The Business of Business
Contrary to today’s popular feel-good wisdom, in business, winning is everything.
With the beginning of each new year comes a new set of business objectives. These likely include increasing revenue and “improving our visibility in the market,” or, “more effectively communicating the meaning and value of our brand” to certain market segments or potential customers. What we’re describing with all of these statements is, in a word, marketing.
According to the father of modern management, Peter Drucker, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”
Creating a customer looks very different across products, industries, and markets. In the grocery business, it’s causing a customer to make an impulse buy of gum or batteries at the checkout line. In our business, it’s having a relationship with someone who knows and trusts that we will take care of people and their damaged property, restoring them to pre-loss condition in a timely and efficient manner.
At its heart, marketing is about understanding people. It’s about determining what customers want. Even though it may be tempting to think of markets as virtual entities, it’s important to remember that, even in the business-to-business world, every product and service is purchased by a human being. Another painfully honest truth to remember is that, contrary to today’s popular feel-good wisdom, in business, winning is everything. Every transaction or opportunity has one seller and one buyer. When you get it right, your company and the customer both win. All of the other would-be sellers lose. The real world is brutally competitive, and good marketing is vital to staying ahead.
Most of you have employees in sales or business development whose main focus is to develop and maintain relationships with people in a variety of markets, people who are in a position to either need your services, or make a recommendation or referral to their customers in need. The role of these employees is to understand the customers they are calling on—understand their business, their priorities, their objectives, their challenges, and their needs. Their job is to determine what those customers want. In previous articles, I have discussed the concept of differentiation and the critical need to distinguish— to use Peter Drucker’s term—your company from the competition. Your sales and business development departments should be distinguishing your company by positioning it as the best resource, the best partner, to help customers address their needs and accomplish their goals.
That brings us to branding. Some thought the advent of e-commerce would level the playing field and render branding irrelevant. That clearly has not happened. In fact, some would argue that “big brands” (think Microsoft, Coca Cola, and Apple) have never been more powerful. The point is that creating your brand, and then helping the community, your markets, and your customers understand what your brand stands for, is a critical part of your effort to distinguish yourself in your market. That work is done through face-to-face encounters, trade shows, community and charity events, advertising, sponsorships, your social media and web presence, and activities involving the owner, managers, and employees. What is the message or idea that your logo, your brand, brings to mind when people see it? What is the perception they have of your company, what you do and what are your values? Why do your current customers choose to do business with you?
Marketing, because it is made up of so many elements and because of how critical it is to your business, is too important to be left to only the marketing department! It is the hub of the business wheel; it is where operations, finance, administration, communication, and sales all meet. Every important function of your business is a stakeholder in your marketing. Every member of your leadership team is part of the marketing department. Every action, interaction, transaction that your people have with an organization, a supplier, a customer, a prospective employee, or a subcontractor communicates something about who you are, and what you stand for as a company. That’s marketing. Are all of your people aware of that? Are they all on the same page?
We use the term “alignment” when referring to the need for your organization to focus on common goals, to share a common understanding of where your company is going and how it will get there. There is no more critical need for alignment than in your people’s understanding of what your business is about, what you stand for, and what your brand should mean to everyone who interacts with you. They need to be able to verbalize it and show it in how they conduct both themselves and your business.
The purpose of business is to create a customer. Making sure that customers understand the purpose of your business through everything you and your employees do every day should be at the top of your priority list.