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Selling the “Strategy Imperative” to the CEO

Driving the Shift from a Short Term Mindset

Given all the pressure to deliver “in quarter” results, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get executive attention on strategy formation and/or re-examination. Executive energy is largely consumed with driving operational excellence and available “cycles’ are devoted to sales and growth initiatives designed to drive near-term, measurable improvements in sales and/or profitability. It makes sense given we are still “heads down” working our way out of an enduring global recession.

Nevertheless, there’s a risk that by ignoring meaningful strategy formulation today, your company will likely limit its growth potential when the economy actually picks up. So where does that leave marketers who understand the need to craft and refine strategies to drive long term competitive advantage? Do we just wait for the recession cycle to end and then raise our hands higher and declare “now is the time?” Should we focus all of our attention on activities and campaigns to drive awareness, leads and sales pipeline growth? That’s not the preferred choice, so here are a few suggestions to keep strategy as a top of mind consideration at the very least, and part of the normal cadence of annual business planning at best.

First, take stock of the strategic planning process at your company over the past few years and determine whether -independent of the economy – it is at or nearing the time for a regular review of business strategy. If so, and if there is no single individual or group chartered to drive strategy at your company, raise your hand. After all, marketing is as well suited as any other functional area to own the strategic planning function.

Second, determine who has been and should be key to driving of strategy formation, refinement and execution at your company and take an informal poll on whether these individuals who have participated in the part or other relevant stakeholders can be instrumental in creating urgency around the need to revisit and refine strategy to drive long term growth and differentiation.

Third, consider bringing in an agency or consulting firm to help facilitate or frame the strategic planning task. For a chief marketer or chief strategy officer, this option is often hard to convince a CEO to embrace. “I hired you after all, why can’t you do it yourself?” Well because you are focused on working closely with sales and product development, driving key initiatives, mentoring and managing staff, managing budgets, adjusting tactics, reporting metrics and as consumed as any other functional executive that is not solely focused on strategy.

Lastly, if you have a strategy in place and are operating to it in marketing, it’s important to ensure that all other functional departments are aligned to the same strategy. When I was VP of Marketing at FileNet, prior to the acquisition by IBM, we had formulated a long term growth strategy that all of the functional areas had presumably “bought in to.” However, when we began sharing how we were operationalizing the strategy in Marketing with other functional areas such as Professional Services, Finance and IT, we discovered that none of these groups was making any meaningful changes to their operations to be in better alignment with the strategy. So the lesson learned is that strategy that is not embedded in how companies operate is a nothing more than an elegant binder that sits on a shelf. Turning strategy into action is how market leaders win. To strategize or not is not the question. It’s making sure that strategy remains a constant, in good time and bad.

Categories: management, Strategy
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