Some of the companies with the most efficient operations are also the ones who have the hardest time growing. It’s a counterintuitive idea, but it’s one that has been supported by research and that serves as the basis for this week’s episode of In Process. On the show this week are Art Saxby and Beth VanStory. Saxby, founder of Chief Outsiders, learned his trade in marketing in brand and project management at Frito-Lay, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola and Compaq/HP, before engaging as an executive turn-around specialist for companies including Imperial Sugar and Hines Horticulture. VanStory is a strategy and marketing consultant with Chief Outsiders. An experienced general management and marketing executive, her background crosses consumer and b-to-b sectors and includes experience in media, retailing, entertainment, and ecommerce. She launched and led OfficeDepot.com to profitability in one year and also led the new media group at The Weather Channel, bringing weather.com to one of the most visited sites on the web and initiating interactive advertising for the company.
Both Saxby and VanStory came to marketing after building a background in finance—something Saxby laughs off as more of a natural transition than it may seem at first blush.
“It’s a profit game,” says Saxby, noting that many business owners don’t see the way that marketing directly relates to the bottom line. “The real role of marketing is to help lead the company forward and figure out where it can profitably attack the market.”
So why do so many finance-minded business leaders have problems translating those instincts into growth?
“If we break down what it takes to run a company and what it takes to grow a company, they really are very different skills. Running a company is about metrics, management, process and procedures—it’s what a lot of business owners spend most of our time focused on. ‘We’ve got to figure out how to get the orders into the system, how to get them out, how to produce the product or deliver the service, get the invoices paid and do it better and better, time and time again, and more efficiently each time. Running a business is extremely important. But that is also really internally focused—it’s inside the four walls.”
What Saxby has found is that running a very efficient company doesn’t necessarily mean those successful business owners know where to go next. What’s the next market to go into? How do you significantly increase the revenue of the company? Saxby says this is when you have to look outside the company at the marketplace and at the market perspective.
“When you’re looking at someone who comes from that technical background or has a particular subject matter expertise, they tend to focus where they’re comfortable—serving current customers or even working in product development,” says VanStory. This is where even the most successful entrepreneurs can face obstacles in company growth.
“Developing a new product without assuring that there’s a need in the marketplace can get you in a lot of trouble,” she says. Another common mistake she sees in companies is that even businesses with solid marketing staff still lack a strategic marketer on their team. “They don’t have the broad view needed to really identify and evaluate the market or create an effective marketing strategy.”