Today I’m going to isolate and explore one of the most important disciplines in business. It’s a critical skill in management, entrepreneurship, sales and leadership, and yet most people struggle with it. That’s right—I’m talking about Strategy with a capital S. Before we jump, let’s get real about four buzzwords you probably hear thrown around a lot:
Each of these seems to punctuate most conversations I have with people across the spectrum, from ambitious startups through to big enterprises, yet I’m continually surprised at how few people know the difference between them.
“Alignment ensures that every Tactic is now a logical step in an articulated Strategy that’s aligned to your goal. There are no rash decisions, contradictory actions or rogue elements operating outside of the logical framework.”
Not only are ‘strategies’ constantly confused with ‘tactics’, but ‘alignment’ is dropped as a mysterious magic cure for everything from your lagging sales figures to your malfunctioning coffee machine, and ‘integration’ is perhaps the most misused noun in corporate history.
But before we toss them all in the jargon bin never to be heard from again, there are a few things you should know:
- Integration is nice, but it’s not always essential. Sometimes it’s simply too hard for a fast moving business to connect the dots between everything they’re doing, so trying to integrate too many moving parts can be a big distraction for little reward. However — and this is A BIG HOWEVER — there are consequences to not integrating pieces of the same puzzle, especially in sales and marketing, where both teams are responsible for the same funnel and, ultimately, the same sales pipeline;
- Then there’s Alignment. This is essential, and it’s neither mystery nor magic. When it comes to strategy, Alignment is the quality of thinking and focus that connects your day-to-day execution back to the goals you’ve set for the business;
- To illustrate the vital role Alignment plays – or should play – in your organisation, we first have to understand the relationship between Strategy and Tactics, and how they relate to your greater goals…
- A Strategy is a coherent and logical argument or pathway that positions you with an advantage, in service of a defined goal;
- While a Tactic is an action or set of actions you take to bring the strategy into practical existence, which is why execution and behaviour are what we measure on the front line.
So let’s put Strategy into a practical context.
Set Goals First, Then Lead With Strategy
A Strategy means nothing if it’s not clearly in service of a bigger objective. So let’s begin our process with goal setting. Simply, your goals are a statement of what you want to measurably achieve by an agreed upon deadline. Your goal might be to boost revenue by 25 per cent, or to increase market share by 3 per cent, or to win 12 new key accounts, or indeed all three.
With your goals set, you then need to define which pathways and logical arguments are most likely to create a genuine advantage for you against your competition or against other obstacles that might make life difficult for you. Once you’ve got that thinking down pat, you’ll draw on your subject matter expertise and experience to identify which actions will deliver that advantage. This, in essence, is the relationship between a Strategy and a Tactic.
The table below demonstrates this with the all-important Alignment arrow pointing up:
See how Alignment ensures that every Tactic is now a logical step in an articulated Strategy that’s aligned to your goal. There are no rash decisions, contradictory actions or rogue elements operating outside of the logical framework.
To risk a cliché, everyone is now singing from the same song sheet.
Viewed through this lens, it becomes easy to see that setting and executing an aligned Strategy is an organisation-wide exercise, or team-wide at the very least.
Think of it in this way: your sales Strategy will likely require your marketing colleagues to create brand awareness, and your IT colleagues to streamline your CRM.
Competing Interests and the Need for Integration
And here we return to Integration.
As everyone rushes to deliver on their own KPIs, we see a lot of Tactics being thrown around that are focused solely on achieving short-term departmental results at the expense of the organisation’s greater business goals.
For example, the marketing department might be appearing to kick goals with a shiny new lead generation campaign, however, if they are failing to deliver the right types of leads, they’ll be at odds with the sales team’s goals and the greater Strategy will fall flat, leaving the ultimate business goal unfulfilled. Doesn’t sound very integrated, does it?
Got it? Good. Now let’s drive the point home with a few examples.
A Revenue Growth Strategy
Let’s suppose your organisation sets a goal to increase sales revenue by 25 per cent next quarter. To achieve such a lofty goal, you’ll need to set some strong sales Strategies.
The first Strategy might be to focus on converting more high value leads to sales, while a second Strategy might be to increase valuable repeat business.
Both Strategies will increase your overall revenue, but a series of Tactics must be assigned to each if they are to be successful.
So to convert more high value leads, you may need to implement Tactics such as:
- Scoring leads in your CRM to identify potential high-value customers;
- Nurturing those leads with targeted content that pushes them through the pipeline;
- Deploying your best sales reps to convert.
To achieve the second Strategy of increasing your repeat business, your Tactics might be to:
- Use CRM data to build detailed customer profiles and identify buying triggers;
- Convert that data into unique offers for each customer segment;
- Create sales messaging around loyalty and rewards.
This helps you make sure all your actions are pushing in the same direction:
An Inbound Lead Generation Strategy
Now suppose your organisation is taking a responsible approach to keeping your sales team well stocked with warm inbound leads, and you’ve set a goal to increase inbound marketing leads by 33 per cent.
The first lead generation Strategy might be to increase more desirable visitors to your website through search marketing, and the second might be to convert more website visitors into decent warm leads.
The first Strategy could come to life with Tactics such as:
- Identifying and ‘owning’ certain long tail keywords that have low competition but moderate search volumes;
- Then publishing regular targeted blog posts and lead magnets that address those topics;
- And finally using that content to build an engaged social media community.
To achieve the second Strategy of converting more visitors into highly qualified leads, your Tactics might be to:
- Create strong calls-to-action on your website with offers that previously tested well;
- Maximise your page load speed to limit site drop offs and bounces;
- Simplify opt-in forms and remove excess site navigation to keep users engaged in the content rather than surfing away to another part of your website.
Every day I work with ambitious teams who are striving to attract, convert and keep more high value clients — and repeatedly I see that those who succeed are the rare number who commit to Strategy, backed up by coherent execution with a clear line of sight to their goals.
If you want to follow their lead, my recommendations are:
A. Start with re-articulating the goals you’ve set for the business or your team;
B. Create a space and set a timeframe during which your sole purpose is to “Get Strategic”;
C. This is where you start to think deeply about what advantages you can create and amplify, and what those will look like as Strategies;
D. Test your assumptions and validate your thinking by inviting in colleagues or other experts, or at the very least by sourcing objective third party best practice examples;
E. Don’t be afraid of detail, and do write things down. Today’s business culture has a tendency to avoid going into the detail – this is a problem and leads to shallow thinking and a culture of low-yield reactivity. You should be able to explain your logic in detail to yourself and to others, especially how your Strategies align to Goals and Tactics.
Bring your team on the journey with you, and you’ll ensure all their efforts are pulling in the same direction towards your common goals.