Why do some companies become great and others disappear?
Short answer: execution.
I recently interviewed David Politis, founder and chief executive of BetterCloud, about greatness, leadership, and the reason vision is meaningless. You can check out the full interview here.
Because it’s not like Uber is the only company that ever sat down and thought: Wouldn’t it be great if we could make this process more convenient? Probably a dozen or more companies have been founded on that same idea, but something made Uber soar while the other ones floundered.
Some companies make it and others don’t because of execution.
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What Do You Mean, Execution?
At the end of the day, everyone’s got ideas. But if a dozen companies are based on the same idea and one executes it better than the others, they’re the winner.
Execution is what makes the difference.
It’s actually harder than people probably give it credit for—at least anyone who’s never been in a company at zero, from inception. It’s super challenging to execute from a sales perspective, marketing, hiring and firing, building programs, building a culture—it’s incredibly complex. Not to mention relationships with customers.
“All the tools and the processes and the systems you have to put in place—this is execution,” David Politis said.
Execution doesn’t have anything to do with wanting to be the CEO of a technology startup. It’s wanting to actually build a business, to go to work every day and make the challenging decisions. The micro decisions and the macro decisions, all of it.
Execution is the way Politis said BetterCloud won its prestige.
Other companies responded to leads in 20 minutes? BetterCloud did it in 15. Other companies shaved it down to ten? BetterCloud jumped to just two minutes.
No one could figure out how they got that low of a response time to call these leads. That was the difference between converting those leads into customers. Being the first in the door and letting them know everyone else was going to call a few minutes later.
Execution is about making tens of thousands of customers happy every single time they interact with your company. That’s hard, grind-it-out kind of work. That’s choosing the right tools. Looking at reports. Figuring out how to hire and train. Tweaking the process every single day.
That’s why execution is number one.
Execution Is Greater Than Vision
People think you’ve got to have great vision. As if Salesforce was totally up to Marc Benioff and Apple is only because of Steve Jobs.
Well, there are other visionaries like them. Ideas are a dime a dozen, and there are probably another hundred companies who could have been thinking like Apple.
But really what made them great is execution and not the idea.
Back to Uber. Compared to all its competitors, Uber executed. They got aggressive in order to win in their space. There were companies before Uber who were using products like Uber, but it was Uber’s execution—going to different states, getting their foot in the door, analyzing the customer experience—that put them where they are now.
In order to execute on that scale, you need a solid team. No single person can do this work. Marc Benioff isn’t singlehandedly responsible for everything that his company does because it’s too big.
You can be a visionary person that everyone wants to follow, but you can’t do all the work yourself. It’s literally impossible.
For that, you need a fantastic team, and for a fantastic team, you need execution.
Sales and Marketing Alignment
You also need the marketing department and the sales department to be aligned.
If there’s one lesson David Politis learned, it’s that when sales and marketing are out of alignment, neither one is being effective. When they’re operating in silos, what ends up happening is marketing is putting out a message they believe will resonate with the market.
And on the other side, sales are having daily interactions where they hear firsthand, on the front lines, what is resonating. They hear the “aha” moments for customers. That one sentence or that one piece of content that takes the person from one step of the funnel to the next step of the funnel. The two groups have to communicate at all levels to understand those customer stories.
Then they have to make sure that works itself back into the demand gen and product marketing side of the organization. Having that alignment is really important.
Companies that are successful at first but it ends up backfiring? They’re probably not aligning these key groups. David Politis has seen this many times.
“Almost every time money was being spent into a black hole was because the message being delivered wasn’t right,” Politis said. Incentives have to be aligned, too, and that comes from the CEO.
So if the CEO is telling marketing to go get leads and telling sales to go get a bunch of accounts, but it just isn’t happening? The CEO isn’t facilitating the alignment.
What Can CEOs Do?
1. Get In Front
CEOs that go to customers with a message that marketing has developed get to see firsthand what the reaction is.
They figure out if it’s awkward to pitch. They see the “aha” moment.
This is incredibly valuable to sales, marketing, and the CEO, too.
2. Tear Down Walls
CEOs need to facilitate that alignment by making the whole marketing team attend the weekly sales meetings.
Or having sales sit in on marketing development meetings.
At Terminus, sales and marketing come together at 9:00 every Monday morning, and you know what?
It was the most exciting meeting of the week. Not joking.
3. Be a Guinea Pig
It’s not the job of just the marketing team to market or just the sales team to sell.
For maximum execution effectiveness, it has to be the job of the C-suite too.
When Politis pitches BetterCloud in front of customers, he finds out what really works.
“When you’re actually in front of a customer listening to them and talking to them, you realize what resonates,” he said.
“That for me has been a really big lesson, to get in front of the customer and use the exact same pitch that the sales team has to use.”
Hope for Some Luck
You may need a bit of luck.
The companies that have really killed it had some market timing. A readiness for that type of technology or service or what-have-you.
That’s the truth. Good timing puts the accelerant on everything.
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This post is based on an interview with David Politis from BetterCloud.
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