Dear ABC’s

Dear ABC’s,

I’m technically oriented and my partner is a whiz at marketing. Sounds like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founding team that built Apple. Shouldn’t that be the perfect partnership? So while I’m building the products, he’s out selling. And selling, and selling and selling! There’s a total disconnect between what I can deliver on and what he’s promising the clients!

He just came back from a trade show and he’s got our production for the next two years almost sold out. That would be great, if we could just step production up. Unfortunately, most of what he’s sold requires customization. We’re tight on cash, so it’s going to be hard to even hire and train people to deliver what he’s promised. How do I get him to slow down? Help!

Drowning in the Details

Dear Drowning,

Your partner is doing a fantastic job, but not the “right job” for the company. You started the company with a functional split between engineering/production and marketing/sales. Unfortunately, there are only two of you running the company and even a very fast engineering department and great production usually can’t keep up with marketing’s unbridled promises. So your partner is pulling into the home stretch while you are rounding the first turn. He has no jockey and you’re pulling a wagon loaded with promises.

No matter how small your business is, it needs to be treated as a whole company, not separate departments. Your goal is a profitable company with satisfied customers. Since your partner comes from marketing, he’s probably used to having aggressive quotas to meet and has been rewarded for exceeding them. His success could sink his relationship with customers since he’s out over-performing and over-promising and you have no way of reaching his aggressive schedule.

Call a partners’ meeting. It’s time to look at what can be accomplished with the resources you have. You may want to borrow money or find investors to help you grow the company because your partner has clearly proven that there is more demand than you can meet now. Decide what you can do and get to work on it!

Decide which customers must be contacted with the bad news that you can’t meet your promises but try to salvage the relationships by 1) being honest instead of jerking them around and 2) offering them your standard product or limited customization to meet their needs. If you can group the customers so that one project team can design the features that most of them want, you may be able to meet the commitments, especially if you can outsource your production without having to hire and train new workers.

Once the immediate panic has passed and you have a plan for dealing with the over-commitment, you and your partner need to work on your relationship and your job descriptions. You’re not acting as a team right now, more like independent contractors. Someone has to be in charge of the overall company. Maybe you’re not right for it. Maybe he’s not right for it. If both of you need to stay with your division of labor, you may need to hire a manager who can handle coordination, budgeting and the details to keep the company as a whole running smoothly.

By the way, congratulations! Your company is growing and this is just a bump on the road to success. Finish grinding it flat and move on.