Strategy: A Tale of Two Presentations


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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” 


Today I’ll tell you a story of two presentations, one engaging and one frustrating.  They took place three weeks apart.  They covered similar material, but they couldn’t have been more different.

Both presentations were workshops designed to present SBI’s Annual Research Report on strategy.  One was with a CMO, one with a head of sales.  Both were at B2B companies with revenue over $500M.  I’ve changed the other identifying details.  If you’d like a copy of the research the workshops cover, go here

“What are you seeing in the marketplace?” 

The first workshop was the one for the CMO.  Before the workshop I’d asked him to complete a checklist.  The checklist framed up the areas where he believed his organization had gaps.  This way we could talk about things that mattered to him.  There were a lot of things to talk about.  He’d sent it back to me a few days early and I was prepared.  

“It looks like you’ve got some real opportunities in the area of planning,” I said.  “Let’s talk about that.”  

“YOU talk about it,” the CMO said.  “I completed the checklist.  You’ve got my point of view.  What are you seeing in the marketplace?” 

Oh boy, I thought.  This was going to be a challenging meeting.  I told him about some best practices, like the development of a Content plan.  We discussed things like Data cleanliness and Offer development.  At every turn he said the same thing.  “What are you seeing in the marketplace?”  This went on for 2 hours. 

Interestingly, this workshop turned out to be immensely engaging.  What I originally saw as pushback was really a deep desire to learn.  The CMO had given me an honest self-assessment.  Now he wanted to know how he compared.  Ultimately he decided his marketing “strategy” was a collection of tactics.

This finding wasn’t too surprising for a marketing organization.  It’s the most common thing we see in organizations with the wrong marketing strategy.  If you’d like to review the report and see the other findings, click here

“I think we’re in pretty good shape!” 

It was two weeks later.  I was in a different city.  The President of Sales was super enthusiastic.  His VP of Sales Ops had just brought me in from the lobby.  He tossed the checklist across the table towards me.  “Here’s your list,” he said.  “I knocked it out this morning.  Sorry I didn’t get it to you earlier.” 

The VP of Sales Ops gave me an almost apologetic look.  He was the one who’d convinced his sales leader to have the workshop.  As is often the case, he was close to the field.  He knew the problems.  He saw the opportunities.  He lived, every day, in the gaps between current state and best in class. 

We dug into the material.  The company was growing slower than its competitors.  Yet the President of Sales had checked off almost every item on the checklist.  “Total Available Market – got it.  Propensity to Buy…I think we did some work on that last year.  Buyer Channel Preference – yeah, I know how our buyers want to buy…”  And so it went.  

I finally decided to be provocative.  “Rob, I’ll be honest.  Based on your evaluation, your sales team is one of the strongest I’ve seen.  Why is your revenue growth lagging your competition?” 

He became a little feisty, then defensive.  His answer boiled down to this: Products and Marketing.  He said his products lagged the competition, and he couldn’t get leads from Marketing.  But in the world of sales best practices, he was in good shape. 

Which one of these leaders is most like you?  Which of these is most like your direct reports?  Take the material being presented out of the equation.  Take SBI out of the equation.  Most of us have demonstrated the behavior of each leader at different times.  I know I have.  

But there are real implications here.  The marketing leader will exit this process with a prioritized list of items to focus on in 2015.  The CSO gets nothing because he’d convinced himself he needed nothing. 

What can we learn from these two stories?  For me there are two things.  One, there’s always an excuse for non-performance.  And two, good leaders are intellectually curious.  They ask questions instead of defending.  They want to know what’s going on “in the market.” 

When you assess your teams, remember these stories.  Are the people you rely on continuous learners?  Or do they point fingers?  One sure way to find out is to share our research with them.  Get their take.  Some great conversations are bound to result.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mark Synek
Mark Synek serves as a Principal at Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), a sales and marketing consultancy focused exclusively on helping B2B companies make the number. Mark is an industry thought leader, with deep experience as an executive. He has served in multiple positions as both a sales and operations leader, with a track record of outstanding performance in both capacities.


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