What are business tactics?

In my article “What is Strategy” you received the most concise definition and explanation of business strategy that you will ever come across.

As I explained in that article, strategy is one of the most misused and misunderstood business terms, and that most people don’t really know what a business strategy is.  Then, using a sports metaphor, I explained the concept of strategy in greater detail.

What I didn’t outline was the relationship between strategy and tactics, and how the two are intertwined.  So that’s the topic for today.

In reality, no discussion on strategy is ever complete without linking it to tactics. Why? Well, one famous quote, which has been attributed to Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, highlights the importance of the link between the two:

“Strategy without tactics is the long road to victory.  Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Fact is, strategy and tactics go hand in hand and you cannot have one without the other.  And this is perfectly illustrated with the following matrix:

What are tactics?

So what are tactics?  Tactics are ploys, patterns or maneuvers you develop and implement to drive and support your strategy, and to get you closer to your objective.  In the military, tactics are defined as “the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle.” (source: Wikipedia – Military tactics).

The operative word in this definition is “techniques”.  So in a military context, tactics are the specific techniques that combat units/soldiers will learn and use, such as hand-to-hand combat tactics, use of weapons and so on.

In sport we refer to tactics as our “plays” or “moves”.  These moves and plays are the techniques used to engage and beat a competitor. Indeed, if you analyze any top sporting contest or game closely you will note that it is no more than an accumulated sequence of plays and counter-plays.  In other words, tactics.

In sports such as rugby we have attacking moves which are designed to advance our team towards the opposition goal line.  And we also have defensive moves which are designed to halt opposition attacks.

Top sports teams have play books, which are compilations of team plays.  (Some NFL teams have 300+ page play books).  And a favorite coaching tool of many coaches is the mini-whiteboard, which helps them to illustrate tactics to their team.

The moves we use are dependent on conditions such as the opposition, the weather, our team skill set and how well our team has practiced.

The key point is this.  In order to be competitive, a sports team must have carefully selected and well-rehearsed tactics.  Otherwise it will play like a ship without a rudder, or a headless chicken.

What are tactics in a business?

So in sport a tactic is a move or play that gets you closer to the opposition goal line.  And business tactics?

In business, tactics are maneuvers and techniques that help you to reach your target market and get a customer. Or to stop customers from going to a competitor.

In business, getting a customer can be likened to scoring points against the opposition in a sporting contest.  The more points you score, the better it is for you.  The way in which you score points is through your tactics.

Specifically, business tactics include product, marketing, promotional, branding, channel/distribution and pricing initiatives and campaigns you create and then execute in the marketplace.

These initiatives are the specific plays or moves you develop and execute to help you build brand awareness, and convert that brand awareness into customers.

To be most effective your tactics must align with your strategy, as per the grid illustrated above.  When your strategy is good and your tactics sound, you have a much better chance of getting into the high performance green zone.

The tactical arm of your business – and your most important business function

As suggested above, in your business there is one function that drives your tactics.  And that function is marketing.  Put another way, your marketing function – and everyone involved in it – is the business equivalent of a championship-winning sports team or a Navy Seals unit.

Your marketing function drives success in your business.  And the purpose of every other function in your business – administration, operations, accounting etc – is to support the marketing function.

Peter Drucker put it more definitively when he stated that:

“Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two – and only these two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. They are the entrepreneurial functions.”  Peter Drucker (from The Practice of Management)

So, to summarize:

  • You need strategy and tactics
  • Tactics are maneuvers and techniques that help you to reach your target market and get a customer. Or to stop customers from going to a competitor.
  • Marketing is the business function that drives your tactics
  • Marketing is the most important function in your business