In my experience, when a company officer or high-level manager announces her or his intention to conduct a SWOT analysis, I know it’s time to polish up my resume. The Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis should probably be conducted in good times too, it’s just that usually, businesses remember to test the life boats as the ship is sinking.
For the uninitiated, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The idea is to identify lists of business realities under each of these four key areas and develop strategies to move the organization forward in light of the SWOT analysis results.
Business maps are a critical tool to bring to bear during a SWOT analysis. They add a visualization component and the ability to study relevant location-based datasets that may reveal elements about your business never before understood. Think of a SWOT map as first step to understanding more about your business:
- Why are our profit margins declining?
- Why is this area offering more opportunity than others?
- Why are Internet-based companies replacing local merchants in your industry?
Strengths refer to aspects of the business that are going well. This could be a list of products or services that are generating income and achieving goals. Strengths could be financial, labor related, or position in the marketplace.
A business map analysis of strengths might involve identifying areas in the marketplace where sales are at or above goal. Understanding why product or services are selling well in certain areas is an obvious key to expanding that success into new areas.
Strengths could also be related to resource and asset placements with respect to key markets. Middle ages England, for centuries the backwater of civilization focused on the Mediterranean, suddenly found itself in an advantageous position as the voyages of discovery determined the world was round and nations started competing for opportunities in the New World.
Good location-based strength datasets might be:
- Company warehouse locations
- Top-25 customer locations
- Top selling products by location
Many would say weaknesses are the opposite of your strengths. Perhaps, let business maps help guide your decision-makers to a more proactive stance on weaknesses. Typically, the ZIP codes where you’re not selling are weak areas for your sales team. View a business map detailing your sales by profit margin year-over-year. Add in sales personnel locations with estimated daily driving times and overall cost of sales included.
These cost-based numbers will help illuminate where your costs to market are eroding profitability. Weaknesses might not be resolved by throwing more sales and marketing at the problem. Maybe it’s a distribution issue and you need to consider changes in logistics.
Weakness can be readily exposed by creating an infrastructure map. A weakness could be the rising costs of doing business. As companies grow they reach plateaus in scalability where investment may be required to achieve the next growth milestone. Look for location-data within your business related to shipping and warehouse systems. Consider uploading location-data that reflects shipping costs and shipping cost trends across the nation.
Energy costs may be a concern. A comparison of all company facilities by location with the top five associated expenses may be helpful. See if there’s an industry standard for some of these expenses. Include analysis of productivity by employee at each location. Expose those facilities that are outperforming others and find out why.
Opportunities are probably more than just new sales prospects. While prospects should be included, opportunities come in many shapes and sizes. Opportunities might be hidden in marketplace details:
- Color code jurisdictions (city limits) by tax rates
- Conduct a labor analysis across all locations and profile other metro areas for alternative labor sources
- Are there similar businesses to yours, for sale in other areas of the country? Maybe you should be an Internet sales organization; selling online can provide a serious tax break
Be sure to ask critical questions that expose new ways of thinking:
- Who would buy us out, if they could?
- Are we better served from more shipping locations or fewer shipping locations?
- What are the five best labor markets for our business across the nation? What do our markets look like surrounding those cities?
- Are their areas in our market coverage with serious overlapping sales support?
Threats are wicked important. It seems to me the whole point of a SWOT analysis is coping with threats. An obvious location-based threat layer are competitors. So make sure to import a list of competitor addresses. Perhaps dig a little deep on competitors for your SWOT analysis. Consider multiple levels of competitor threats:
- List by name the locations of all major and usual competitors
- Classify competitors by type – online, big-box, local, overseas, direct
- Pull in distributor locations by address – color coded by competing products offered
Import multiple and relevant location-based datasets to your SWOT map to expose more business patterns. For SWOT maps, and specifically for threat exposure, consider these datasets:
- The location of traveling sales employees
- Shipping locations for web-based competitors exposing brick & mortar threats
- Critical supply sources for retailers and manufacturers
- Electrical utility supply rates by supplier site across the nation
- Known bottlenecks in the supply chain by location
Create your SWOT threat map by importing threat layers and viewing them over key business layers. View them with an associate to get more opinions and ideas about what your map should include. SWOT analysis is not a place for rugged individualism; it’s a team sport.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog titled How to Create a Business Marketing Map. Many of those same rules apply to SWOT maps, mainly:
- Get clear on your map’s purpose and keep this in mind as you develop and present
- Do not turn on all layers on – be selective
- Use heat maps to make the most critical point, if possible
With SWOT maps I would strongly suggest that you utilize several maps. Perhaps one map for Strengths and Weaknesses and another for Opportunities ands Threats. If you have a lot of data, consider four element maps (SWOT) and one highlights map that reviews the critical elements of your SWOT analysis.
Remember, you can always build a map template first with most of the layers included. Begin new maps from that map template, saving them in the My Maps folder. Process would be:
- Create a Map Template
- Create a subset My Map folder Strengths map
- Do the same for other SWOT categories
- Have your meeting and adjust maps as necessary
SWOT analysis are often painful. Bring map visualizations to the process can speed up the analysis, exposing critical issues sooner, rather than later. Bad news sooner beats, bad news later every time.
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