Strategy Selling: Think Like a Marketer

Rich Berens
President
Root Learning

If you’ve ever worked in a large organization, you’ve probably experienced this scenario: The CEO presents a new strategy. It’s about world-class customer satisfaction, operational excellence, innovation, expansion, growth targets, and the importance of people. You receive an e-mail or newsletter to review some of the concepts and, after that, not a whole lot seems to change. The presentation was the equivalent of watching paint dry, and the follow-up has little relevance to your day-to-day activities.

We’ve seen this unfold many times with clients. Quite often, organizations underestimate the importance of not just conveying a strategy effectively, but making sure it has the broadest appeal and creates an emotional connection that results in a sense of excitement and conviction about the direction of the organization.

A lot of our client work focuses on getting everyone to understand the strategy, connect to it, and build the skills to execute organizational objectives. What is often underestimated is how to effectively “market” the strategy to employees to drive excitement and adoption of what the organization is trying to do.

By marketing, I don’t mean creating an ad campaign to convince people that your strategy is something it is not. Employees see through that, and missing the proper tone will cost you credibility. It also won’t resonate with Generations X and Y, who have grown up in a media-saturated, brand-conscious world and are inherently skeptical of anything that could be conceived as overly image-building or inauthentic. After all, there’s a reason why advertising campaigns such as “Come fly the friendly skies” or “Something special in the air” aren’t getting much play anymore – for anyone who travels frequently, the skies just aren’t that friendly or special, no matter what airline.

Thinking like a marketer and creating authentic awareness, education, and conviction about a strategy can have a profound impact on the execution of strategic objectives. We don’t often think of employees as the customers of our strategy, but merely as those who must comply with what the organization is trying to execute. While this is true to some degree, it’s not an effective way to build commitment and passion. If you think like a marketer of your strategy, you’ll strive to understand your audience, their level of awareness and capability, and their key points of emotional and rational receptivity, as well as how to best reach them. You’ll also monitor what’s relevant to them and why, and further invest in those areas.

One of our current clients recently suffered a slowdown in growth. Morale declined, along with employee energy and enthusiasm for the business. The company redefined its strategy and applied these marketing concepts. Through focus groups, they got clear on the pulse and knowledge base of the organization and how these related to the strategy. They then conducted an organization-wide dialogue on the strategy, supported by a video-based marketing campaign showing how leaders are living the new strategy. They’re driving momentum through a wiki, a blog, and live events where people are discussing the strategy and progress made. The key is to get the message to places where employees naturally congregate. The goal is to accelerate strategy adoption and create an emotional connection to it.

Try this: Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 on how well you apply these marketing concepts, where “10” is world-class. Then, consider what might happen if you could raise your score by 2 points.

In marketing-speak, most strategies resemble products that sit on shelves way too long with limited sales. If you think more like a marketer and create a plan for “driving sales” of your “strategy product” with your employees as the customer, you might be amazed at the impact on your business.