Creating a Strategy Story

The Strategy Story is a technique that describes your current situation and the strategic approach you’re going to take to lead your team to success. Below are the key elements of an effective Strategy Story:

Situation: A description of the current state of your business, including insights on the market, competitive position, goals, etc.

Players: The primary internal and external characters involved in the success or failure of the business. Players can be people, departments, companies, entities, and so on. Since there are potentially hundreds of players, focus on the handful that you believe are the true drivers of success or potential causes of failure.

Challenge: The primary obstacle you face leading your business at this time. Consider traditional competitors, intangible forms of competition (e.g., status quo, low morale, etc.), and internal issues (e.g., turf battles, share of mind, resource allocation, etc.). The main challenge should be singular in nature. It’s the one challenge with the most potential to affect your business—in a positive way if it is solved and in a negative way if it is not.

Issues: These are the critical elements underlying the main challenge. They add layers of complexity to the situation and can include smaller challenges that could get in the way of arriving at a resolution.

Options: The three to five mutually exclusive alternatives available for addressing the challenge. Consider the pros and cons of each option to examine the full range of things you can do to solve the main problem facing the business.

Resolution: The strategy for overcoming the primary challenge that will also lead to the achievement of the goal identified in the situation. The resolution should be one of the three to five options generated earlier in the narrative.

Actions: Clear, specific, and realistic steps to take to implement the resolution, including the who, what, and when.

Theme: Great stories have a central theme or premise (e.g., good versus evil, favorite versus underdog) represented by a metaphor, symbol or image (e.g., a mountain peak for achievement, an all-terrain vehicle to take a new or different path to success). Consider the theme and a metaphor, symbol, or image that represents the essence of the story.

The following is an example of a Strategy Story, with the specific section of the story called out in brackets:

[Situation] It’s been a tough year. Sales are growing incrementally, but our margins have been shrinking dramatically. We’re nine months into the launch of our new product and we’re behind forecast. It’s a great product, but as you all know we’re up against Gargantuan, the 800- pound gorilla in the market. Our primary goal this year is to grow sales and achieve 25 percent profit margins. If we don’t hit this, we may not be around in two years.

[Players] As head of marketing, Marsha has created a strong brand platform for our new product. Her experience in consumer marketing and digital promotion has created a campaign with a lot of buzz in this B-to-B space. With the advantages and benefits the product has, it seems that going in with a premium price made sense. While we have some solid mid-sized clients on board like Everon and Myott, we haven’t been able to gain traction with the larger potential customers like Armenium and Staylance. As VP of sales, Steve has been working tirelessly with his team to grow revenues by offering price discounts to get our foot in the door. Gargantuan has been in the market for five years and they’ve relied on a “good enough” product at a mid-level price point. The other mom-and-pop competitors have little bits and pieces of the market in their local niches.

[Challenge] It seems to me that the biggest challenge we face is a disconnect between our value proposition and real-world pricing strategies. We have a product with greater benefits and value to customers than Gargantuan’s offering, but it comes at a higher price. So we’re offering a premium product, but then we’re discounting the heck out of it when we’re face-to-face with customers in order to get our foot in the door and make a sale. It seems that Marsha and Steve are working off of completely different plans. Something has to give.

[Options] Let’s lay out our options. Option 1 is to do nothing and just stay the course. This would cause the least disruption to our business, but it doesn’t address the fact that we’re falling farther and farther behind our numbers. Option 2 is to change our marketing strategy and position ourselves as a good product at a great price. Lowering our prices might help us win additional business in the short term, but it will influence our sales team to sell on price instead of the clear benefits we have versus Gargantuan. Option 3 is to continue with our premium brand marketing strategy and not discount the product. This would enable us to maintain high margins and generate significant profit on each sale, but limit our potential pool of customers who use price as their primary decision-making factor.

[Resolution] I believe that this product is our Mona Lisa, our masterpiece. The easy way out would be to do nothing or discount it to grab some low-hanging fruit. Knowing all of you the way I do, I know that you’re not that type of team. You’re the Special Forces experts of this industry. You’re the elite team that’s going to stick it to Gargantuan and anyone else who gets in our way as we achieve our goals. Yes, we only have a two-year window to make it happen. But, we’re not going to be driven by fear. We’re going to be driven by hunger: hunger for success, hunger for the business that we’ve worked so hard to develop, hunger for the business we deserve. So, we’re going to maintain our premium brand marketing strategy. We’re not going to discount the product. Initially, we’re going to target only benefit-driven decision makers and leave the price-driven customers and their lousy profit margins to Gargantuan.

[Actions] In the next two weeks, Marsha and Steve will work together to revise the customer targeting plan, creating a profile of the value-driven customer most likely to pay for the benefits of our high- end product. Steve will then take this profile and sit down with his sales leadership team four weeks from now to identify which customers fit this profile within their respective regions. Steve and his assistant will then develop these revised customer target lists and, six weeks from now, have a meeting with all sales reps to provide guidance on strategically selling value and the policy of no longer discounting. Beginning this quarter, we’ll have a functional leadership meeting on the first of each month to ensure that we all are working on strategies that align with each other and help us reach our goals.

[Theme] We are smaller, so we need to be faster. We have fewer resources, so we need to be more focused. Make no mistake; we are the underdog. Gargantuan is the heavy favorite, but I like our chances, and this launch is crucial to our long-term success. I have here models of a moon rocket—one for each of you. A moon rocket uses about half of its fuel in the first mile of its journey to generate the momentum necessary to break free of the gravity of the earth’s atmosphere. We will need to use most of our resources to break Gargantuan’s hold on the market and give customers the superior value they deserve. Keep this moon rocket as a reminder of the effort and teamwork we’ll need to accomplish this mission.

An effective Strategy Story enables you to combine both acumen and emotion as you convey understanding of the situation and future strategic direction in a memorable way.

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