It was the spring of 2013 and my first full year as an entrepreneur. I had been introduced to S. Chris Edmonds by a mutual friend. I mentioned to Chris that I was working on launching my business as an author and speaker. He recommended that I speak to Mark Levy.
Mark Levy leads a consulting practice called Levy Innovation focused on positioning. Described as the “horse whisperer” for writers, Levy had worked with prominent thought leaders such as Marshall Goldsmith, Simon Sinek, David Meerman Scott, and Cali Yost. I hired Mark to help me with my platform. Over six weeks, he coached me on creating marketplace differentiation, crafting an elevator pitch, mining my backstory, and developing a go-to-market strategy.
Mark is brilliant. He taught me about crafting a big idea and developing a backstory. We spent a considerable amount of time on not only the what and how, but also the why. To illustrate the importance of communicating my why, Mark shared a story about one of his clients. It was one I’d never forget.
The Power of Purpose
The client was a financial planner serving small business owners. Let’s call him Ed. Ed had shared with Mark that he recruited the majority of his new clients by speaking. He would give a 90 minute seminar on managing finances. At the end of the seminar, Ed would offer a free one hour consultation/assessment. If there was 40 people in the room, he’d typically have only two or three take him up on the offer. The need to grow his client base led him to Mark. Mark asked Ed why he chose to pursue a career in accounting. He shared that the inspiration began during his teenage years. His parents had passed away in a car accident and he was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather had worked at a local company for over 30 years. His grandmother was working as an office administrative assistant in a local school. Ed could remember sitting in his living room at age 14 like it was yesterday. His grandfather was next to him reading the newspaper. An advertisement caught his eye. The ad was for the sale of a local butcher shop. He approached his wife and expressed his desire to purchase the business. They both would quit and go into business for themselves. She was skeptical, but eventually agreed.
Ed watched his grandparents cash in their life savings to start the new business. The butcher shop didn’t make any money the first year, lost money in year two, and a little more in year three. By the end of the fifth year they had lost the remaining capital and were forced to close the business. Instead of enjoying their retirement, they went back to getting full-time jobs and both worked until they passed away. Ed shared that he went into accounting because he didn’t want to have other small business owners experience what had happened to his grandparents. Mark asked Ed to share this personal backstory during his next seminar. The results were staggering. Ed merely told his backstory on why he became a financial planner before starting his regular session. At the end he made his usual pitch. The difference was that 37 out of the 40 attendees took him up on the offer, many of whom became clients for Ed.
Arriving at the Ultimate Differentiator
I began writing back in 2008. For one year I blogged about 50 different topics in marketing. Searching for what I thought would be a game changer in business. The following year I would have a “moment of truth” in New York City that changed my life. I walked away from that experience believing the biggest myth in business was the idea of meeting customer expectations. Too much attention was being placed on acquisition. Going forward businesses would need to find the little things to maximize the customer experience by putting customers first. Taking care of the customers they had, so those customers would bring them the (referred) customers they wanted.
I became a disciple of the late Ted Levitt. Levitt believed that business should put the customer at the center of everything they do. Levitt asserted that “The search for meaningful distinction is central to the marketing effort. If marketing is about anything, it is about achieving customer-getting distinction by differentiating what you do and how you operate. All else is derivative of that and only that.” I believed the focus of business should be on customers and not just chasing bottom line profits. Profit was the result, not the aim. Customer experience was to become the new marketing.
After collecting over 1,000 examples and writing Purple Goldfish, my thinking was slightly altered. I found that the companies who did the little extras for customers, also applied the same principles for their employees. In fact, many of those successful companies seemed to place a greater emphasis on culture and putting their employees first. It led me to crowdsource another 1,000+ examples. These examples were focused on the little things for employees to help drive engagement and reinforce culture. The result was my second book, the Green Goldfish.
My outlook after Green Goldfish was altered once again. I had previously held the view that you treat all of your customers and all of your employees the same. I came to realize that for most companies, 80% of profitability is created by just 20% of customers. In addition, 80% of the value that is created by a business, comes from just 20% of the employees. I realized that you don’t treat everyone the same, you treat everyone fairly. My third book in the original trilogy, the Golden Goldfish, focused on the little things you do for your “vital few” in business.
I now believe there is an ultimate differentiator. While writing Golden Goldfish I was introduced to Chris Malone. Chris Malone co-authored The Human Brand with Susan T. Fiske. The book examines the concepts of warmth and competence in relation to business. As humans, our brains are hardwired to sense warmth and competence immediately. Warmth trumps competence. It starts inside your organization and radiates to your customer. If you want to win the hearts of employees and wallets of customers, you must go out of your way to put their interests ahead of yours. Malone and Fiske call this the principle of worthy intentions. These worthy intentions are typically linked to the purpose of your company. Purpose is now becoming the ultimate differentiator.
The book Red Goldfish, co-authored by Graeme Newell, (launching 2/14/17) will explore how business is evolving, the importance of putting purpose first, how to define your purpose, the eight purpose archetypes, and how to create the little things that bring purpose to life.
Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – here is a slideshare presentation on the concept of a Red Goldfish: