Over this holiday period, I was reading Time magazine’s last issue of 2014. It focuses on important developments that are shaping the immediate future across major areas of our culture. This year-end double issue reveals some new rules and challenges brought about by the Information Age, and discusses resulting strategic gaps and emerging solutions in the fields of science, medicine, politics….and business.
As I paused to reflect on the thoughtful articles in this issue, a clear message arose: evolve or perish! As Time’s editor, Nancy Gibbs, put it: “We are entering a new age of exploration, driven by public and private enterprise” and “power devolves upon those who set out for new frontiers.” Nowhere is this truer in business today than in sales: if you are not rethinking your entire approach to creating and communicating value, you are already falling behind. The internet has democratized information (your average teenager with a smartphone has more access to information than did the president of twenty years ago), while simultaneously speeding up our need to communicate and act upon it. As we enter a new year, where are successful, growing organizations putting their focus to conquer these new frontiers?

People, Then Processes
One of the most significant issues challenging businesses today is employee engagement; or, more accurately, the lack thereof. Annual Gallup polling reveals that only 30% of American workers self-report as being engaged. With 70% of your sales force simply going through the motions, you are losing sales and jeopardizing customer relationships! The primary cause of low employee engagement is under-utilization. Successful companies attract committed employees, and then empower them to fulfill their potential…to reveal and use their personal excellence to create value. They accomplish this by creating arenas for their employees to contribute, individually and collectively. This fosters creativity and innovation; and, more significantly, reinforces their levels of commitment…both personally and professionally. But how?

Purpose, Then Profit
Many of today’s most successful organizations have developed dynamic business models based on what Raj Sisodia, a foremost business professor and thought-leader, calls “a new capitalism of caring”. These companies (like Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods and Starbucks) are generating tremendous results by replacing a prevailing internal focus on profits with a broader external focus on others…in other words, they focus on creating value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders. They are demonstrating a new way based on tapping into their employees’ strong desire for a higher purpose, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. As Raj puts it, “it’s not share of wallet anymore…it’s share of heart.” These companies know and clearly understand the need to be profitable, but they see this as the result, not the focus (and, by the way, they are generating industry leading results!). They are capturing “share of heart” by building companies people love: to work for, to buy from, and to tell others about! So, how do they put this into practice and create value?

Planning, Then Partnering
These companies understand that the greatest value they can provide to their stakeholders is to help each of them achieve their own goals and objectives…in other words, to help their stakeholders grow! By delivering products and services that address the issues and concerns blocking their stakeholders’ achievement of their goals, they are guaranteeing the achievement of their own. This is done by building a business plan that accomplishes several critical goals:
· It clearly identifies who is the “right” customer…and who is not. (Think of it this way: you wouldn’t walk outside and marry just anyone…so why should you think any differently about who you should choose to do business with?)
· It puts the focus on furthering their goals and objectives, rather than on your products and services. People want to do business with people that understand them, not just need them. If you do not have a clear understanding of their goals (and the issues blocking the way), how can you add value to their achievement? With this understanding, you can build the specific value based programs to help them grow.
· It leverages the power of Affinity Partnerships. Once the focus is squarely placed on their goals and objectives, you will quickly realize that your products and services alone will not meet all of their needs. Accordingly, you must determine who else is connected to your customer, and build partnerships to address those needs you cannot. This is the most powerful way to form sustainable relationships based in trust, and to deliver true value that establishes you as a trusted advisor.