Successful B2B Leaders Think Strategically. How Do They Do It?
By Laura Patterson - President and co-founder of VisionEdge Marketing, Inc.
Friday, 16th June 2023

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of CEOs believe global economic growth will decline over the next 12 months.

(According to PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey, which polled 4,410 CEOs in 105 countries and territories in October and November 2022)

The bleak CEO outlook is the most pessimistic CEOs have been regarding global economic growth since we began asking this question 12 years ago.

Despite this outlook, as a B2B leader, it falls on your shoulders to grow your organization's revenue and profitability while delivering an exceptional customer experience.

Regardless of the economy and other factors, achieving these goals requires skills beyond business acumen and leadership abilities. It requires strategic thinking. A strategic mindset is a core capability for successful leaders. This is even more imperative in challenging times.

Read on to learn the five strategic thinking skills successful B2B leaders leverage to achieve competitive advantage and sustainable growth, and how to start developing these skills:

  1. Critical thinking
  2. Forward-looking visionary thinking
  3. Analytical thinking
  4. Adaptability
  5. Communication

5 Essential Skills for Leaders Who Want to Stay Ahead of the Curve

Strategic thinking involves developing long-term plans, setting goals, and prioritizing resources to achieve those goals. It also involves anticipating changes in the market and responding accordingly. According to a study by McKinsey, “the average revenue and earnings growth were 47 percent and 36 percent higher for firms that focus on long-term strategy.”

Successful leaders have honed many important skills. We believe there are five essential skills of leaders who think strategically. In this article, we’ll explore each and provide some examples of how these skills help leaders stay ahead of the curve.

#1: Critical Thinking

When you question, analyze, interpret, evaluate, and make a judgment about what you read, hear, say, or write you are engaging in critical thinking. Leaders who are solid critical thinkers can think about problems and come up with creative and innovative solutions.

For example, the CEO of IBM, Ginni Rometty, is known for her critical thinking skills, which have helped her lead the company through a major transformation in recent years. She has been able to identify areas where IBM can grow and innovate, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence. One of the benefits of critical thinking is it enables your ability to manage through ambiguity.

How to get started: The first step to critical thinking is to consider more than one point of view. It's important to go beyond trusting what you hear or read as the truth because everyone has their own opinions, motives, and biases – even academics. When learning, you should ask what evidence supports their argument.

#2: Forward-looking Visionary Thinking

Strategic leaders are always thinking about the future. They see the big picture and have a clear vision of what they want their organization to become. Strategic leaders create this vision for the future of their organization and communicate this vision to all their stakeholders.

One example of a visionary leader is Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Bezos has always had a clear vision for what he wants Amazon to be, and he has been able to execute on that vision over the years, transforming the company into one of the largest retailers in the world. You can often discern what the vision is by where the company invests.

ServiceNow, a cloud-based platform that automates enterprise workflows, has a clear vision to be the leader in digital transformation for the enterprise. To achieve this goal, they have invested heavily in research and development to stay ahead of emerging technologies and market trends.

Take a moment to answer this question, does your company have a clear vision of what it wants to become and at least a five-year plan that serves as a roadmap to achieve this vision?
Need help developing and communicating your strategic plan? Let’s talk.

How to get started: Mark Johnson and Josh Suskewicz, the authors of the book Lead from the Future: How to Turn Visionary Thinking Into Breakthrough Growth, studied visionary leaders and learned from them how to "develop actionable views of their organizations' best possible futures."

Johnson and Suskewicz recommend leaders spend 10 to 20 percent of their time on the long-term vision and start by imagining the organization's future and proactively identify challenges and opportunities early to enable proper planning and business execution to allow the organization to thrive over the long term.

#3: Analytical thinking

Analytical thinking is a method for analyzing a problem and finding a solution. Strategic leaders who are analytical thinkers have the ability to analyze complex data and make sense of it. They use their analytical thinking skills to identify patterns, trends, and opportunities that others might miss.

HubSpot, a marketing and sales software company, uses data analysis to provide insights into its customers' behaviors and preferences. They use this information to create targeted marketing campaigns that improve customer engagement and drive revenue growth. How well does your company analyze sales data to identify which products or services are performing well and where you should invest more resources? Answering this question takes analytical thinking.

How to get started: Analytical thinking is at the heart of problem-solving and decision-making. According to a study by McKinsey, companies that use data analytics to make decisions are 1.5 times more likely to report revenue growth than those that do not. Expand your ability to gather and interpret data from various sources to identify patterns and trends.

As a business leader, encourage your organization to invest in technologies that enable you to gather and analyze data, such as business intelligence and data visualization tools.

#4: Adaptability

Robert Half says that “Adaptability is both an attitude and an action.” Adaptability entails embracing change and exhibiting extraordinary resilience.

Successful strategic leaders rapidly adapt to changing circumstances and adjust their plans when necessary. They use insights from customer, marketing, and competitive data along with their experience to anticipate changes and take proactive steps to stay ahead of the competition, or quickly respond to changing market conditions or unexpected events.

One example of an adaptable leader is Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. Nadella has led Microsoft through a major transformation in recent years, shifting the company's focus from traditional software to cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Slack, a messaging platform for teams, demonstrated adaptability when it quickly released new features and integrations to support remote collaboration during COVID and shifted its marketing strategy to focus on the benefits of remote work. How well is your company prepared to pivot your business model in response to a new competitor entering the market?

How to get started: Adaptability is a soft skill. Extracting positives or lessons learned from situations or projects that don’t go as planned, particularly where the loss was significant is part of improving your adaptability skill. Strategic thinking leaders learn from their mistakes and share newfound knowledge and test alternative solutions. Consider conducting a debrief session after every major initiative.

#5: Communication

Strategic leaders are excellent communicators. They can articulate their vision and goals to their team members and stakeholders, including customers, inspiring them to work towards common business outcomes. Effective communication involves being able to articulate your vision, motivate your employees, and communicate with stakeholders, including customers and investors.

Numerous studies show the connection between customer experience and employee experience and how together they positively impact customer and employee retention and loyalty. Zoom, a video conferencing platform, provides an excellent example. The company effectively communicated its vision and value proposition to customers and investors.

They capitalized on the sudden demand for remote communication tools and became one of the most successful IPOs of 2019. How well do you believe you communicate your strategic plan to your stakeholders, ensuring everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals?

How to get started: Become an active listener. Active listening is a key step in good communication. It encourages openness, honesty, and success. This will require paying attention, and for many of us that will mean putting down our phones, and looking away from email, so we can be present.

Need help developing and communicating your strategic plan? Let’s talk.


B2B leaders need a set of skills that go beyond business acumen and leadership abilities to achieve their revenue and customer goals.

Leaders who think strategically and possess these five skills will be better positioned to navigate ambiguity, sustain growth, create customer value, identify opportunities even in challenging times, and make decisions that are aligned with their organization's goals.

Laura Patterson is president and co-founder of VisionEdge Marketing, Inc., a recognized leader in enabling organizations to leverage data and analytics to facilitate marketing accountability.

Laura’s newest book, Marketing Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization (Racom: www.racombooks.com ), is a useful primer for improving marketing measurement and performance. Visit: www.visionedgemarketing.com

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