5 Key Ingredients Every Company Needs in Their Strategic Narrative Your strategic narrative communicates who you are and why you exist. It is critical to get this right.
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Most companies lack a strong strategic narrative. When I was first transitioning into advising and board work, I met with literally hundreds of executives. Over these coffees, meals and happy hours, I sat down with over 100 CEOs, more than 30 venture capitalists and private equity investors, as well as dozens of founders and go-to-market leaders to discuss best practices for growing and scaling a high-performing team.
The vast majority of these leaders were leading companies with disruptive and compelling products — with sizable market opportunities. Yet, they all wanted to scale bigger and faster, and most felt they could be better at communicating their story to the world.
Digging in, it was clear that many of these companies had internal alignment issues. Sales, marketing and product teams were often on different pages. They had different ideas about what they should be building, who they should be selling to and what exactly their future should look like.
Without a unifying strategic narrative, everyone had their own unique opinion of the company's mission and why. When five people say (and believe) five different things, it's no wonder why people are racing in different directions. Your strategic narrative communicates who you are and why you exist. It is critical to get this right. So, what are the key components of a strong strategic narrative?
Your mission really does matter. It provides a unifying purpose for why the company exists, providing your True North and a roadmap to get there.
In 6-12 words, mission statements convey your why, along with the essence of your personality and core values. At Tableau, our mission was, "We help people see and understand data." And Gong's mission is to "Unlock reality to help people and companies reach their full potential."
Boiling your essence down to 6-12 words is no easy task. It's much easier for companies to communicate their what and how, which is why many companies skip defining, aligning on and communicating a core mission statement. However, this is critical to provide purpose and get all constituents — employees, customers, partners, industry and financial analysts, and the community you serve — on the same page.
A mission exercise can't be done overnight. Don't force or rush it. You need your entire executive, product and go-to-market teams committed to investing time together to get this right. In my experience, 2-3 months is a fast timeline for mission and vision projects.
2. Founding story
The founding story revolves around why your company got started in the first place. It answers the question: What problem was so important that our founders decided to take a significant risk and devote their time and energy to solving it?
Every company has a founding story. But, because this story doesn't communicate all the features and functions of your product, many companies leave this founding story out of their strategic narrative altogether. But this is a big miss. The founding story is a crucial part of the narrative foundation which highlights the company's purpose.
3. Description of the status quo
What's the current state around the issues you solve? What is the problem, and what are the most common frustrations it causes? List three to five challenges companies and your prospective customers have with the current status quo. This description of the status quo should articulate the frustrations that your company and solution can uniquely solve.
4. Desired state
What would things look like if the challenges with the status quo were all addressed and resolved? List the corresponding three to five desired benefits — the exact opposites of the status quo challenges — that would characterize a better reality. Just as the frustrations with the status quo map to the challenges your company can solve, the benefits of the desired state should lay the foundation for how your company can help.
5. How to reach the desired state
Only now do you introduce your company and start talking about your products. Wait until after the prospect or customer confirms that they believe what you believe, that they are frustrated with the status quo as you describe it, and that they are interested in moving to your suggested desired state. If this is true, you can now introduce your corresponding three to five truly differentiated value propositions, along with how they will help achieve the desired state.
Where most companies go wrong is introducing the problems and the company's solutions without framing it in terms of a bigger picture first. When companies lack a strong strategic narrative, it creates a narrative vacuum, allowing competitors, industry analysts and financial analysts to control and dictate the narrative, causing the company to become reactive and without a unifying sense of purpose.
When companies have a strong strategic narrative, it aligns the entire organization, motivates employees, attracts and retains top talent and frames all activity with a unifying sense of purpose, which helps them emotionally connect with all constituents.