We know that if you change your strategy, you need to change your tactics. But the reverse is just as true: If you change your tactics, you might be changing your strategy (or at best, contradicting it) unintentionally.

In my November blog, I argued that as we start to emerge from a torrid 2020 into an uncertain 2021-2, we have to be ‘OK’ about a seeming contradiction: that stability was still crucial, but we need to be comfortable pivoting both strategically and tactically. I want now to argue that we have to be very intentional about those pivots.

Linear thinking guides your strategy – and in turn, your tactics

The belief that strategy needs to be buyer-centric, not seller-centric has been core to our work at align.me over the last 20 years. At its essence, this belief asks sellers to switch from “we sell this stuff to that market” to “we solve this problem for that market”. From this, it is logical that strategy should be something of a linear process:

  • Clarify what problem you solve for your market
  • Identify the part of the market most facing that issue, and lock in on that as your best-fit target market
  • Contemplate what it takes to fully solve this problem for that market, and bake as much of that as you can into your core solution
  • Determine the sales channel – both your own and any outside of your business – who can best bring that problem to light for that market
  • Calculate the velocity you need from your tactical execution
  • Then choose tactics good enough to help buyers from that market move through the buyer’s journey at the necessary rate
  • Measure actual velocity, and compare that with the velocity you wanted, to inform changes

Resolving each of these strategic questions has its own complexity and sub-processes that I’ll spare you from in today’s missive. The background point for today is that strategy formation relies on logical linearity. And from that, it is clear that if you change your strategy – problem, market, solution, channel – then you ought to consider changing your tactics.

What about the flip side?

If you find yourself changing your tactics, be careful that you are not also changing your strategy.

During 2020 I worked with an old customer on building their go-to-market strategy for a new solution area. Together we explored and documented a number of assumptions, one of which was that the ideal target market was small. The deals were big, so we only needed one new customer a quarter from a market with around 60 legitimate targets.

The tactics were, therefore, very hand-crafted, involving deep research and a meaningful investment per prospect. They also involved becoming something of a central figure for the evolved thinking of that market. We marketers use the term ‘thought leadership’ loosely, but in this case, our plan was to genuinely lead the thinking with and for that chosen market.

For a variety of reasons, the tactics chosen initially proved less effective than we’d hoped. That happens. Over the course of a series of planning reviews, we agreed to shift from these low-volume, hand-crafted tactics that led to a series of executive round-tables, to tactics that would involve more passive content marketing with lower expected conversion rates. What none of us acknowledged as we began tactical experiments in support of this shift, is that our sales would need to come from a much broader market. This raises some significant new questions.

If the market needs to be broader, then does the problem we are focused on solving need to change? And if the problem is different, then must the solution likewise change? All this to say, that the linearity referred to above is bi-directional. Early steps shape the later steps, and the later steps can shape the early ones.

Take time to consider changes

For me and my work with this particular client, we need to pause and consider what element of that linear logic is sovereign and what can be derivative. Are we locked in the problem we solve, the market for whom we solve it, the solution we offer, the velocity we need/want, or the tactics?

I know what I want this client to hold as most sacred, but some honest conversations need to be had. The executive team from this client and I need to be open to the possibility that we might need to allow the tail to wag the dog. You should be open to these possibilities too if you ever find yourself making changes to your tactics.

It just goes to show how intertwined strategy and tactics are, and how easy it is to inadvertently ‘drift’ without proper consideration of the potential consequences. If you think you could use some assistance in building it all out, check out our marketing planning services. Want to do it on your own? We have tools for that too.