Using Scenarios in B2B Marketing planning

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With the financial year end approaching for many manufacturing and B2B services companies many are considering an update of their existing plans or a complete new B2B marketing planning process. However, some perceive the planning process to be flawed and a waste of resources, perhaps rightly so.

In this post we consider the traditional B2B marketing planning process, some of its major flaws and one possible solution.

The Traditional Marketing Planning Process

B2B strategic planning processThere are many texts on the B2B marketing planning process ranging from basic to highly complex but my own favourite is the version laid out in Malcolm McDonalds book ‘Marketing Plans – How to Prepare Them How To Use Them’.

In short it outlines the process as Company objective setting, audit, analysis, define assumptions, set objectives, build strategies to achieve those objectives, estimate results, establish plans and build measurement processes. All perfectly logical and sensible but there is a problem.

Problems With The Standard Approach

A great quote from Mike Tyson ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ is quoted by Sir Lawrence Freedman in his re-thinking strategy lecture. He suggests to implement any plan successfully assumes future events fall into place as predicted and that rarely (if ever) happens in reality. While he questions the need for rigid plans he remains a fan of the planning process.

In practice the marketing environment is complex and worse still it is populated by people (employees, competitors, stakeholders) that are anything but predictable. Perhaps this is the reason so many strategic marketing plans end up on the shelf gathering dust. The well thought out plan and process fails to survive the first series of events that do not fit with what was predicted.

How Scenario Building Can Help

On completion of the analysis phase it is useful to try to fit the data available with a number of future scenarios (what happens if!). Some assumptions need to be made so scenario building is a far from perfect science but it does allow a business to at least be prepared should the predicted events unfold.

Business strategy experts suggest it is best to build up to four scenarios, at least one of which should be based on worst case events. It is then possible to play through these scenarios identify key risks and take appropriate decisions on how these risks may be mitigated. It is also possible to identify opportunities that may not be a priority but are worth further investigation.

Although a useful exercise the business still needs to move forward so it is necessary to choose the most likely scenario and complete the strategic marketing plan based on those assumptions. However, plans should always be constructed with a degree of flexibility so that they may be modified (or abandoned) if necessary. With alternative scenarios considered the business is then well placed to react as necessary and the strategic plan becomes a living document.