“Understanding” Will Drive You Bankrupt

Strategic Execution sometimes takes you to the extreme, and if you aren’t willing to go there, no matter how absurd it may seem at the time, you can destroy your own future.

One of the easiest ways to know when this is happening to you is when you hear a customer say, “I understand.”

“I understand” is a polite way of saying, “Oh, I get it, you not going to go the distance for me, which means you’re not going to go the distance at all.”

That should set off alarm bells in your mind.

Your first step is a reality check: is the customer being honest, or is he just giving you a line in the hopes of getting something for free?

Let’s say you’re running a hardware store and you have a big sale on lumber one weekend. And let’s say someone comes to the counter with a dolly full of lumber and then expresses fake surprise that delivery isn’t included in the ridiculously low sale price.

When he says, pretending to be disappointed in your business, “I understand,” you can let that pass. He shouldn’t set off alarm bells. He’s being unreasonable, and any other customer would agree with that assessment.

Strategic Execution Is Not Selling

Here’s another scenario, one that matters a lot more to your strategic execution. It’s also a true story from my time at Diligent Board Books. That was a New Zealand-based company that provided a hyper-secure way for Board Members to get their meeting notes and other materials online, as opposed to having it mailed to them through the post.

We started with almost nothing and eventually sold the company for nearly a billion New Zealand dollars. I mention this to prove that we succeeded at strategic execution.

We were dealing with a very conservative market. Most Board Members are senior people with decades of business experience. Many remembered the days when they got their Board Books by courier or in the mail. They were accustomed to arriving at the Board Meeting to find out that much of what they had been reading needed to be updated. To them, the creation of FedEx was an amazing revolution, because less of the Book had to be updated.

As you can imagine, the notion that they should go paperless, and this was almost a decade ago, seemed far-fetched. It seemed to them that Diligent Board Books was a solution looking for a problem—until my sales team pointed out all the security flaws in mailing physical books.

All a corporate spy needed was one crooked shipping employee with a digital camera to tear open the package at literally any one of a dozen different unsecured spots along the way. A couple minutes later, he’d have a copy of the whole thing. He’d also have a fool-proof way to cover his tracks: a “damaged in transit” sticker, complete with an apologetic customer complaint phone number. Everything from a company’s darkest secrets to its brightest ideas could be stolen that easily, and no one would think twice.

We made most of our sales based upon that security argument, along with the superior record-keeping we could do and the superior Board Meeting experience we facilitated.

Strategic Execution Can Be Service

But then a whole new universe of problems presented themselves. Board Members are seniors, remember, and while the application looked great on an iPad, we discovered that a lot of our customers were flummoxed by the technology.

We were not passive in the face of this challenge. We would give customers iPads. We would spend however long was needed on the phone getting them hooked up and logged in. We would literally fly an employee out to the residence of a customer to accomplish everything on-site.

You can imagine that this got us quite a favorable reputation among the Board Members we served. This is a relatively limited market, and so our reputation was an essential component of our strategic execution.

But flying out an employee was not the full extreme we were willing to go to. We once had an aggressive, influential client who lived in a rural area. He seemed intent on proving that having Board Books on a software-as-a-service platform was impossible.

He cornered us with a simple problem: He was going to be at his rural house when he needed to review his Board Book. He didn’t have an internet connection.

I remember him explaining this to us, with a strangely triumphant attitude. “Don’t worry that your app won’t work for me,” he said. “Just print out a Book and have it sent along by armored car or whatever, and that will be fine. I understand.”

Alarm bells. Red flashing lights.

We understood exactly what this meant. If our sales were based on the security argument, but in this particular case we figured that we could deliver a physical Book just as securely as we could deliver a digital one, we would have telegraphed to our customer base that we didn’t believe our own sales pitch. We would be left to hope and pray that this guy left his Book in a bar or on a plane or something to give us a way to recover. Judging by his demeanor, he was not very likely to make a mistake like that.

Strategic Execution Must Be Extreme

So we did the most extreme thing possible. We paid to install an internet connection at his house. We paid for his Internet service. And, on the same day that the service provider arrived with his WiFi router, our employee was there, holding an iPad to give him, and possessed of the infinite patience required to deal with him. He didn’t leave until our customer knew exactly how to use the app, and why it was better.

Not only was he deeply impressed, I think he told the story to practically everyone he knew.

And I am certain that he would have done that, either way. If we had said, “Thank you for understanding…” and had delivered the Book to him via armored car, he would have made a joke of us to everyone in his network. It could have been devastating, not only preventing our sales team from being taken seriously, but also putting our existing clients at risk.

But since we went the distance and did whatever was required to protect our company, the exact opposite happened. He helped create a legend about Diligent Board Books, and that led to our extreme success.

Strategic execution is not optional. It’s mission-critical. It begins, above all else, with a strategic plan. Here’s the tool you need.

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