I ran across an individual this week that was struggling during our Covid challenged times with why they were doing what they were doing. They said that they were struggling with feeling a sense of purpose these days. It felt like they had lost their real reason for working so darned hard. We spent a lot of time on the topic. I will share a few pages of my book SHIFTABILITY that dig into this very critical perspective. And rather than dump it all on you at once I will cover this over the next few weeks… (please remember that ALL of the profits from SHIFTABILITY, on Amazon, are given to charitywater.org to create clean sources of water for those folks that do not have that)
Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction – Jonn F Kennedy
For hundreds of years, navigators and lost souls have found their direction using a compass. At its simplest, a compass is a floating magnetized needle that aligns itself with the magnetic field of the earth to point north. Once you find north on your compass, and knowing that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can then find the direction you need to go to reach your destination.
As we navigate our way through life and business it is easy to lose our way, especially when the world we have known is in upheaval around us. We need a compass that keeps us aligned with our true north and moving in the right direction. Discovering our purpose and keeping that purpose in our sights will help us navigate. Our purpose is our true north.
The question of purpose is a very central conversation in business today. Companies are talking about it, managers are wrestling with it, employees are seeking it. But while this is a current discussion, it is certainly not a new one.
Humanity has wrestled with the question of purpose since the dawn of time. Why are we here? What are we supposed to do? We are wired for meaning and driven to find it, not just in our personal lives but also, and perhaps especially in our professional lives or our vocation. Our personal sense of purpose and our professional purpose are inextricably intertwined. However, for the purposes of this book, we are going to be mainly talking about purpose in the context of your work as a sales professional.
Understanding purpose in the workplace is central to success in selling and a core element of this quality of shiftability that we are exploring. Our work is driven by purpose, defined by a purpose, and ultimately serves a purpose. Our desire for meaning and to serve a greater purpose fuels (energizes) our activity; our understanding of purpose in our context determines how we engage and the moves we make; and ultimately, what we do and how we do it should all aim to serve a purpose. What that purpose actually is will be unique to the context in which you operate.
As a sales professional the context of your purpose is threefold – your individual purpose, the purpose of your role (functional purpose), and the purpose of your organization (corporate purpose). The alignment of these three frames of purpose is where you can make a powerful difference.
But before we dive into understanding these three frames of purpose we are going to clear up some potential confusion between purpose, vision, mission, and values, and take a look at the big picture of purpose and selling.
The Difference Between Purpose, Mission, Vision, and Values
Sometimes we think we are talking about purpose but we are actually talking about mission or vision or values. These are all very distinct ideas with important but different implications and applications.
Mission: What We do and Who We Do It For
A mission statement describes the type of work you do, the clients you serve, and the level of service you aim to deliver.
Example: “We are in the business of providing world-class logistics software to medium-to-large firms in the manufacturing industry.”
Vision: Where Are We Headed?
A vision statement describes where an organization wants to be in some years ahead and sets long-term goals. Vision sets a future context for day-to-day thinking – will the actions we are taking and decisions we are making today move us toward where we want to be? Vision statements are often aspirational: to be the best, to be the leading company, to have our product in every home, etc.
Example from Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” (I personally feel this needs a LOT more color and details to be a GREAT Vision…. But that’s just my perspective – Mitch)
Values: How We Do Things
Values describe how an organization operates. They set out the desired culture and serve as a compass for conduct.
Example: “We are committed to client satisfaction and serve our clients with care and compassion. We operate according to principles of accountability, sustainability, and responsibility.”
Purpose: Why We Do What We Do
Mission explains what we do and whom we do it for, vision tells us where we aim to be, values direct how we do it, and purpose tells us WHY. Simon Sinek, the author of Start With Why, has said, “All the great organizations in the world, all have a sense of why that organization does what it does.” Understanding why an organization exists informs everything else. Purpose statements are generally more outward-looking and consider the impact an organization or person has on the world around them.
Example from Apple: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
Selling without a clear purpose is like driving across the continent without a map. It can certainly be done. A lot of people do it. But it is NOT the most effective way to cover the distance and reach your destination. And like that cross-country journey selling takes a lot of support teams to make it happen.
If you start the trip without clearly defining your destination, you can still get somewhere. The question will be – is that where you really want to go? How do you know? How can you tell?
Just “winging it” and “flying by the seat of your pants” in the sales jungle was once the brave thing to do. Now it is just stupid. Now it takes a clear understanding of what you are aiming to accomplish, it takes tons of planning and preparation, and it takes diligence in execution. You can no longer serve the needs of today’s information-savvy client by just showing up with the latest product brochure in hand. Now you must have a deeper understanding of the customer, their market, their products, and their business challenges, and the implications of those challenges. And you must start all that with clearly understanding what you are aiming to do from a higher-level perspective of purpose.
And while the noble cause of making a profit may in fact be a fine goal, in this case, it does not qualify as a purpose.
A company’s core purpose, as defined in Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, is “the organization’s fundamental reason for being. An effective purpose reflects the importance people attach to the company’s work – it taps their idealistic motivation — and gets at the deeper reasons for an organization’s existence beyond just making money.”
From both a corporate and a personal perspective, we like the simplification of this idea that Roy M. Spence and Haley Rushing have in their book It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For. In their book they give the following as their simplest way to explain purpose: “Purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world”.
Both books clearly show that purpose-driven organizations are amongst the most successful in the world and that leaders who clearly understand the power of purpose drive these organizations.
Understanding and having a clear purpose may not be the answer to everything needed to be successful. Without it, however, the battle to succeed is made more complex and many times more likely to be lost. The choice is yours. Lead and sell from a clear purpose – or not.
Selling with purpose, or purpose-driven selling is about creating value for people through understanding what they need as an individual in their corporate role and then providing solutions. This requires understanding your own individual purpose and your functional purpose for why you sell and understanding the corporate purpose for what your company stands for, not just what it sells. All wrapped together, purpose-driven selling provides a unique client engagement level that everyone, client included, values more.
When we start talking about purpose, the term “selling” can be understood in a different way. When you are fully engaged in purpose-driven selling you are not actually selling. You are helping someone buy, or acquire, whatever it is that they need to fulfill their purpose at that time. Again, a subtle shift in thinking makes a big change in how we communicate and how we engage with clients. Selling is simply a transaction that enables purpose – your client’s purpose, your company’s purpose, and your purpose.
More on individual purpose to follow…
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