Field Notes

How We Workshop Strategic Plans

illustration of two people in a boat about to go over a waterfall, one is happily oblivious, illustrated by Infantree

One of the first documents many clients share with us is a strategic plan. It takes a lot of trust on their part, and we’re always grateful for an inside look at how their team is planning for the future.

However, we often find it helpful to retool these documents with the client—for both of our sakes.

At Infantree, we’re very intentional about how we approach goals, strategies, and tactics. We have to be, because they inform everything we do. If we don’t get them straight, our team and our client won’t be rowing in the same direction. Or worse, we’ll be happily rowing together in the wrong direction.

We’re often given strategic plans that use “goal,” “strategy,” and “tactic” rather loosely. No judgment: we know it can be hard to sort these things out, especially from the inside of a company.

But getting them right is worth the time it takes. If both teams aren’t completely clear on what we want to do and how we plan on doing it, we can’t support each other effectively.

We start with the goal

This sounds simple but rarely is. “Improve our sales materials” is not the kind of goal we’re after. When we’re given goals like this, we unleash our inner five-year-olds and ask “why?” over and over.

Eventually, the discussion leads to a more revealing and specific answer. Say our imaginary client, Safepack, tells us that most products are actually selling well. So why did they ask for improved sales materials?

Because there’s one product line where sales lag severely: sustainable packaging. Now we’re getting somewhere. After talking things through, we decide the real goal should be “convince current customers to try our sustainable packaging.”

Next we move to strategy

With a new goal, it’s unlikely the old strategy will fit. So we’ll ask more questions about why customers aren’t buying sustainable packaging from Safepack.

It might be that a competitor offers sustainable packaging at a better price. Or that manufacturers don’t think sustainable packaging will be durable enough for their needs. Maybe they simply don’t realize Safepack offers sustainable options.

Let’s say Safepack knows their customers hesitate to purchase sustainable packaging because they don’t think it does a good job protecting products. (Ideally, we’d want to hear more about that directly from customers.)

Our strategy could become “Prove Safepack’s sustainable packaging protects products as well as it protects the planet.”

Now we have an angle

We know what we’re going to focus on—and just as importantly, what we’re not going to focus on (price, general awareness). That’s a strategy.

What remains is to determine the tactics. How are we going to prove Safepack’s sustainable packaging protects products as well as it protects the planet?

Which brings us back to Safepack’s goal as it was originally stated: improve our sales materials. As a tactic, that still makes sense.

We could also consider creating some durability-focused videos to promote on LinkedIn. Or build a landing page that dispels durability myths. We might even box up some sales materials in sustainable packages and send them on an outrageously long and perilous journey to current customers. The point is that with a clear goal and strategy defined, the tactics suggest themselves.

All of this takes work—on our part and the client’s. But both teams will come out of it confident. Safepack knows we’ve actually understood their needs. And we know we’ll be able to develop something so much more effective than the dressed-up sales materials we might have assumed they wanted.