In December 2011 we published The 12 Sales Trends of 2012 and invited readers to vote on what they thought would be the most important trends in sales for this year. ‘It’s not WHAT you do but WHY & HOW you do it’ topped the rankings.

It seems that having a Purpose, the WHY, which is more than just making a profit, is becoming a key focus as businesses, leaders and employees alike seek to find more meaning in their work and each other and most importantly their customers and community.


too much choice

Too much choice on the consumer landscape is now driving people to seek real connections and deeper meaning – a spiritual, psychological connection in their dealing with others if you will. Restlessness is emerging among consumers about who they want to connect with and buy from – they want to simplify and make every moment count. Businesses leaders are coming to realize, slowly, that it’s not WHAT you do that differentiates themselves from their competitors but WHY & HOW you do it. Many, however are still blinded by the Profit motive – the EBIT, especially publicly listed companies conditioned to meet ‘share holder value’. Losing sight of WHY you are in business in the first place and replacing it with Profit only is a very risky strategy.

Having a purpose, defining your WHY factor, encapsulates the very essence of why clients and customers want to associate with a business and how they can align with its values.

With increased consumer choice, people are becoming more business savvy. People are now assessing organisations, through their consumer, supplier, investor, employee and community filters sizing up the real reason and motives for being and doing business.


using a crystal ball to find the why

Despite this public assessment, many organisations still struggle to explain why they exist and how they do what they do, in a way that is easily understood and generates a curiosity to know more. WHY you do what you do and HOW you make a difference must be front and center. In the wake of consumer disquiet at corporate greed, business’ cost management obsession, outsourcing and the move away from product as the focal point, what you do is not enough anymore.

In 2012 if we can’t communicate our story to our employees, customers, prospects, suppliers, investors, media, and the broader community then they simply can’t communicate our story to others or make informed decisions about how to engage with us.

A great example of a company really bringing this concept to life and getting it right is outdoor clothing and equipment company, Patagonia. Here is their reason for being, their purpose, their ‘WHY’:

Our Reason for Being: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
-Patagonia’s Mission Statement

Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running. These are all silent sports. None requires a motor; none delivers the cheers of a crowd. In each sport, reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us and nature.

Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.

For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. We donate our time, services and at least 1% for our sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide.

We know that our business activity – from lighting stores to dyeing shirts – creates pollution as a by-product. So we work steadily to reduce those harms. We use recycled polyester in many of our clothes and only organic, rather than pesticide-intensive, cotton.

Staying true to our core values during thirty-plus years in business has helped us create a company we’re proud to run and work for. And our focus on making the best products possible has brought us success in the marketplace.

engaged employees

engaged employees

Patagonia demonstrates that to engage with employees, customers, investors, media and community you need to work from the heart, not just the head. Pursuing profit at the expense of these other things is shortsighted at best.

How do you create an integrated organisation that engages heart and head? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What is your story? How did you come to be in existence?
  • What do you stand for?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • How do you do what you do?
  • How do contribute to the greater good?
  • What are you giving back to your community?
  • How do you make others feel?

These questions will give you a start but to really make progress, the concept needs wholehearted commitment. Don’t even attempt this process if you’re not willing to be honest about your intentions as a business because your insincerity will be obvious and in today’s world reputation is critical.

With consumers now better educated, techno-savvy and better connected than ever before, the need to articulate WHY you do what you do and HOW you do what you do is critical for differentiating your business in 2012 and beyond.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett, MD of

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