needs to be distinctly good at to win in the places it wants to play. These capabilities are something you may have already or capabilities you need to build in order to deliver on your chosen strategy.

What management systems are required?

According to Martin this last question is the most neglected. He argues that strategy will fail if your management systems don’t support and measure the strategy.

For example, management systems might includes brand reviews, budget and operating plan discussions, HR systems and reviews, sales and marketing systems and analytics reviews, and learning and innovation reviews.

Final Thought

Your b2b marketing strategy is your playbook for winning. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It can and should be a simple matter of focusing on answering 5 essential questions for winning in competitive markets. Do this and you’ll be on your way to winning the work you should be winning.  

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