Let’s talk about Love

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Seriously? Love in business? It doesn’t belong there!

We often think of business as just an enterprise for providing a product or service, earning income and making a profit. And it would seem out of place to bring such a warm, emotional and moral concept like love into it. However, this stems from a misunderstanding of both love and business.

Let’s start with love.

What is love? Love isn’t just a feeling, however warm and exciting. Love is rational. It is the deliberate regard for another person’s wellbeing. In the words of the British writer C.S. Lewis, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  So love isn’t getting excited about a member of the opposite sex or having tingling sensations within your tummy when he or she approaches. We also shouldn’t think of love as condoning wrong behaviour or overlooking poor performance. Love is simply desiring another person’s good; it is the attitude of looking or seeking to benefit someone else. This could be a spouse, a friend, or a neighbour. It could also be a boss, an employee, or a customer. Therefore love can include discipline or rebuke, where it is intended to make a person better. And it can involve refusing to grant a request or favour where this will cause the person harm.

We come now to business. Is business just about goods and services, revenue and profit? Well, not really. At its core, business is about people – human beings. Business involves meeting their needs and furthering their welfare. When we produce clothing, manufacture domestic items, provide health insurance, assemble cars, educate children, impart workplace skills, and engage in retail trade, we are providing value to people. In an earlier post, I referred to the classic statement on the purpose of business by Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University in the USA. He stated this as follows:

Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work. And it exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

When we look at business in this way, it becomes immediately apparent that business is about people. True, we need to understand the mechanics of cost, price, strategy, and management in order for a business to function well. But we must not mistake the tools for the goal. The goal of business – any business – remains the people.  Shareholders own a business. Employees work for the business. Vendors work with the business. Customers are served by the business. Everywhere you look you see people. And the principle for relating with people, which is to love them as oneself, has to be applied in dealing with these different groups. Shareholders are to be loved by managing the business profitably. Employees can be loved through fair and humane workplace policies and practices. Customers should be loved by ensuring our products are of good quality and that our processes and systems make it easy to interact with the organization. What about the larger community? One obvious way is by ensuring that we do not pollute the environment in the course of our business operation.

So does this look like love belongs in business? It most certainly does.

What’s your Customer worth?

Service pixWhile offering good service does not depend on the financial return involved, it’s still helpful to consider the true financial worth of every customer we currently serve. Like I often emphasize, businesses fail to offer good service because they are thinking short term. How much is this person paying or buying right now? What value are we deriving from her in the present? However, when we shift our focus from what the person is purchasing right now to her value over a lifetime of transactions, it helps us form a better estimate of today’s encounter.

Supposing our customer, let’s call her Mrs. Garba, is an online buyer of domestic appliances. She buys N3,500 worth of kitchen utensils monthly, and she would go on to remain a customer for seven years. How can we determine her customer lifetime value or CLV?

A simple approach is to apply the formula below:

CLV Formula

 

 

 

Mrs Garba’s CLV, therefore, would be N3,500 X 12 X 7 = N294,000.

This simple arithmetic helps us realize that Mrs Garba’s value to our business goes beyond the mere N3,500 she is spending right now. She is worth a whole lot more!

Marketing is about Value

Marketing is the lifeblood of every business. It is the fuel which keeps the engine running. Without customers, the business would close shop.

We often think about this aspect of business as the activity of bringing in customers. While this is true, it goes beyond that. The core term which captures all that marketing is about is the word Value. And this refers to the benefit which the firm or company or business provides for those it serves. It is the heart of every business.

The popular paradigm for discussing marketing is the marketing mix (shown below), which shows the interaction among the 4 concepts of Product, Price, Promotion, and Placement.

mix

 

Central to all these concepts or activities is value. Determining the nature of product or service to be provided, how it is to be communicated to the target market, the price at which it is to be offered, as well as the means by which it is made available to consumers – all revolve around the core benefit which the business is providing.  Keeping this concept central helps us think clearly and make better customer-oriented decisions.

Book Review: Business as Mission by Michael R. Baer

Can Business be more than an enterprise for the generation of profit? Is there a higher purpose to this human activity?

This book argues that there is.

Business as Mission, according to the author, is an attempt to “explore how companies can align with God’s purpose and bring him glory.” This journey flows from the realization that there are no independent compartments in our Business as Missionlives. Every aspect, including business, is just a part of one unified story being written by God. As such it is must be practiced in a way that glorifies Him. All Christians are called to a project of seamless integration of business and mission; the separation of sacred and secular is futile. Here we discern the sweet idea of Abraham Kuyper.

He begins with a clarification – Christian business vs Kingdom business.

Christian business he understands to be either a business that is owned by a Christian, involved in a ‘Christian’ activity, or one managed by biblical principles. A Kingdom business, however, goes much further. It is a business that is ‘specifically, consciously, clearly and intentionally connected to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in this world.’ Such a business has 4 vital characteristics:

  • It is vocational
  • It is intentional
  • It is relational
  • It is operational

These features constitute the major divisions of the book.

A Kingdom business is Vocational

Business has to be seen as a legitimate calling from God. We need to see that business is a God-given mechanism for the provision of human needs, just as other social units like family or government serve other ends. It fulfills the two purposes of provision and relationship. Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University, has a similar idea of the ‘mission statement’ of business, which he described as follows:

  1. Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work.
  2. Business exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

He rightly identifies the sacred-secular dichotomy as a major stumbling block for most Christians. We have grown up believing that to be spiritual is to be immersed in ‘Church’ work. We thereby fail to see all other areas of life as equally sacred. The late Dallas Willard was quoted to that effect:

 ‘There is truly no division between sacred and secular except what we have created, And that is why the division of the legitimate roles and functions of human life into the sacred and secular does incalculable damage to our individual lives and to the cause of Christ. Holy people must stop going into “church work” as their natural course of action and take up holy orders in farming, industry, law, education, banking and journalism with the same zeal previously given to evangelism or to pastoral and missionary work.’

And the author brilliantly concludes: “All of life is sacred for the Christian, and the realization of that truth sets us free to serve God in all aspects of our existence.” Business is a high calling from God.

A Kingdom Business is Intentional

Every Business has a unique purpose which has to be discovered and lived out. It must identify its role in God’s drama of kingdom history and act it diligently. A kingdom business is deliberate about advancing God’s kingdom. While it recognizes that business is a valid calling from God, it will also seek to affect the world for Christ. Such a business looks beyond profit; it uses its operation as an avenue to reach the world with the gospel of Christ. Michael Baer gives several examples of Christians who started business as a means of witnessing to Christ. I read the story of Mira, a young Christian lady from Central Asia, who launched a handcraft manufacturing business. By gathering other young women into her home as employees, she created an informal network for passing across the message of Christ. We should creatively develop avenues for such interactions with our world.

How can we identify the unique kingdom role for our business? The author recommends a six-point step that should help in this regard:

    1. Pray
    2. Read and meditate on scripture
    3. Meet and interact with others who have discovered their kingdom purpose
    4. Expose yourself to what God is doing in the world
    5. Keep a journal
    6. Write a kingdom impact statement

As we practice this, our purpose becomes clearer and then we can run with it.

Kingdom Business is Relational

Business is about relationships, and it is increasingly evident in our modern world. The rise in importance of Customer Relationship Management as an aspect of business bears this out. Thus a Kingdom Business has better resources for fulfilling this objective. He has the example of God himself, the revelation in the Bible and the help of the Holy Spirit. According to the author, not only are relationships fundamental to life, they provide excellent kingdom opportunities. He writes:

“History , scripture , and even our own personal experience demonstrates that God’s primary conduit for expresing Himself in the world is through relationships. The influence of the gospel does not come through organizations but comes through human interaction, through a people-to-people process.”

This is true. Most conversions have to do with someone bearing witness to the gospel through personal conversation or through godly character. I was brought to Christ through the faithful witness of an older brother. So the role of relationships is critical.

Every business is about relationships in diverse forms: Shareholders, Employees, Customers, Vendors, etc. For a kingdom-minded business, these are opportunities for advancing the kingdom. We have to discern the stage the individual is on the ‘Kingdom continuum’ and know what is the appropriate form our relating should take. For instance, a matured Christian who happens to be a Customer will not require the same kind of ministry as a Vendor who is yet unaware of the gospel.

The obligation to develop relationships derives from the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is really what relationships are about – loving others just as Christ has loved us.

A Kingdom Business is Operational

Finally, a business has to be efficient.It is not enough to treat people right or to understand that business is pleasing to God, we need to strive for excellence in all the operations of the business. He identifies several authors whom I have also found helpful in this regard, such as Tom Peters, Jim Collins, and Peter Drucker. Several principles could be mined from their writings on how to achieve excellence in the operations of any organization. These would include: Developing a ‘core ideology’, setting bigger-than-life-goals (or BHAGs as Jim Collins calls them), and getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off it).

An essential aspect of a kingdom business’ operational excellence is a strong ethical culture. Several ethical systems have been devised, ranging from Pragmatism to Relativism. But these all explicitly or indirectly deny the absolute nature of truth. The business world harbours greed, selfishness, and lust, but it is the role of kingdom businesses to bring light into this vital sphere.

He concludes with directives for bringing this vision to life in our various businesses.

This book is a helpful guide in a most crucial sector of human society. For, as the author notes in the epilogue, “Companies, and not countries, will have the greatest impact in our world in the future”.

The Steward

We do not really own anything. Our possessions, relationships, and time. They are all on loan to us from God, who is their true owner. And this leads to the responsibility to use them wisely and properly. This is stewardship, and it is the foundation for business and service.

Business is the creation and distribution of a product or service for the benefit of people.
We provide food, clothing, and Ipads because they are useful to people. We render Stewardshipservices like laundry, insurance, and hair styling because someone derives benefit from them. In carrying this out, we utilize resources such as skill, money, and time. Since these are not ultimately ours, they must not be abused. We would not mistreat our staff and employees, but rather respect them and encourage their growth and development as humans. We would respect our customers’ and employees’ time which are a vital element in the production process. What about vendors and investors? We would honour our commitments to vendors and manage well the funds received from investors and shareholders.

We should serve our customers well because even the opportunity to serve them is a God-given gift. We are stewards, and this is what stewards do.

It’s about your Customers

unhappy customer

Businesses exist for their customers. This obvious principle is one of the most difficult for modern organizations to truly get. Customers are confronted with a myriad of complicated procedures and processes for receiving a service. At the end, you wonder whether the business is a process laboratory rather than an entity designed to serve people.

It is essential that customers get the service they need without having to go through so much hassles of process and procedure. True, modern challenges like terrorism, money laundering, internet fraud, etc, might necessitate that companies adhere to certain regulations. And by implication, customers would also have to comply with certain requirements. However, a service oriented company would make these as minimal as possible. And it would also ensure that customers understand why certain requirements are made.

Above all, the service representatives should recognize and treat the customers as humans who should be loved and respected in every service encounter. For, without them, I repeat again, there would be no business.

Selling with Integrity

“Sales is nothing more than a transference of feeling. If you can make the customer feel the way you do about your product, then your customer will buy your product.”

Zig Ziglar

Most people dread sales. Let me rephrase: I dread sales! But I’m learning to be comfortable with it since it’s not really money - coinsan option: everyone’s in sales. We are always selling something. We just need to learn to do it right. I’ve been reading Dave Ramsey’s excellent book EntreLeadership*, and it has taught me a few vital truths on selling. Here are a few:

  • Everyone is in sales. A wife sells an idea for home redecoration to her husband, an executive sells a product idea to management, a musician sells his latest song to his fans. Whatever your role in life, you are in sales.
  • Don’t teach your team techniques to pressure people. Teach your team to serve. A major reason why I dread sales is because I see it as getting someone to buy a product at all cost. It is skillfully applying pressure on someone until he signs the cheques or hands over the cash. But now I see otherwise. To sell well, you need to honestly connect your product to the person’s need or want. You need to truly care about his desire. You need to serve him.
  • Every sale is a progression through 4 stages: QualificationRapportEducation/InformationClose. If I ignore any of these steps, I will appear (and will actually be) pushy.
  • Qualifying buyers is the most overlooked and ignored step in the buying process. I need to be certain that my prospect is someone who really needs my product, and who has the time to use it, money to acquire it, and power to decide on buying it. If I fail in this, I would have wasted time, energy and even money.
  • Never sell something to someone that you don’t believe they should buy. This is integrity, pure and simple. Selling is not manipulation; it is service. You don’t want to just make a sale and lose a relationship. No. A good relationship built on trust will generate a whole lot of sales in the future.
  • Sell and serve by describing the benefits, not the product. To put it plainly, people don’t buy a TV, they buy entertainment. You don’t buy a house, you buy the shelter, comfort, security and everything else which that house provides. Even when people purchase a luxury good or a luxury brand of a commonplace item (say, a Rolex wristwatch), they are buying the purpose of the item and the status which owning that item confers on them. So don’t sell the features of your item, sell the benefits.
  • Business is more relational than transactional. You are not out to just make a sale; you are to build relationships. My favourite Biblical passage on service captures this well:

    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Pet. 4:10).

    This applies to Selling as well.


    *Dave Ramsey, EntreLeadership. Howard Books, 2011. 306 pp.