Over the last year, we have all experienced an unprecedented amount of change, and scenarios we used to see only in movies became reality affecting all aspects of our professional and personal lives. In business terms, markets that used to be attractive may have disappeared, organizations that used to be fierce competitors may have decided to join forces, and the ways we work and how we interact have — for many — dramatically changed.

As uncertainty is still high, many B2B marketing leaders are shrinking their planning horizons to ensure that marketing plans are examined and adjusted as needed so that their teams can continue to demonstrate agility and resilience. As these principles of agility and adaptability have risen in importance — and we work with our clients to help them embed both in their annual planning efforts — boards, CEOs, and executive teams are all keen to move forward and make decisions that shape their organization’s future and drive a step change in performance and value creation.

Therefore, marketing leaders must avoid the trap of focusing only on near-term efforts; more than ever before, it is critical to create the bandwidth needed to look ahead and drive the longer-term growth agenda of their organizations. To do this, B2B marketing leaders need to not only manage external realities and uncertainties, but also navigate through their own organizational constructs and internal complexities so that they can deliver a concise yet actionable marketing strategy.

Creating a clear vision forward is not always easy — and given the ongoing uncertainty, such an endeavor may seem even more complex and daunting. Where do you start? How do you ensure that you align with your peers in the sales and product functions across all levels of the organization? How do you make sure that decisions made at the highest level of strategy cascade and drive operational efforts across all marketing sub-teams to avoid inefficiencies and waste?

Working with hundreds of B2B marketing organizations every year, we have broken down that complexity and distilled marketing strategy formulation into three sequential levels. Specifically:

  • Level 1: This is what we call the shared destination, and it captures decisions that sales, marketing, and product leaders take together to provide clarity on where and how future revenue will be generated. As these leaders agree on this future destination, they must also examine the strategic fit of all revenue engine functions, identify areas where change is required, and commit to driving that change for the future market advantage to be attainable.
  • Level 2: At this level, B2B marketing leaders take decisions that define how marketing will orient to — and maximize the effectiveness of — its approach in supporting the shared destination. The first decisions made at this level are external in nature  — related to brand, audiences, go-to-market routes, and value creation. Here, CMOs have a unique opportunity to bring their deep understanding of buyers’ and customers’ evolving behavior and expectations so that revenue engine leaders together make decisions that maximize business results in existing and new or untapped market areas. CMOs then turn their attention to internal decisions that provide clarity on the operating model, marketing capabilities, and milestones that marketing needs to achieve to support the shared destination.
  • Level 3: The decisions made at the previous levels cascade down to the individual marketing subfunctions (e.g., marketing operations, portfolio marketing, demand marketing), providing the strategic clarity that these leaders often times lack. Having this clarity enables them to define what they need to deliver within their own sub-functions to support the long-term marketing strategy.

Taken together, these three levels form the Marketing Strategy Compass — a best-practice model we use with B2B CMOs to help them navigate through uncertainty and noise and deliver a clear strategic vision that advances their business’s growth agenda. Developing that future outlook is key to ensuring that B2B marketing leaders continue to act as assertive agents of change — especially at times when their business needs clarity the most.

In our upcoming B2B Summit North America, I’ll have the pleasure of presenting with my colleague Susan Macke on how CMOs can use this approach in their own organizations based on their own business context. Equipped with this information, you’ll be ready to provide a concise, actionable, and aligned long-term marketing strategy the next time your CEO and board ask you for strategic clarity.