How P&G, Southwest, And Google Learned To Sell With Noble Purpose

A noble purpose isn't reserved for nonprofits. Here's why you need one, no matter what your business.

Mission and vision statements can be compelling. But more often than not, they’re internally focused. In his book, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Great Companies, former Procter & Gamble (P&G) CMO Jim Stengel writes, "When you strip away the platitudes from those documents, what’s left typically boils down to: ‘We want our current business model to make or keep us the leader of our current pack of competitors in current and immediately foreseeable market conditions.’"

The traditional mission and vision is a formula for mediocrity, says Stengel. "It aims too low, locking an enterprise into a business model based on the agenda of the business, not that of the customer. If such a statement mentions the customer at all, it’s the customer as seen from the company’s point of view and in terms of the company’s agenda."

I was a sales manager for P&G during the late 1980s, when Stengel was a rising star in marketing. During my tenure at P&G, I saw our stock rise and split, delivering a 199 percent return between 1985 and 1990. But by 2000, P&G was in trouble. The company lost $85 billion in market capitalization in only six months. Stengel says, "P&G’s core businesses were stagnating and its people were demoralized."

Great brands weren’t enough. P&G’s people needed a purpose. A.G. Lafley, then the CEO, asked Stengel to take on the role of global marketing officer to help transform the culture of the company to one wherein "the consumer is boss."

Stengel says, "To hit these big targets, we needed an even bigger goal: identifying and activating a distinctive ideal (or purpose, as P&G dubbed it). Improving people’s lives would be the explicit goal of every business in the P&G portfolio. We could then establish each business’s true reason for being as the basis for new growth, and we could link them all into a strong foundation for P&G’s recovery by building each business’s culture around its ideal."

Stengel writes, "A.G. Lafley and I—along with the rest of the senior management team—expected each business leader to articulate how each brand’s individual identity furthered P&G’s overarching mantra of improving people’s lives. We also had to model the ideal ourselves. And we had to measure all our activities and people in terms of the ideals of our brands and the company as a whole. The success of that effort brought P&G’s extraordinary growth from 2001 on."

Identifying a larger purpose put P&G back on course. The 175-year-old consumer giant remains one of the most admired companies in the world. The company’s story demonstrates that no matter how big you are, or how long you’ve been in business, you can always reclaim your noble purpose.

Southwest Airlines is another example of a well-known industry leader founded on a noble purpose.

Founder Herb Kelleher has made Southwest’s purpose absolutely clear: to democratize the skies. Marketing expert Roy Spence, who works with Kelleher, says that Southwest is in the freedom business. They have a mission and vision, but their purpose, "democratize the skies," trumps everything.

Spence explains it this way in his book, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For:

Purpose is the difference you’re trying to make.
Mission is how you do it.
Vision is how you see the world after you’ve done your purpose and mission.

He then illustrates how it works at Southwest:

Purpose: "Southwest Airlines is democratizing the skies."
Mission: "We democratize the skies by keeping our fares low and spirits high."
Vision: "I see a world in which everyone in America has the chance to go and see and do things they’ve never dreamed of—where everyone has the ability to fly."

During a challenging economic time, when their competitors are grasping for straws, Southwest’s clarity of purpose acts as a filter to help them make better decisions. It’s their North Star. They spend money only on the things that matter: safety, airplanes, people, and locations. Southwest’s purpose—"democratize the skies"—is infused at every level of the organization, including sales and customer service.

In a recent keynote that was broadcasted on YouTube, Spence tells a story from several years ago. Consultants came into Southwest and said if they start charging for bags, they would immediately drop $350 million to the bottom line. "All the others are doing it," the consultants said, and Southwest could make a fast profit if they did the same.

Senior leaders Dave Ridley, Gary Kelly, and others said, "No, that violates the purpose of our company," and instructed the team to "go find the money." Charging for bags wouldn’t give more people the chance to fly; in fact, it would make the skies less accessible.

Spence describes the situation, "But you’ll make more money," said the consultants and finance team. The answer was still, "No. It doesn’t serve our purpose." Ultimately, Southwest’s refusal to stray from their purpose made them money instead of costing them. They launched an ad campaign called "Bags fly free." Nine months later, the senior leadership team met and the financial people said, "We made a mistake." By running the ad campaign and sticking to their purpose, Southwest drove $1 billion in new revenue, taking additional share from their competitors.

An NSP keeps you focused on what matters: the customer.

The Google Sales Reframe

Sometimes even the most powerful mission statements require a reframe for the sales force. Consider Google, whose well-known mission statement is "to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Google’s mission is real and powerful. Yet it still needs to be translated for sales—particularly for the B2B salespeople who sell advertising to major corporations such as Home Depot and Nordstrom.

During a recent Selling with Noble Purpose program I conducted at their Atlanta sales office, one of the top sales performers told me, "I’m passionate about our mission statement, but it’s easy to think of myself as just the money person—the one who delivers the sales so everyone else can achieve the mission."

Translating Google’s mission into an NSP meant focusing on the individual business customer. This particular group of salespeople recognized that their NSP is to help "organize our clients’ information and make it universally accessible and useful." The slight tweak is important, because the salespeople need to be focused on the individual client’s information—not the world’s—during sales calls.

Even if you have a powerful mission statement, you still need an NSP. A visionary picture of the future isn’t enough. Salespeople need to know, "How can I make a difference to this customer today?" Your NSP ensures that everything you do—and every decision you make—is aligned with the impact you want to have on customers.

If you don’t have a mission and vision statement, or if—be honest—they’re meaningless platitudes filled with jargon, then don’t worry. An NSP is enough. This is because an NSP gives salespeople a reason to get out of bed right now. It keeps them focused on the opportunities that are in front of them today. It elevates sales performance with customers immediately.

You Don’t Have to Create World Peace

You’ll notice that none of the preceding examples include developing lifesaving drugs or creating world peace. I intentionally chose these organizations to demonstrate how seemingly ordinary companies have used this process. Someone outside these industries might think that these organizations are just ordinary business-to-business sellers or bureaucracies that don’t make a big difference to their customers. But when you dig a little deeper, you discover that they do make a difference. And the same is true for you and your organization.

These examples demonstrate that no matter what you sell, you can always find your NSP. The NSP concept can be applied to almost any industry or product.

Related: The One-Minute Change That Will Transform Your Company.

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Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud by Lisa Earle McLeod. Copyright 2012 by Lisa Earle McLeod. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant who has worked with clients like Apple, Kimberly-Clark, and Pfizer to create passionate, purpose-driven sales organizations. A sought-after keynote speaker, McLeod has spent over 10,000 hours coaching salespeople and leaders and has conducted over 500 workshops and keynotes. McLeod writes leadership commentary for Forbes.com and has been quoted in major news outlets such as Fortune, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. She has also appeared on the Today show and NBC Nightly News. Her book is Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud (Wiley; November 2012).

[Image: Flickr user Shimrit Abraham]

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  • JC

    social tool bar floating on the left blocks reading ... please help move to other corner.