ENTREPRENEUR OF THE MONTH: FEBRUARY 2014
LISA EARLE McLEOD, ON SELLING WITH NOBLE PURPOSE
What does it mean to sell with noble purpose? That’s the question that author Lisa Earle McLeod answers in her book by the same title, which encourages business leaders to drive revenue by doing work that makes them proud.
“Most people believe that money is the primary motivator for top salespeople, and that doing good by the world runs a distant second. That belief is wrong.”
McLeod got the idea for her book in 2006, when she was part of a consulting team that was conducting a six-months-long, double-blind study of the sales force of a large biotech firm.
“We were asked to determine which behaviors separated the top salespeople from the average ones,” McLeod explains. “In the end, our research revealed something no one expected—the top performers all had a far more pronounced sense of purpose than their average counterparts did. The salespeople who sold with noble purpose—who truly wanted to make a difference to customers—consistently outsold the salespeople who were focused just on meeting sales goals.”
Does your sales team have noble purpose? Scroll down to learn more in our Q&A with Lisa Earle McLeod.
Be Inkandescent: You explain in the book that you had your “aha! moment” about selling with noble purpose during a random curbside conversation at the Phoenix airport.
Lisa Earle McLeod: I did, and it was startling. As I said, we had just conducted a double-blind study, meaning my team and I didn’t know who the top performers were, or who the average performers were. Near the end of the study, I was finishing a two-day ride along with a sales rep. As she dropped me off at the airport, I asked her a question I hadn’t asked the other reps: “What do you think about when you go on sales calls? What’s going on in your head?”
“I don’t tell this to many people,” she confessed, looking around the car as though someone was going to hear her secret. “When I go on sales calls, I always think about this particular patient who came up to me one day during a call on a doctor’s office. I was standing in the hallway talking to one of the doctors. I was wearing my company name badge, so I stood out. All of a sudden, this elderly woman taps me on the shoulder.
“‘Excuse me, Miss,’ she said. ‘Are you from the company that makes drug X?’
“‘Yes, ma’am,’ I answered.
“‘I just want to thank you,’ she said. ‘Before my doctor prescribed your drug, I barely had enough energy to leave the house. But now I can visit my grandkids; I can get down on the floor to play with them. I can travel. So thank you. You gave me back my life.’”
The sales rep told me, “I think about that woman every day. If it’s 4:30 on a rainy Friday afternoon, other sales reps go home. I don’t. I make the extra sales call because I know I’m not just pitching a product. I’m saving people’s lives. That grandmother is my higher purpose.”
Sitting in that blistering Phoenix heat, I realized she had said something incredibly important. I thought about that conversation during the entire flight back to Atlanta. Our consulting team had spent months shadowing salespeople all over the country. We’d conducted in-depth interviews and analyzed every aspect of the sales calls. But this was the first time anyone had spoken so openly and dramatically about their mindset.
Be Inkandescent: Did you really find that the differentiator between top and average performers was their sense of purpose?
Lisa Earle McLeod: Believe it or not, we did. It just makes sense. To confirm my instincts, I went back to the transcripts of the interviews looking for purpose, and I actually didn’t see it at first. But then I looked closer—and there it was, in the rep who said, “My dad was a doctor. Doctors have an even harder job than most people realize. I want to make it easier for them.” At the end of project, the client asked us to look across all the reps and identify who we thought were the top performers. It was a double-blind study, so the other consultants and I didn’t know who was at the top and who was just average when reviewing the interviews. I found seven reps who had that sense of purpose when reviewing the interviews. I told the client, “I think these seven are top-performing salespeople.” I was 100 percent right.
Be Inkandescent: You cite a study revealing that those who center on improving people’s lives have a growth rate triple that of competitors. Why?
Lisa Earle McLeod: When you have a strong sense of purpose, beyond making money, it changes the way you approach customers. Instead of customers being just a target, your job is to help them. Many companies say that they do this, but in reality it’s often just lip service. When you look at the way organizations talk about customers, they’re viewed as just number and targets. The primary purpose of the business is to make money. Customers can tell the difference between someone who wants “to close them” versus someone who truly wants to help them. It all starts with the purpose.
Be Inkandescent: When it comes to being noble, does that mean creating world peace—or can it be something slightly less revolutionary?
Lisa Earle McLeod: I believe that making a living for your family and improving life for your customers is a noble endeavor. In both cases, it’s about doing something outside of yourself. It’s been said that small-business owners are the backbone of our economy, but they’re also the backbone of our communities. My father once told me that when you become someone’s boss, you become the second most important person in their life. After your spouse, your boss has the most power to make your life miserable or to make it wonderful. Being a good boss is a noble endeavor. Likewise, if you show up every day as the person who is there to squeeze your customers and employees for all they’re worth, your business is going to suffer, and you’ll find yourself lonely and unhappy. But show up with the true purpose of improving lives for others—you’re going to make more money, and you’re going to be happier. And so will everyone around you.
What can a lack of purpose cost your sales force? Click here.