The motivation for this piece came from a recent McKinsey article titled “The Case for Digital Reinvention,” wherein they make the case that disruptive digital strategies win, even with average execution.
The potential scope of this article is broad. It could apply to all dimensions of large enterprises. So I wanted to narrow the scope to early stage, venture-backed tech startups. The ones that can’t afford to hire McKinsey….yet 🙂
The part that stuck with me from the McKinsey article is that great strategy matters more than great execution. This tends to go against the prevailing wisdom in Silicon Valley that execution is everything.
Case in point. When my company is asked by a VC to work with their early stage startup, we are typically getting the call because of growth challenges. The challenge being that they aren’t growing fast enough.
The startup, in most cases, wants to start with the tactics or execution. After all, that’s what’s been drilled into their head. However, in every case, we start with the strategy.
The point about strategy versus execution, I would argue, is significantly more important at the startup phase. The reason being that their window to get it right is limited by their market opportunity and venture capital. Put simply, they can’t afford to waste their precious (and finite) capital executing on a weak growth strategy.
Here are the top 11 signs of weak growth strategy:
Brand positioning targeted at everyone in their business category
Highly diluted marketing spend
Killing media channels prematurely
Poor landing page and web design
Inexperienced marketing team
No content planning or consistency
Not fully leveraging marketing and sales CRM systems
Failure to define and focus on the top three metrics that matter most to the business
Inconsistent communication with the sales team
Tension between sales and marketing around qualified demand
Failure to understand the needs and behaviors of the customer
These are in no particular order, and I probably could list another nine more to round it out to twenty. But I think you get the point.
So where should you start first? The answer is the last one on the list: the customer or desired customer.
Yup, sounds obvious. Which it is. But given the knee jerk reaction to execute, most skip this stage, and jump straight to tactics.
So: Start by interviewing your customers, or those in beta or trial. Interview those that you want more of in the next 12 to 24 months.
These are not product-market fit interviews. In fact, you don’t ask about features at all.
Focus on why they are using your product or service; how they found you; who their influencers are; where they hang out online; their social background, what they like or dislike about your brand; where they grew up; what makes them happy; who they socialize with outside of work; what their personality traits are; the first they think about when they wake up, and so on.
Now you can build a truly rounded character that is human, with emotions, desires and personality. And with enough interviews, you start to see patterns. Those patterns become your customer persona.
That becomes the foundation the strategy. Tactics will begin to reveal themselves. It will become obvious, for example, that you should have a presence on LinkedIN and StackOverflow, not Github and SnapChat. That they have a disdain for sales and marketing, so the copy needs to be direct, free of jargon and easy to consume.
I hope you see where I’m going with this. I’d keep drilling deeper but my examples will get watered down because they aren’t specific to your brand and your offering.
In closing, no two strategies are alike. Even with a similar a offering in the same category. The key is to understand why the customer is attracted to your brand, your product, your service, relative to other competitive offerings in the market. Once you have that, you have everything you need to lay the foundation for a disruptive marketing strategy.
And you’ll put yourself in the best position to win, even with mediocre execution.