Tag Archives: TOWS

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Strategic Alliances and Marketing: Like Doubles Luge

Give me a minute to explain how doubles luge relates to strategic alliances and marketing. Take a look at the recent results in doubles luge from the Sanki Sliding Center.   Do you see any interesting patterns in the medal winners?  

If  you follow the sport, you know that this doubles win gives Germany its third luge gold medal of the Sochi games.  (Actually, by now they have all four!)  Coached by five time Olympian Georg Hackl, Germany has now added doubles and the relay to its golds in men’s and women’s singles.

While that is true, I’m talking about the names of the competitors in the top three slots.

Brothers in Arms, and Legs

3 brothersAlthough the German sliders are both named Tobias, it is even more interesting that siblings have won both silver and bronze medals.  Andreas and Wolfgang Linger from Austria were trying for their third straight gold, but had to settle for silver.  And Latvia’s Andris and Juris Sics dropped down a notch from their Vancouver silver medal for the bronze.

It’s no surprise that brothers would do well in a competition that requires such close coordination.  Even more than the Bryan brothers in tennis, or ice dancers Alex and Maia Shibutani, siblings competing in doubles luge are literally joined at the hip.  Kind of like strategic alliances and marketing.

What Strategic Alliances and Marketing Share with Doubles Luge

Like the competitors in doubles luge, strategic alliances and marketing share many common attributes.   Here are just a few:

Close working relationship.  Goals, objectives, and tactics are common across strategic alliances and marketing.

Aligned efforts.  Strategic alliances and marketing make almost every move together.

Tightly coupled.  The measures of success for strategic alliances and marketing are often shared.  Just like the lugers getting to the bottom of the hill.

High levels of trust.  To achieve their goals, strategic alliances and marketing staff must implicitly trust one another to make and fulfill appropriate partner commitments.

Marketing Skills are Fundamental to Determining Strategic Alliances

The relationship between strategic alliances and marketing goes beyond common attributes.  Marketing plays a key role in each of the five factors in determining a strategic alliance, as discussed by the Ivey Business Journal.

Critical to success of a core business goal.   Many strategic alliances are formed to generate revenue through joint go to market efforts.  In order to do so, the marketing teams from both partners must align on target customers, pain points, joint value proposition, demand generation, and awareness programs.

Critical to a core competency or competitive advantage.  These are the domains of product marketing, who owns product differentiation, messaging, and positioning.

The potential to block a competitive threat.  Similar to the previous area, product marketers often own the competitive analysis, and help drive future road map and partnership strategies.

Creates or maintains strategic choices for the business.  The decision to buy, build, or partner drives the need for alliances.   Product marketing is a key contributor to building the landscape of potential targets for merger, acquisition, and technology partnerships.

Mitigates a significant risk for the business.  Whether this applies to product or market risks, marketing plays a key role in this area.

Building Strategic Alliances Requires Strong Marketing

Strategic alliances and marketing are often combined in the early days of a small company, and for good reason.    Many of the critical steps required to form and grow a strategic alliance require strong marketing skills.  According to Bain & Company, to form a strategic alliance, companies should:

Define the business vision and strategy, to determine how the alliance helps meet objectives.   As I wrote in a previous post, marketing can often improve the strategic planning approach, by reversing the traditional SWOT analysis.SWOT, TOWS

Choose partners based on synergy and ability to work together.  For revenue generating partnerships, synergy relates to common markets, buyers, and go to market tactics.  Coordination of sales teams and marketing campaigns are some of the trickiest areas of alliances.

Recognize mutual opportunities between the business and the partner.  These mutual opportunities often relate to road map alignment, go to market strategies, competitive threats or market opportunities.   Areas that fall right into marketing’s purview.

Implement a formal agreement including systems to monitor performance of mutual goals.  For revenue generating relationships,  marketing’s experience in goal setting plays a key role.  The systems to share information on demand generation, pipeline, and closed business are the same systems that marketing uses to report progress within the company.

Your Team’s Strategic Alliances and Marketing:  Smooth Sliding, or Bumps on the Track?

Are strategic alliances and marketing closely aligned within your organization?  How do you ensure you’re tightly coupled and moving fast down the track?  When you hit the big curves, are you facing the g forces together, or are you risking a nasty spill?

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Wear your SWOT Analysis Backwards, It’s COLD Outside!

snowy trail-69822_640It’s that time of year.  Some are lucky enough to avoid it, but for most, it happens as we roll in to December.  Sure, it’s cold, but I’m referring to the annual strategy planning cycle.  We’ve all been there.  With a new year on its way, execs want to take a fresh look at the strategic plan to identify new opportunities, solidify revenue targets, and align investment.  A variety of strategic plan templates exist, and most begin with similar content:  executive summary, company mission, market analysis, competition.  A SWOT analysis – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – is a time-tested component of the plan.   I’ve recently realized the advantage of doing SWOT analysis backwards.

The SWOT layout takes you down a chilly path

SWOT, TOWS

The SWOT matrix organizes helpful and harmful factors into internal and external categories.   Strengths and weaknesses, internal factors, are addressed in the top row.  Strengths give your organization a competitive advantage:  brand reputation, strong customer base, patents, or exclusive access to distribution channels.  Weaknesses hold you back:  lack of nimbleness, high cost structure, or lack of market presence in various geographic regions.  External factors are covered in the bottom row.  Opportunities may include unmet customer needs, loosening of regulations, or wide adoption of new technologies.   Put simply, threats are the opposite of opportunities.

Go outside BEFORE you look in the mirror

My mom always told us kids to look in the mirror before went out in the snow to make sure we were properly bundled up.   But when building a strategic plan, it makes more sense to consider what’s happening outside your company before you look too hard at your skills and risks inside.   Doing a SWOT analysis backwards is smarter.

This is not my idea.  I came across it while reading Michael Watkins‘ book, “The First 90 Days:  Critical Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.”  tf90d-book-coverWatkins, a consultant and co-founder of Genesis Advisors, found it challenging to implement an effective SWOT analysis with his clients.  As he describes in this HBR post (free registration is required), clients would get stuck in the top row of the matrix, rambling on and on about what they were good and bad at.   As an experiment, he tried running the exercise “backwards,” forcing the first discussion on the external factors in the lower row.   He found that, after doing so, his clients were more effective in discussing their specific strengths and weaknesses in the context of the opportunities and threats.  This lead to a much crisper identification of potential strategic initiatives and tactics.  Which is the whole point of the exercise.  His conclusion:  ditch SWOT.  Cover the same topics, but in reverse order.  Use TOWS as the handy acronym.   It may give you the image of frost-bitten feet, but it will lead to a better result.

After reading this, I realized that I’ve had similar experiences  using the SWOT matrix.  Watkins’ suggestion makes a lot of sense.  What about you?  Have you run a SWOT analysis backwards?  How did it work?

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