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Why you need to articulate your strategy

Are you sick of people asking what your strategy is or telling you you need one? I suspect some don’t even understand the word but think it is important. What is a strategy, really? Do we need one?

You need a strategy to lead and manage any project, department, or company. But having one is not enough. You need to articulate it.

Why you need to articulate your strategy

Having a strategy and not bothering to tell your team or management what it is doesn’t do any good. To execute your strategy, everyone involved needs to know what it is. It might sound obvious. I thought so, too. Then I saw this in an article in Harvard Business Review:

Can you summarize your company’s strategy in 35 words or less? If so, would your colleagues put it the same way?

HBR, “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?” by David J. Collis and Michael G. Rukstad

I don’t run a company, but I have a department to run. When I saw these questions, I wrote down my department’s strategy. I admit that I had not done this, articulating our strategy, until this point. I had a clear strategy, so it wasn’t hard to state it in less than 35 words. But putting it in words helped me define it more clearly than ever. The clearly stated strategy will be my compass and keep me focused when I feel overwhelmed or face difficult decisions.

Next, I communicated our strategy to my staff and other department members. The process of communicating it made me realize what the essential value of articulating a strategy was; It aligns everyone.

While communicating our strategy, I realized everyone was more or less on the same page, but everyone had assumptions that were a bit off. A short and well-articulated strategy perfectly aligns people and keeps it that way. Not just I, but everyone now has a compass.

Strategy in the analytical equipment business

There are plenty of books and articles about strategy. I aim to add insight coming from my experience as a marketer in the analytical equipment business.

The strategy of a marketing department is often absent or misunderstood by other departments in the analytical equipment industry. Forget about a strategy. People even ask, “What exactly does the marketing group do?” Many don’t even understand its role or function.

Few people wonder what an accounting or sales department does. If you work in e-commerce or selling soda business, most people at least have a vague idea of what a marketing department does, though they might be picturing a scene from the “Mad man” TV series. Nonetheless, they have an idea.

But what about the analytical equipment business? Many have no idea what a marketing department does. This usually means they see it as a money-wasting department practicing some mysterious marketing stuff.

Among marketers, emphasizing “sales and marketing alignment” is becoming a cliche. There is a reason why it became a cliche. Everybody keeps talking about it because it’s instrumental in growing revenue, yet it seems impossible.

Sales and marketing alignment is often impossible because the two parties don’t understand each other. If people, especially salespeople, don’t understand what you do, how on earth can you get aligned with them?

Marketers often talk too much about the marketing tactic and technology, use too much marketing jargon, and don’t ask salespeople or stakeholders what they need. Listening to stakeholders, figuring out a solution the marketing function can offer to help them achieve their goals, communicating how that solution works to the stakeholders, and implementing it as a marketing campaign is not easy, and that’s for another article.

But stating the marketing department’s goal is to help stakeholders in an articulated strategy statement and communicating it to everyone goes a long way in getting people aligned.

Sales and marketing alignment is more difficult but more important in the analytical equipment industry because of the highly technical nature of what we sell and the complicated consulting sales process that comes with it. Articulating and sharing your strategy is the first step toward it.

How to articulate a strategy

As a goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART), there are good characteristics for a strategy statement to have.

First, it should be short, less than 35 words, according to the HBR article “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?” by David J. Collis and Michael G. Rukstad. I think brevity is essential for focus. It also helps everyone recall it anytime.

The authors also list the basic elements of a strategy statement; objective, scope, and advantage. You can call them ends, a domain, and means. Or what, where, and how.

To articulate a strategy, ask yourself, “What is our goal? Where do we focus? How do we differentiate ourselves in a competitive market and achieve the goal?”

When answering these questions and articulating your strategy, avoid these common mistakes:

  • State someone else’s goal.
  • Make the scope too big.
  • Choose an advantage that is too vague, has no value, or does not differentiate your brand.

Good and bad examples of strategy statements

Let’s use the common mistakes as the framework. We are going to try to avoid them and land on an effective strategy statement.

Use someone else’s goal

Bad example: Increase revenue by 30% this year.

The marketing department contributes to increasing revenue, but many aspects of it are outside your control or someone else’s job in other words. It is the sales department’s job to increase the booking. The production and installation groups are responsible for getting them recognized to achieve the revenue target.

This type of goal statement confuses people at best and insults sales and production guys at worst.

Good example: Help stakeholders double the number of leads with buying intent this year.

This clearly states that helping stakeholders is your job, it defines the KPI (key performance indicator), the number of leads in this case. It also defines what counts as leads; they need to have buying intent. A mere webinar registration doesn’t count. A paid ad conversion asking for a quote counts.

Ensure to define the KPI with your sales team and keep in alignment with their sales goals.

Make the scope too big

Bad example: Help stakeholders double the number of leads with buying intent this year in the microscope market.

The “microscope market” is too broad. This defeats the purpose of stating a strategy to make everyone focus. Narrowing the scope might be scary because you think about all the areas you will lose. But that’s what “focus” means.

You will get no one if you chase everyone everywhere. Here is why. First, potential customers can’t recognize your brand. You are trying to look like everything, failing to be recognized as anything. Secondly, your resources are stretched thin and become less effective.

Good example: Help stakeholders double the number of leads with buying intent this year in the under $100K desktop scanning electron microscope (SEM) market.

You just got rid of all the middle to high-end full-size SEM market. That will help you create a very focused marketing message, well-defined brand people easily recognize, keep the advertisement budget under control, and ultimately be seen as the first brand to contact when someone comes into buying cycle looking for a low-cost benchtop SEM. That is the lead you are going for.

Choose an advantage that is too vague, has no value, or does not differentiate your brand

Bad example: Help stakeholders double the number of leads with buying intent this year in the under $100K desktop SEM market by appealing to microscopists / by using our patented electron gun / by our easy-to-use software.

“Appealing to microscopists” define nothing about your strategy. It doesn’t say how or mention any advantage you have over your competitors.

The “patented electron gun” could be an advantage. But having a patent doesn’t mean it is a unique value to your potential customers. Make sure to state a value you can use as a competitive advantage.

If all SEM manufacturers have “easy-to-use” software, that’s not an advantage. People have no reason to buy from you.

Good example: Help stakeholders double the number of leads with buying intent this year in the under $100K desktop SEM market by raising awareness of our worldwide 24-hour service support via inbound and paid ad campaigns. (34 words)

If you are the only desktop SEM manufacturer that offers 24-hour service worldwide, that is an advantage. It differentiates you. Suppose a global manufacturing company is looking for an affordable SEM to install for their plants scattered in seven countries. In that case, you can make them contact you first, intending to buy multiple systems from you by running effective marketing campaigns. 

Your turn

Can you state your department strategy in less than 35 words? Would your staff and stakeholders say the same thing?

Write down your strategy. Then, ask the sales manager what they think your job/role/strategy is. That will be an interesting conversation.

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