Your objective is either to enter a market or to compete more profitably in your existing market. The process by which you reach your objective is Strategic Planning. This article examines two areas of strategic planning—market qualifiers and order winners.
When determining your company's winning marketplace tactics, it's important to look at the following four steps:
1. Determine your market qualifiers.
2. Assess how your company measures up. Do you have what it takes to qualify at this time? Will you have the assets and employees to at least compete?
3. If or when you qualify, how do you win sales?
4. Is this the right market after all?
Determining your market qualifiers involves a close look at a number of areas, ranging from equipment and personnel to capital, location, and size. What do competitors have that allows them to compete in the arena? Once you've determined base-line needs for competition, take a close look at your own firm.
Do you have what it takes at this time? If not, how long will it take to obtain the necessary qualifiers, and at what cost? It's often well worth the up-front expense of hiring outside help to assist in this assessment phase, as a number of optimistic executives look at this area subjectively rather than objectively. Fifteen years ago, I started a small manufacturing operation that had a capacity to compete on quality and deliverability as long as quantities fell within a particular range. We were small and could not realistically approach the 2,000-20,000 unit orders. In order to compete on larger-sized orders, we had to invest in automated equipment and staffing, and move operations to a larger facility. This enabled us to move from the "small run" market" to the "mid tier," yet we remained in the same industry. Accounting had to be able to sustain the new monetary demands of a growing company and to accurately report on activity in order to measure true profitability.
Once you have what it takes to qualify to compete in your market, do you know what to do in order to win sales? Order winners place you in a position over your competitor, giving you the edge and the sale. An engineering firm may qualify to compete by having the necessary staffing and talent; it may win an account due to being ISO certified. A pizza shop may qualify to compete by having a convenient location and the right items on the menu; it may win orders by having great tasting recipes. On the other hand, a pharmaceutical company may qualify with production, distribution, and sales, but it may lose its winning edge by lacking FDA approval.
Finally, look back at the market itself and define your primary and secondary markets. Analyses, financial and functional, should tell you if these are the correct markets for you. Make sure that you aren't choosing a market just because you don't know what other market to choose. It's surprising how many strategic plans never tie functionality to markets. Markets are chosen simply because they are thought to be "where the money is." In outlining your market, you might find that there are other markets that may already make you a stronger competitive force, because you need not expend capital, only modify order-winning strategies such as a stronger marketing campaign or better technical-support staffing. Upon analysis, management might find that margins may also be stronger.
Remember that when you develop and initiate a strategic plan, the bottom line is your #1 factor. Winning marketplace tactics come from being brutally honest with yourself and from doing your homework in order to best address the four steps outlined above.
Helpful Idea List
For your convenience, you'll find a partial list of examples of order winners and qualifiers. For any particular market or industry, each may be defined differently. In the automotive industry, price may be the qualifier, and in a petroleum-distillation process, price may be the order winner.
Delivery (speed or reliability)
Technical Support On-Line
Web Site with e-commerce
Range of Products
Depth of Inventory
One Line Ordering
Note on Price--Where margins are low, price is a order winner. Where margins are high, price is not an order winner. Customers in high-margin items are just looking for a range to fit their needs and will purchase if it is "competitive."
(Terry Hill Mfg Strategy, Strategy Quest 2000)
© MM David & Lorrie Goldsmith
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