In business school, we are taught a lot about strategy. We glamorize it. We talk a lot less about execution.
We’re taught that if you know the “4 P’s” or how to build a financial model or how to setup a marketing strategy, then you will be able to succeed at business.
Something I’ve come to appreciate since joining Clearbanc is that reality is a lot messier than this. You can dream up something in boardroom, but you really need to know how to make stuff happen. Otherwise ideas just stay ideas.
Good execution is identifying all the actions required to support the strategy / goal, then making sure those get done. People who know how to get stuff done, get paid. They’re rare.
Strategy is useless without good execution and good execution is a bit messier than I expected. Here are some boring, practical, unsexy things that I’ve learned to make execution work.
Getting the Incentives Right
One area that I realized you have to account for is politics. Politics boils down to the simple fact that people in organization just have different interests. The product team is optimizing for different metrics than marketing. Marketing is optimizing for different metrics than finance. And legal is just trying to make sure no one is going to get sued.
What happens here is that in trying to optimize for their metrics, marketing might take actions that actively undermine the product team’s goal. As a tangible example, the marketing team might be optimizing for getting leads, without a focus on the quality of those leads. Meanwhile, the product team might be optimizing for conversions. By funnelling more leads of lower quantity, marketing is meeting their goals while product is frustrated and underperforming.
The mixing of incentives is a sticking point in good execution. A practical learning from all of this is that to execute properly, a really important point is to make sure that everyone is tracking the right metrics, understands what other people are tracking, and that you take the time to think about any second order effects. AKA. ask yourself the question, if this is how we are going to track success, are there going be some unwanted side effects of this?
In the above example, marketing and product should both be measured by conversion rate. This way marketing doesn’t actively undermine product. A second order effect of this change might be that marketing begins to drastically increase advertising costs or CAC in response. This is something else that would have to be monitored.
Executing a strategy rarely results in instantaneous results. It often takes months if not years for your actions to bear fruit. This means that it is important to be patient. Don’t kill a good thing before it has some time to age and mature.
A new sales process and organization in Clearbanc took more than two hard months before it started to show results.
A Linkedin content strategy I’ve been playing around got some initial traction, but I had to wait until week 3 for my first “conversion”. It’s still too early to judge if the program is a complete success, so I simply have to keep executing and posting.
The practical takeaway? Things take time. Be patient.
Nitty Gritty, Hands Dirty, Detail Devil Execution
Setting a good strategy is only the beginning to getting good results. The reality is that the boring day-day details are what gets you results. Surprise!
To use sales as an example. You can talk about a completely revamped and sexy sales strategy to get more revenue. Blue ocean and all that shit. But have you checked to make sure that your existing reps are doing their job?
Are they sending the right length emails? With the right headers? Are they following up with people? How often are they following up? *yawn it’s so obvious and boring, but I’ve seen 6-figure deals pop out of nowhere because someone decided to…send an email and followup.
To use marketing as an example. We at Clearbanc were trying to get more companies to become repeat customers. There were a lot of ideas tossed around, but ultimately what made a big difference was just sending them emails to remind them how they can use our money. No AI involved. No extreme data processing or segmentation.
I think that business students are overly obsessed with the glossy, sexy solution. I know I was. It’s a mentality that’s supported by case competitions and projects that reward ideas that are creative and clever. Ideas you rarely have to go out and execute.
There’s certainly value in creating those strategies, but something that I’ve grown to appreciate these past few months is that sometimes you have to take the time to sit down and just get (the boring) stuff done.