People who know me have often heard me talk about the four corners of business. Frequently I talk to and deal with entrepreneurs who are subject matter experts in their chosen field. Their enterprises could be technology or contruction, maid services or the practice of law. I admire these men and women for taking a risk and “hanging their own shingle”.
What most of them realize eventually is that starting a business is a lot more work than they had planned, and that they have to deal with many issues that they have zero knowledge of, or really don’t like to do. Typically these would include employee issues, finance and accounting, facility management and of course, sales and marketing. Engineers as an example are prone to create really wonderful breakthrough technology, and then assume that because their technology is so cool, that their products will just sell themselves. This is clearly not the case.
My theory is quite simple, and it applies to small start-ups as well as to the Fortune 500. In order for any business to be successful, they have to have balance in their business in the four following areas:
Product or Service.
Ford and General Motors make automobiles, lawyers practice law. Painters paint and grocery stores sell food. Businesses must be good at what they do and continuously improve. The product or service offering is what they do in business.
As a good friend of mine says, “Nothing happens until the sale is made.” Most of us are not born sales people, but it is a skill that many people have and are good at. Effective sales and sales management are requirements for any successful enterprise.
Marketing is largely misunderstood and takes on various forms of execution. It is not the same as sales. (Many organization have a VP of sales and marketing – why is a mystery to me). Marketing needs to be supportive of the sales team and the sales process, but marketing is a series of disciplines unto themselves aimed at generating sales leads and communicating with customers. Sales and marketing must be mutually supportive even though at times they have competing agendas.
Operations in my analogy is the nuts and bolts of running the business. It includes accounting and legal, human resources, facilities and facilities management, organization, training, IT infrastructure and IT management to name a few. This is the function that lets businesses do what they do, and with a minimum of friction. Sadly, it is usually the last function small businesses and start-ups pay attention to.
The Role of the CEO
The CEO’s history and expertise could come from any of the above disciplines. But the role of the CEO is to ensure that each of the four disciplines (the four corners) are communicating with and support each of the other three. Marketing needs to communicate with product development. Sales needs to work with marketing and keep accounting and legal in the loop and so on. You get the idea.
I love it when I see an organization that is “balanced”, and all areas of the business are cooperating and functioning together.
For an excellent book on the subject of how the entrepreneur can achieve business balance, read The E Myth by Michael E. Gerber. Enjoy!