Business acumen is a phrase that has a sharpness and refinement to it that is alluring. It conjures up words like smart, data, investment, products, grit, futuring, breakthrough, technology, cutting-edge, determination, and more. Yet, I rarely hear the words "kindness, friendship, and knowing your purpose" in the mix. These words may sound like attributes more likely associated with volunteer work rather than the corporate environment. But, they're do extend into the workforce and can make a difference in how, why, when, and with what success work gets done.
Friendship. Years ago, I worked at a nationally respected insurance company. The top sales person in the agency was a woman. She claimed she was no smarter or more knowledgeable than any of the other sales reps in terms of products but she had something just as valuable. She spoke to groups all around the nation who wanted to know what her secret weapon was in maintaining her #1 position year-after-year. Her response was this: "Each time I am about to visit a customer's or potential customer's office, I say to myself, 'I can't wait to meet with my friends.'" People laughed until she said she was serious. Her approach transformed every interaction into one of caring, concern for her 'friends' and doing what she could to understand their needs and to meet them. It worked time and time again. Other's who began using her approach started seeing improvements in their own results, as well. I certainly did. She developed business friendships that were unbreakable. When she transferred to a new company, most of them went right along with her.
Kindness. It seems to be a detriment in a cut-throat, virtual economy. Global competition is at an all-time high with instant accessibility to lower prices, worldwide suppliers, and company comparisons. With virtual communication as the first and last point-of-contact, kindness can seem unnecessary. After all, we don't have to look the person in the eye with whom we are communicating. Still, kindness is a differentiator that can be felt across the miles and fiber-optic airways in our written and verbal communication - sight unseen. Kindness is always appropriate, always timely, and never needs someone's permission. People always appreciate kindness even if they tell you it isn't necessary (that's your clue that it is
necessary). You don't have to ask someone, "Hey, is it okay if I am kind to you?" I see the positive effect of kindness most often during customer service calls. When I have called in for help, if I am kind to the customer service representative answering my call, it is amazing what happens. In fact, twice last week, I had customer service reps deducts over $100 dollars from my Internet bill and waive my $100 initiation fee for my gym membership. I'm not special; I was just kind. Kindness is the great de-escalator, especially when someone is really frustrated and upset. Beware though. There is a difference between being kind and being patronizing. Kindness is a true and sincere desire to treat others gently and lovingly. Patronizing someone under the guise of kindness can make situations worse. Note to customer service trainers: Ditch thdata:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAPABAP///wAAACH5BAEKAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAICRAEAOw==e "I understand how you feel..." pitch, please. No, you don't know how I feel. If you did, you'd be as super-upset on this call as I am.
Know your purpose. Companies are in business to make money. They pursue the dollar and use earnings to demonstrate to the world their strength in the market. That is only one measure of success. In my consulting practice, I have worked with many companies - new and established - who have exceptional sales but few renewals or referrals. People would "buy" the product but ended up not believing in why their companies did what they were doing. Simon Sinek, one of my favorite 21st century thought leaders, explains it through his "Golden Circle" model. Paraphrasing, he says, "Great and inspiring leaders think, act, and communicate the exact same way and it is the complete opposite to everyone else... It is probably the world's simplest idea. I call it the 'Golden Circle: Why, How, What.' Inspired organizations, regardless of their size or industry operate from the inside out. They start with the 'Why. 'The 'Why' is their purpose and it governs everything that happens inside and outside the company. People don't buy 'What' you do, they buy 'Why you do it.' Many companies explain what they do, but people do business with companies who believe in what they believe. And, this is grounded in biology." Know your purpose. It makes deciding what initiatives to undertake and what objectives to pursue extremely easy. It helps you know what to say, "Yes" to and what to say "No" to.
Surprisingly, many things really do remain the same. Products may change but the important fundamentals of business are rooted in a few basic tenets that cross and intersect with other important areas of our lives: A purpose in which others believe, being kind, and developing business friendships. Oh, I almost forgot, and having a good product to sell. Remember: You may get the sale (what you sell) but wait to determine your success until you start getting the renewals and referrals (why your company does what it does).