Think Profit Is the Purpose? Think Again

What’s the purpose of your business?

If you answered, “to deliver shareholder value” or some other version of “make money,” you may be destined for mediocrity.

Making money isn’t enough. If you want to attract top talent, drive revenue and outperform your competition, your organization needs a more noble purpose than just scrambling for a buck.

Workplace studies and social science are confirming what we already know in our hearts to be true: People want to make a difference, and they want to make a difference at work.

Six years ago, a major biotech firm asked my team to conduct a six-month-long, double-blind study of its sales force. The purpose of the study was to determine the behaviors that separated top salespeople from average salespeople.

The study revealed something no one expected. The most pronounced difference was that the top performers all had a larger sense of purpose than their average counterparts. The salespeople who sold with noble purpose, who truly wanted to make a difference to their customers, consistently outsold those who were focused on sales goals and money.

The words noble and selling are rarely seen together. Most people believe top-performing salespeople are only motivated by money, and that their sole objective is to close the deal. That belief is wrong.

The data from a 10-year study from Millward Brown Optimor of more than 50,000 brands around the world show that companies with ideals to improve people’s lives at the center of all they do outperform the market by a huge margin. Another study conducted by Jim Stengel, former chief marketing officer of Procter & Gamble, revealed, “those who center their business on improving people’s lives have a growth rate triple that of their competitors.”

People have become jaded about mission and vision. Too often, they’re nothing more than meaningless platitudes about market leadership posted on a placard that no one reads.

A noble sales purpose is different. It is a concrete reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s how you and your company make a difference today. Here’s why purpose matters:

Purpose is why your organization exists. Purpose drives sales. You don’t have to create world peace. Your purpose can be to help customers be more successful or to make a difference in your industry.

Purpose makes you money. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras of Good to Great fame documented that organizations driven by purpose and values outperform the market 15 to 1 and outperform comparison companies 6 to 1.

Purpose may sound fluffy, but it translates into cold, hard cash. Having a purpose beyond making money almost always results in you making more money.

Purpose isn’t just a feel-good thing; it’s essential in a tough economy. CMIT provides IT services to small businesses. Two years ago, if you asked its people what they did, they would have told you: “We sell IT services.” Now CEO Jeff Connally says: “Our purpose is to help small businesses be more successful.” We pulled that purpose to the front and center of everything they do, and the company’s sales are up 35 percent while competitors are floundering.

Purpose attracts top talent. Beyond food and shelter, human beings have two fundamental emotional needs: connection and meaning. We want to make a difference, and we want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

After working with more than 200 organizations and spending more than 10,000 hours in the field assessing top performers, I know without a doubt that working for a noble purpose engages top performers in a way that spreadsheets never will.

Profits connect with your head. Purpose connects with your heart. If you want your organization to be more successful, start with purpose.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant and author of the upcoming book, Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work that Makes You Proud. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.