I’ve been in business for 10 years. In that time, I’ve seen some incredibly successful people make terrible mistakes running their companies. The difference between the successful owners who stay in business and those who fold is that the successes learn their lessons and move on. Those who fail tend to delay decisions or make none at all.
When you are running a company, gaining traction is all about timing. The longer you wait to act, the more overhead you burn and the more opportunities you miss.
The importance of good decision-making is more than just conventional wisdom. One study of more than 2,700 leaders over 10 years found that new executives face more complicated decisions than they expected at the top. People who run companies cannot afford to go with the flow. They need to act on the information available to them.
It’s easy to spot those who are missing out on opportunities. They’re not marketing themselves—they’re just hanging around and waiting for the new year or the next month to begin the process. I’ve found that waiting around for some generic deadline generally doesn’t turn out well.
I check in with all my prospective clients every quarter. The more I hear, “We’re not ready yet,” the less confidence I have in the people saying it. You’re running a company. Hire me, hire someone else, make an in-house team—do something, anything, to give your business a fighting chance.
Quit asking when, and start asking how. Don’t be like the taxi industry and let some upstart make moves while you twiddle your thumbs. Ride-sharing companies made bold decisions while the old guard assumed the new idea would flame out. Now Uber drives more passengers than taxis in New York City.
The moment you assume it can’t happen to you is the moment someone else starts gaining ground. Smart leaders make decisions and move. To make better marketing decisions and spend less time waiting for the right moment, follow this three-step process:
Only pursue high-value paths.
You can’t make a smart marketing decision unless you know what you want to accomplish and how your actions will affect the outcome. That combination of predictability and judgment separates high-quality plans from shots in the dark.
When you start to waver on a decision, make an old-fashioned pros and cons list. Evaluate the available information and decide yes or no — and do it quickly. If you’re doing the right things, you should have way too much work to sit on decisions anyway.
Consider how Yoplait, longtime king of yogurt, responded to market pressures from upstarts like Chobani. Researchers from Yoplait found that people enjoyed the cultural relevance behind foods. So while Chobani flaunted its Greek roots, Yoplait quickly moved to make Yoplait Oui, a celebration of the French method of making yogurt. That offshoot brand has made more than $100 million, much of which would have gone to a competitor if Yoplait had dawdled.
Break down obstacles preventing fast decisions.
The larger companies become, the more processes they create. Those processes are supposed to streamline decisions and projects, but in practice, they often prevent people from moving forward with good ideas.
Tear down silos between people with ideas and those who can greenlight new initiatives. Marketers who have the freedom to reach across departmental barriers are more able to inspire their audiences to act.
Share insights and research about customers with other departments to give everyone the knowledge they need to succeed. Don’t just email a link to a study, though. Pull out the most relevant bits and present that information in easily digestible formats.
Encourage a philosophy of experimentation. Regularly refresh data on important KPIs and provide access to that information so people can see whether their tests are achieving the results they want. Don’t wait months to figure out whether new strategies work. Test, evaluate, and adapt quickly.
Set a short-term deadline and meet it.
The only time I think waiting is acceptable is when you have a deadline and a reason. When you set a deadline, stick to it and understand that missing that deadline carries consequences for the company.
You might want to wait to execute a new campaign or product development phase until funding comes in. That’s fine. Waiting with a purpose is different than waiting to see what happens. Set a deadline to decide, establish what kind of data would sway that decision, and decide quickly when the necessary conditions arise.
It all boils down to decisiveness, which is an indicator of a successful leader, according to a study of 17,000 C-suite executives. It wasn’t that the successful executives made the best decisions; it was that they made them quickly. The CEOs who took their time were more likely to have frustrated teams because delaying decisions created a bottleneck.
Next time you face a decision for your company, ask yourself the most important question first: Why wait? If you have a great reason to table the topic, like upcoming funding or critical research, set a deadline and prepare to make the call when the time comes. However, if no specific help is on the horizon, do the best you can with what you have. Good things might come to those who wait, but in business, success is delivered on a first-come, first-served basis.
Read more: The Trouble With Business Transformation