The difference between strategy and tactics


I got a note from a frustrated marketer yesterday. She wanted to understand how to grow her business. It felt like they were doing everything right. They had a motivated, well-trained salesforce, a great product, a decent website, etc. Everyone was working super hard.

Her question: "We sell something to manufacturing companies, something that would essentially replace a large part of the plant operations team. Obviously, we can’t sell to them, because they want to get bigger, not smaller. We need to sell to the CEO, but we can’t get his attention because the savings involved aren’t big enough to get his attention. How do we get to the CEO?"

This feels like a tactical problem. It’s not. It’s a strategy question. And the strategy involves the entire business and the products they choose to sell.

Here’s the difference: The right strategy makes any tactic work better. The right strategy puts less pressure on executing your tactics perfectly.

Here’s the obligatory January skiing analogy: Carving your turns better is a tactic. Choosing the right ski area in the first place is a strategy. Everyone skis better in Utah, it turns out.

If you are tired of hammering your head against the wall, if it feels like you never are good enough, or that you’re working way too hard, it doesn’t mean you’re a loser. It means you’ve got the wrong strategy.

It takes real guts to abandon a strategy, especially if you’ve gotten super good at the tactics. That’s precisely the reason that switching strategies is often such a good idea. Because your competition is afraid to.