Recommendations for the management of type 2 diabetes include rigorous control of blood glucose levels and other risk factors, such as hypertension and dyslipidaemia. In clinical practice, many patients do not reach goals for glycaemic control. Causes of failure to control blood glucose include progression of underlying pancreatic β-cell dysfunction, incomplete adherence to treatment (often because of adverse effects of weight gain and hypoglycaemia) and reluctance of clinicians to intensify therapy. There is increasing focus on strategies that offer potential to improve glycaemic control. Structured patient education has been shown to improve glycaemic control and other cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes. Payment of general practitioners by results has been shown to improve glycaemic control. New classes of glucose-lowering agents have expanded the treatment options available to clinicians and patients and include the dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP-4) inhibitors and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists. These new classes of therapy and other strategies outlined above could help clinicians to individualize treatment and help a greater proportion of patients to achieve long-term control of blood glucose.