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January 14, 2024

Strategy is Sexy, Execution Sucks

In this episode of the Sales Awakening podcast, Steven Rosen and Colleen Stanley dive right into the execution challenges. While strategy formulation is fun and creative, execution requires discipline and focus. It’s the discipline of doing the most important things really well.

“Execution can become very ad hoc rather than proactive and disciplined.” – Steven Rosen

One common reason for lack of execution is the lack of clarity on what’s most important. We need to identify the critical success factors and narrow them down to three manageable items. 

“Change management is sales management, and that’s going to make the difference.” – Colleen Stanley

Change management also plays a significant role in execution. The goal is to normalize uncertainty and embrace the difficulty of change. Leading change requires emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

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Byline: By sales leadership and coaching experts Colleen Stanley and Steven Rosen

Introduction

Strategy can be perceived as sexy, while execution often falls short of expectations. This article explores the common themes behind this challenge and provides insights on how to tackle it head-on.

Lack of Execution: Three Common Themes and Examples

When it comes to execution, many companies struggle to follow through on their strategies. This can be attributed to several common themes. One of the main reasons is the allure of strategy and the creative process involved in building plans. 

Colleen Stanley points out, “When it comes time to do the actual work, some of that excitement goes away.”

To shed light on this issue, there are three common themes with sales teams:

  1. Lack of Focus: Execution requires discipline and focus. While strategy formulation is exciting and allows for creative thinking, execution is often tedious and complex. Sales teams need to prioritize the most important tasks to achieve success.
  2. Resistance to Change: Instant gratification significantly influences the preference for strategy over execution. Salespeople, especially high drivers, want immediate results and may resist the effort required for effective execution. Change can be uncomfortable, and overcoming resistance is crucial for successful execution.
  3. Lack of Clarity: Sales teams may struggle to execute effectively without a clear understanding of what is most important. It is essential to define critical success factors and identify the specific actions required to achieve them. This clarity helps salespeople stay focused and motivated.

An example of addressing these themes is a company that identified messaging, planning, and selling skills as its top three critical success factors. They could execute with excellence by aligning their sales team around these priorities.

Making Execution Sexy: The Importance of an Execution Plan

To bridge the gap between strategy and execution, it is crucial to make execution as exciting and engaging as strategy formulation. This requires a well-defined execution plan outlining the steps and actions needed to succeed.

Steven Rosen emphasizes the need for a structured execution framework. He suggests a three-step approach:

  1. Identify Critical Success Factors: Determine the most important actions that will lead to success. Narrow down the focus to three key factors that are actionable and measurable.
  2. Lead Execution: Sales leaders must actively support and lead the execution process. This involves providing resources, coaching, and guidance to ensure the team stays on track.
  3. Measure Progress: Establish metrics to track progress and hold the team accountable. Regular reviews and adjustments are necessary to ensure the execution plan remains effective.

Steven highlights the importance of simplicity in execution metrics. For example, measuring the number of new product entries in top accounts can be a straightforward and tangible metric for success.

Overcoming Resistance to Execution: Change Management and Emotional Intelligence

Resistance to change is a significant barrier to effective execution. To overcome this resistance, sales leaders must focus on change management and emotional intelligence. Colleen Stanley emphasizes the following strategies:

  1. Normalize Uncertainty: Acknowledge that change is difficult and uncertain. Help sales teams understand that their challenges are normal and part of the process. This awareness can alleviate anxiety and resistance.
  2. Reframe the Difficulty: Instead of viewing execution as arduous, reframe it as an opportunity for growth and competitive advantage. Embrace the hard work and recognize that it sets the team apart from competitors.
  3. Self-Awareness: Sales leaders must cultivate self-awareness to recognize their own resistance to execution and change. They should also be open to different thinking styles and perspectives within their team, avoiding dismissive attitudes towards analytical or contrarian viewpoints.

By addressing these psychological factors, sales leaders can create a more positive and supportive environment for execution.

Action Steps for Sales Leaders

To bridge the gap between strategy and execution, sales leaders can take the following action steps:

  1. Build an Execution Framework: Develop a structured execution plan that outlines the critical success factors, the actions required, and the metrics for measuring progress.
  2. Provide Resources and Support: Actively lead the execution process by providing the sales team with the necessary resources, coaching, and guidance.
  3. Normalize Change and Embrace Difficulty: Help sales teams understand that change is normal and that execution requires hard work. Reframe the difficulty as an opportunity for growth and competitive advantage.
  4. Cultivate Self-Awareness: Be aware of personal resistance to execution and change. Embrace different thinking styles and perspectives within the team.
  5. Regularly Review and Adjust: Conduct quarterly reviews to track progress and make necessary adjustments to the execution plan.

By implementing these action steps, sales leaders can create a culture of excellence in execution and drive their teams toward success.

Conclusion

The paradox of strategy being sexy and execution-sucking is a common challenge many companies face. However, by focusing on execution and building a structured execution plan, sales leaders can bridge this gap and achieve excellence. Change management and emotional intelligence play a crucial role in overcoming resistance to execution. By normalizing uncertainty, reframing difficulty, and cultivating self-awareness, sales leaders can create a supportive environment for execution.

Sales leaders must continue to prioritize execution and invest in the necessary resources and support. By consistently reviewing and adjusting their execution plans, they can adapt to the rapidly changing business landscape and maintain a competitive edge. With a focus on execution, sales leaders can lead their teams to success and achieve their strategic goals.

Remember, the journey to sales leadership excellence is just one step away. Subscribe to the Sales Leadership Awakening podcast, share it with other sales leaders, and stay tuned for more valuable insights and discussions.

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