As a young project design engineer with both a BS and an MS in engineering, I never envisioned having direct responsibility for both marketing and sales in a company with both a large national sales force and numerous international sales representatives. Yet that is exactly where I found myself after about 20 years. At the time, I thought marketing and sales were two words that described the same thing. They are not.

Many managers, however, use these words interchangeably so that the necessary distinctions are lost. That is a big mistake. As managers, we must understand that these are two very separate concepts that are at the very foundation on how we manage our businesses.

There are many key elements of managing a business, but one I’ve learned to hold as the most important is: The purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.

And the corollary to that is: A business must produce goods and services that people want.

The words "create" and "keep" can be stand-ins for the words marketing and sales.

First of all, let’s talk about marketing. People buy products to solve problems. They buy expectations, not things. At its heart, a product is a group of perceived benefits and expectations that has value from the viewpoint of the buyer. It includes both the tangible and the intangible benefits that the customer receives when he buys. Thus, the way a product or service is presented becomes a very part of the product itself.

In its simplest terms, marketing is the way a company defines the design and the value of its products and differentiates itself from the competition. Defining those design values and differentiations is one of the key roles of senior management. Communicating those values and how we differentiate ourselves from the others is the role of the marketing people in our organization – for example, the advertising group.

This is the basic method by which we create customers. Therefore, the marketing philosophy must be at the heart of our strategic planning. Many times it is in the form of a mission statement or guiding principals.

In truth, a customer is an asset that is more precious than any tangible asset on the balance sheet. Senior management must never get so lost in the “numbers” that they loose sight of the fact that one of their key roles is to create customers.