Don't SWAG Your SWOT!

A SWOT analysis is a valuable tool for taking a hard look at ourselves, our customers and the marketplace in general. Unfortunately, most companies view SWOTs as a necessary evil. We all tend to groan when we think about a SWOT analysis - wasted time, wasted resources, hours in a room (where at least we can read and respond to email). We SWAG our SWOT to get through the exercise and back to business.

Don't SWAG your SWOTs! Those SWAGs become corporate facts and drive your destiny!

Case in Point.

Here's an example of a SWOT gone bad. We started a go-to-market strategy project for a technology company. The execs proudly presented their SWOT as fodder. One look told the story. Even though it had been put together to raise venture funding, it was not necessarily complete or accurate. Frankly, it was downright scary.

  • It was product feature focused. Customer perception, evidence of value, problem solution opportunities, market opportunity, reach and range of channels and more had all gone the way of the dodo bird in this SWOT.
  • It made all-encompassing assumptions about customer requirements. All based on the competition. When I asked about 1:1 customer discussions I learned the focus had been around 2 huge companies where the founders had friends.
  • Strengths were focused on product innovation. What about expertise, customer successes, the vision of the founders, partners and other qualitative market strengths? Customer/market perceptions were MIA.
  • Weaknesses and Threats were all abot Lack of Money. According to this SWOT, an influx of venture solved ALL their weaknesses. That alone made me question the validity of the analysis -wouldn't you?
  • Opportunities focused on big and popular markets, filled with competition. Sure, these were the big honking opportunities that everyone and their brother were chasing. These targets were not in fact available opportunities for this company.
These SWAGS could have destined this company to failure. Don't make the same mistake!

So how do we get the full value out of a SWOT exercise?

Here's some simple, practical advice:

  • Customers rule. Forget about what people inside your corporate walls think. Go ask your customers and target prospects for their thoughts. What you and your internal folks know to be true doesn't really matter in the market - customers do.
  • Paint the True picture. Just tell the truth. Be honest with yourself and your team. The purpose of a SWOT is not to fluff up your feathers. The purpose is to provide a market picture that proffers real-world guidance on where you need to be stronger, faster, quicker, more focused - how you can provide better solutions and be more successful. Painting a rosy picture does nothing but SWAG the wrong impression.
  • Focus, Focus, Focus. Broad brush SWOTs can lead you into a false sense of security. I call them Some Where Out There's (as in when you keep thinking ‘I can find this to be true somewhere...'). o be valuable - a SWOT has to deliver an in-depth review of a specific sector or problem or angle. Focus on a specific application of the whizbang in a well defined market niche, how you solve a specific problem for a specific set of customers. You'll get more value and less fluff.
  • Take the SWOT seriously. I know you're going to say you already do this - but do you really? A serious SWOT analysis takes resources and dedication - not just 2 hours in a conference room with a whiteboard and people SWAGging things all over the place. When you knuckle down and take your SWOT seriously, you'll shed light on the areas that you need to address to be successful. Remember, the purpose of a SWOT is more about finding the weaknesses and threats than it is about thumping you chest about all those strengths.
SWOTs are a powerful tool. Yes, they take thoughtful time and effort. Yes, they can be challenging.

And... Yes, done well, SWOTs help us create valid assessments that drive our success. So stop SWAGging and start taking SWOTs seriously.

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