Do not waste your time with useless SWOT analysis

How to conduct a SWOT analysis perfectly to boost your business!

SWOT is a simple and popular tool for businesses – everyone knows it. Therefore you can find it in a lot of books, blogs or trainings – business students learn about it everywhere. Most entrepreneurs conduct at least one before launching their business, most of which are far from perfect. Most of which are far from perfect.

The secret of the perfect SWOT is the analysis. Which means that you have to invest time and effort. It is not an idea-generation tool. SWOT is a strategy development tool – therefore it is not enough to collect some ideas for each area. SWOT may be simple – but not easy.

Why does your business need a SWOT analysis?

SWOT analysis is a strategy development method – it is indispensable for any new business. Specification of the objectives of the enterprise, identification of external and internal factors that have an impact on the success and positioning yourself in the market – these cannot be achieved without SWOT analysis. Even if you do not write down you have (sort of) a SWOT in your mind. With identification of the strengths and weaknesses it determines every marketing decision.

SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool, therefore it is a must before starting your business planning. It is not just for new businesses, it is a vital part of any marketing plan. The environment, the customers, the competition are constantly changing, therefore you should update your SWOT regularly. SWOT analysis is a perfect tool to assess the effectiveness and determine the future of the organisation.

When you diversify your business or enter new markets – you need a marketing plan for that. One market – one strategy. B2C/B2B, different countries, digital – the markets are different. SWOT is a tool for strategy development, therefore any new market means a new SWOT.

It is also a good feedback for your team (and for you), it can function as a starting point for team discussions about the future in a specific business situation. Though the factors are mostly factual, their evaluation may be subjective.

You may not always conduct SWOT, but when you do, do it right.

Steps of the SWOT
Identification of the factors. Or data collection. Every SWOT analysis begins with the examination of the company and exploration of its environment: you have to identify the strengths and weaknesses and spot the threats and opportunities outside. Most of the students stop here, but this is a mistake. Because there is one more step.

Scrutiny of the factors (aka analysis). You should evaluate and classify your findings. Are you able to answer these questions:
– Why is this factor relevant? What is the impact of this?
– How can we use this factor in our strategy?

Identification of the factors – sources of information for SWOT
1. Customer data and feedback. The number of prospects, contacts, leads, clients and repurchasing clients. The structure and the activity of your customers. Customer value (Do you know it?) as the most important one. The feedback from customers in any channels: from social media to formal complaints.
2. Performance indicators and team feedback. Production rates, growth, market share, RoI. Campaign indicators: reach, activity (e.g. shares), cost per lead, website data (unique visitors, bounce rate, time spent, shopping cart abandonment), mail/advertising response rates. Personal indicators of your team.
3. Your financial performance – sales results, income, value of the company, investment, or any other information about the financial background and resources.
4. Market research – collect customer information (primary/secondary, qualitative/quantitative). Check forums, blogs, social media. Conduct a questionnaire survey. You can also research the supply chain or any other stakeholder group.
5. Information from the competitors. Public information: price lists, homepages, social media sites, stores and web shops, advertisements, publications, financial reports. Request proposals, use their services.
6. Your mission, objectives, marketing and financial plans, previous analyses.

In the SWOT you summarise your findings by grouping them into four areas: strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities. Threats and opportunities are mostly external factors and trends, while strengths and weaknesses focuses on the business itself. The result is something like this:

Click here to download a SWOT template!

Do not stop here. Your SWOT is not ready yet. The SWOT is an analysis, you still have work to do: the analysis itself.

Scrutiny of the strengths and weaknesses
To evaluate them, first you have to answer three questions:
– Is it a competitive advantage?
– Are you really good at this?
– What is the perception of the customers?

High quality products can be a real strength of the company, but if the competitors (or some of them) are producing the same high-quality goods then quality does not differentiate your business. Should you even classify this as a strength? Yes. It is important to understand if you are good at something. Your team also need feedback (Your sales have a 90% closing rate, your customer satisfaction is close to 100% – can you tell your team that they are not a strength for the company?).
However only competitive advantages can give you the upper hand against your rivals. When anyone can achieve this, it becomes a necessity for the market.

Even if you are the best you still can improve. It is essential to understand that you are better than the competitors, but if your customers are not satisfied, you should improve. Can a 40% repurchase rate be a strength? A 4% sales funnel conversion rate? An 85% cart abandonment rate?
You can classify it as a strength – you can be the best with them – at this specific situation. Temporarily. But the decisions should be different in the case of a real strength of the company compared to a competitive-only strength.

It is also vital to examine the perception of customers. An unknown, but existing strength requires different actions than an alleged but non-existent one. Customers can draw conclusions without knowing the facts, for example perceived quality of a product is highly related to its price, country of origin or the retailer. Perceived value (→ satisfaction) of a product is based on customers’ expectations. Cognitive dissonance distorts our perception, customers are not rational.

When you are ready with this, take a look at the whole picture.
Which are the most important strengths of the company? Which are unique? Where to improve, what to communicate? Can the business save money on some strengths?
Can you deal with all the weaknesses at the same time? Is it vital to improve any of them for the survival of the company? Can something compensate the weaknesses?
You can use ABC (Pareto) analysis to classify your factors.

Draw your conclusions for strategy – you can start thinking about the implications here. What are the consequences of these factors to the strategic level of 4Ps? Branding, pricing strategy, communication strategy, product portfolio, partnerships – most of them are determined by the strengths and weaknesses.

Do not forget to communicate / discuss this with your team. It can be important feedback for them, a recognition of their results. You can also set targets with them.

Scrutiny of the threats and the opportunities
As for the opportunities, the most important question is the prerequisites. What should you do to capitalise on them? How can you make full use of all the opportunities? Can you start working on them now? Do you need money, knowledge, licence – or any other resource before you can act? What steps lead the opportunity to become reality?

Threats are more difficult. You should know:
– the odds of their occurrence
– the consequences (potential impact of occurrence)
– ways of prevention / protection

Rank them by importance (multiple the odds and impact): those with high impact or high probability need immediate action (prevention or preparation). The identification of the most vulnerable points will influence your marketing. Focus the company’s resources to the critical factors, and do the easy and obvious only for the rest.
It is also important to examine what you can do. Some threats can be avoided, others certainly become reality sooner or later. The objective of the analysis is to be ready. To understand the options and start acting. Sometimes it is just monitoring the environment and setting up triggers (reacting behaviour) – sometimes it is leading the changes (proactive behaviour).

Do you really need to conduct a quality SWOT analysis?
The real question is this: do you need any marketing for your success? Sometimes business works without marketing or DIY.

But whenever you work with a marketing expert, a consultant or an agency, you have to make sure that they understand your business and goals. SWOT – a quality one – is a good starting point for cooperation.

Andras Kenez, Lecturer in Marketing

Any questions? Email Andras.Kenez@staffs.ac.uk

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