This post was contributed by Zilliant VP of Product Management Javier Aldrete.
Recently, I read an excellent post in Harvard Business Review on sales strategy. In it, the author Peter Bergman discusses why executives, despite a rock-solid business strategy, fail to see the results they planned for. The reason in one word? Execution. Per the author:
“However hard it is to devise a smart strategy, it’s even harder to get people to execute on that strategy. And poorly executed strategy, no matter how clever it is, is worthless.”
I couldn’t agree more! In fact, it’s a problem I hear quite a lot from executives at B2B industrial companies. You could devise an absolutely perfect strategy from A to Z, but if the people executing on the strategy aren’t perfectly aligned in each and every decision they make, your results will continue to miss the mark.
Here’s a fun illustration the author used to make a similar point:
Credit: Peter Bergman, Harvard Business Review, January 4, 2017
“The conundrum is how to get from the first graphic to the second one. Most organizations rely on communication plans to make that shift. Unfortunately, strategy communication, even if you do it daily, is not the same as — and is not enough to drive — strategy execution,” said Bergman.
Bergman goes on to give a very well thought-out plan that executives could deploy to achieve the “big arrow” of strategy-execution alignment mentioned above. If you’re grappling with a similar strategy-execution gap in your business, I would encourage you to read the article in full.
Achieve “Big Arrow” Strategy Alignment with Existing Data + Artificial Intelligence
While I certainly agree with Bergman’s points, the situation I encounter in the B2B world is a bit different. For most large, industrial B2B companies, the challenge is a matter of complexity.
In these businesses, giving customers the highest level of service and treating each customer as well as the very best customer is the holy grail. Only then, with a truly customer-centric standpoint, can they move the needle in terms of revenue and profit strategy. However, that’s easier said than done. Most companies we engage with have inner-workings that are, to put it lightly, complicated.
For example, it’s not uncommon for a large industrial company to have been in business for nearly a century. During that time, the company has likely acquired companies and product lines, opened new territories, opened new sales channels, and grown to a global scale. Over time, as the company inherits more and more product lines, regions and sales teams, individual sales reps are often selling hundreds of thousands of products to hundreds of customers. Treating each and every one like a strategic account by knowing when they begin purchasing items from a competitor, or knowing when they might need a product based on their current purchases isn’t so straightforward.
What I often observe is that sales reps are faced with this decision complexity every day. Before they can answer the question: What can I do to execute on my CEO’s strategy? They first have to tackle the urgent matters of the day: Which customers should I call on? What products should I sell them? What price should I quote when I’m there?
They key to closing the gap between strategy and execution is to empower sales reps to cut through decision complexity by providing them with these answers up front. It’s possible to do so quickly, easily and cost-effectively without a massive internal manual analytics project. By applying artificial intelligence to your existing, transactional data, you can serve up these insights directly to the sales rep. Best of all? You can fine-tune the guidance to align with your own revenue and sales strategies to ensure sales reps are executing on your strategy with each and every decision they make.