7 Obstacles to Executing with Excellence

Why Companies Fail to Execute

I find it shocking that statistics show that 60%-90% of companies fail to execute their strategies.

HBR quotes a survey where more than 400 global CEOs found that strategy execution was the number one challenge facing corporate leaders. The CEO’s were from Asia, Europe, and the United States. Execution headed the list which included 80 issues which included innovation, geopolitical instability, and top-line growth.

Before we get into the reasons why companies fail to execute, let’s agree that most companies fail to execute and that execution is a highly critical issue that companies face.

Success is a combination of brilliant strategy and excellence in execution. With highly sophisticated marketing processes, companies tend to do an excellent job building brand plans and marketing strategies. Therefore execution is the key differentiating factor for success. If you do a better job executing than your competitor, then you should take market share from them. In an informal survey of 12 Business Unit Directors where they were asked if they had a formal marketing plan in place, they laughed and said it was a given. When asked whether they had a formal execution plan in place, they all looked puzzled.

Strategy Vs. Execution

Companies spend several months developing brand/marketing plans, yet the same companies only spend a day or two rolling out these plans and discussing execution. There is a completely lopsided approach between the time spent on strategy versus time spent on execution.

Before I lay out the seven reasons why companies fail to execute, I want you to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is your team clear on how to execute?
  2. Do you have a process to execute your strategies?

If you can’t say yes to both, I will share with you what you need to do so that you will not be another company that fails to execute.

7 Obstacles to Execute with Excellence

There is a reason why 90% of companies/business units fail to execute. Execution is very difficult. There is no silver bullet. With over 25 years of sales and marketing and business experience, I have developed a robust approach to execution. I was never a great strategist, but I was damn good at executing. I have helped many companies improve their commercial execution and have several new pilot programs going on this year.

Below you will find my seven obstacles to great execution. If you don’t clear all seven obstacles, you will be one of the 60-90% of companies that fail to execute.

On the bright side, knowing what the obstacles are will allow you to review what you are doing and allow you to make course corrections.

Fail to Execute


  1. Business Execution Process

All important business endeavours require some process. An example of a well-tuned process that successful companies utilize is the annual marketing plan process. Execution is a full year process starting with the marketing plan, building the execution plan, leading execution and keeping the plan on track.

What are the chances you don’t have a formal process? If you don’t, then no need to read the following six points as you will fail to execute!

  1. Clarity on What’s Critical for Success

Most companies try and do too much. If you try and do too many things, you can’t do them all well. My approach to success in business is figuring out the three most important things you need to do to achieve your goals and doing them extremely well.

Execution is the discipline of getting the most important things done.

If you can clearly articulate the three things you and your team need to do to be successful, then give yourself a point. If not, you are going to fail to execute with excellence. Fail!

  1. Team Alignment 

Execution is a team sport. Excellence requires alignment of not only sales and marketing but other support departments. You need operations, production, business analytics, and all other support departments. The key is the need to be aligned with the critical success factors. All departments need to know what are their CSFs. They need to ensure that their departments have plans and can support the commercial unit on their critical success factors.

You also need to be sure that your sales management team is aligned with the critical success factors. There have been too many incidents where I ask the business unit head to share their critical success factors with me.

I then ask their sales managers what the critical success factors are. Many times, they have identified relevant CSFs. However, if they are not aligned with the business and the other sales managers, there is no way that you are going to execute with excellence.

If your team is not aligned forget about it!

  1. Ownership of the Plan

Have you passed the last three obstacles? Even with a plan in place and having your team aligned, without ownership of the plan you are doomed. You are probably ready to give up at this point. Don’t despair, getting ownership of any plan is not that difficult. No one wants to be told what to do, but they do want to have input on the plan. All you need to do is make them part of the process then they will have ownership. The key is bringing all stakeholders to the planning process to make them the architects of the plan.

  1. Leading Execution

One of the final ingredients is having leadership from the front line to keep the salespeople focused on what is important. When salespeople tell you that they are very busy, the likelihood is that they are. Your front-line sales managers are also very busy. It is incumbent on them to lead the way. Your sales managers are the key to sales execution. When they see their salespeople off track or spending too much time on non-critical areas, they need to bring them back so that they can focus on the critical success factors.

  1. Well Defined Metrics

A colleague once told me that people respect what you inspect. The key is every executable item whether it be the execution of a program or if a specific deliverable needs to be measured. Let’s say you are having a customer conference and it is up to your salespeople to get customers to attend; you need to give each of them a target.

As a commercial leader, you know that if you don’t measure it, people don’t do it. Review your plan and make sure you have built a scorecard of all the key deliverables and provided metrics for each.

  1. Quarterly Review Meetings

The last and possibly most important hurdle goes hand in hand with having defined metrics are also having quarterly business review meetings. The objective of these meetings is to review the scorecard. Having each of the sales managers, marketers and support department heads present how they are doing versus the metrics and what they intend to do over the next quarter is essential.


Execution is not a science or art; it is a discipline. If you don’t have all the ingredients in place, you stand to be one of the 90% of companies that fail to execute. Take a step back and ask yourself what are you missing to execute with excellence? Go back and review each of the seven obstacles and see what you can do to impact your year positively.

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