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Expertise or Execution?

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I was asked by one of our large clients (they shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) to advise on a few issues they were facing. These were seemingly unrelated issues, across a number of their Divisions, to do with launching new products, product branding, sales engagement, go to market strategy etc. In all of these areas they had problems, and I was asked why.

When I boiled it all down there was really only one issue - they failed to act (or failed to act decisively). 

They weren't surprised by my analysis; but they were surprised when I went on to explain what I saw as the cause. It was clear to me that they had a culture which cherishes expertise over execution. They have lots of senior people who are great and innovative thinkers but they don't concentrate enough energy on turning these thoughts into deeds, into products, into sales. There is a disconnect between ideas and action.

As I saw it, as they had promoted Experts into senior positions, but they were then expecting their Experts to Execute. And this wasn't happening. And I can understand why. Ask an expert if he has finished his work, and the answer will be no. He won't see the genius of what has already been created, only its faults that need to be improved in the next version. Ask an Expert if he is ready to go to market, and the answer is 'not yet', because he is working on that next version. Ask an expert to help create the go to market messages and either he'll be too busy or he'll bore you with detail. Ask an Expert why his sales are low, and its always because the sales team lack enough skills to sell it.

One thing that they did briliantly at this (nameless) company was debate. They like a debate, its intellectually stimulating and shows them off in an area of strength. But debates can be endless. And endless debates have no place in business. For a frustrated marketing manager/product manager/sales manager, who needs to get their product on the shelves and selling,  debates are only useful if used as a tool to create output. There must be an end product.

Business history is littered with stories of great ideas that never got to market, or innovators crushed by more adroit imitators. I have no doubt that Innocenzo Manzetti was a genius of his day, but he didn't have genius enough to take the telephone from his labs and turn it into a product. Alexander Bell did (have the genius to take the telephone from the labs of Manzetti and turn it into a product), and he's famous for it.

What counts is not how great your ideas are, its how well you get what you've got to market. That's why, on balance, I have always valued Execution over Expertise

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