Calling All Business Leaders: Sell In, Not Out

Know Thyself

The first cardinal rule of becoming a therapist is Know Thyself.

Therapists-in-training will spend countless hours in the classroom learning fundamental theories of the mind and will spend years under supervised practice learning how to master the art of therapy.

Yet entering in one’s own personal therapy is not even highly encouraged in most graduate school programs.

When sitting with a client for the first time, novice therapists quickly learn the experiential realities of being ”stuck,” and how easy it is for one’s personal issues to muddy the therapeutic waters.

When therapists ask their clients to do the difficult task of going inward and facing the shadows that lurk in their psyches, the question first asked is whether they are willing to embark on this journey themselves?

The question can be applied to many different scenarios:

  • Would you become a violin teacher if you first didn’t master the art of violin playing?
  • Can you tell others what it’s like to climb Mount Everest when you’ve never done so yourself?
  • Can you teach others to practice compassion if you have difficulty practicing it yourself?

You simply can’t. You need to go through the hard work of mastering (or working towards mastery of) a craft before you teach it to the world. You need to wholeheartedly believe in your approach before you attempt to sell it to the masses.

In business, companies pride themselves on selling products that embody higher values like freedom and happiness, yet they turn a blind eye to the values they’re promoting, or rather not promoting, within their own organizations.

Sell In, Not Out

Through selling in, businesses embrace a global vision the entire company can be passionate about. Values pervade every aspect of the business, not only those that reach the consumer, but those that are felt at the deepest levels of the organization.

If brands cannot rally their own troops, how could they be able to rally their customers in support of their products?

When companies pride themselves on taking care of their customers at all costs, but treat their employees worse than their estranged brother-in-law, the misalignment quickly erodes confidence within the organization.

What differentiates Cult Brands and allows them to stand apart from the masses is their holistic approach to business.

Heather McIlhany, online marketing manager for DVD-by-mail shop Netflix, explained, “There’s an inverse relationship between how often a company talks about its values and how much those values are actually reflected in the workplace.”

Netflix understands that a great company earns the respect of its customers and its employees by promising certain values—like commitment, loyalty, and freedom—that they work hard to uphold. An operation without this synergistic balance loses its footing and ultimately, its sense of trust.

Like Netflix, Wal-Mart is another business that wholeheartedly practices what it preaches. The late CEO Sam Walton, built his empire on the “Always Low Prices” philosophy, a vision not only intended for the consumer.

Even when Wal-Mart made Walton a very wealthy man, he insisted on driving his beat-up old pickup truck instead of upgrading to a luxury vehicle, and sharing budget hotel rooms while on business instead of checking into a private suite at the Four Seasons.

His no-frills, frugal lifestyle continues to influence Wal-Mart’s culture. Years after Walton’s death, you’ll still spot top executives flying coach and checking into economy hotels together.

Herbert Kelleher, beloved founder and former chairman of Southwest Airlines, is perhaps the ultimate champion of selling in.

Unlike the bureaucratic mindsets of some CEOs, Kelleher purposely chose to inhabit a windowless interior office at Southwest’s corporate headquarters. He explains, “I’m trying to set a good example that it doesn’t matter where your office is, it’s where your mind is that should be important.”

In Kelleher’s view, physical space is meaningless. “It’s the space between your ears that should be the important thing.”

It’s the Southwest attitude that trickles down from the company’s leaders, in a cascading effect that inspires the employees, and ultimately the customers.

Kelleher remarked, “You have to treat your employees like customers. When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right. That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us.”

In fact, the perfect pitch for ‘Selling In’ can be found in Southwest’s Mission Statement for their employees: “Above all, employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest customer.”

How consistent are the values in your organization? Do you talk a good talk about promoting higher values with your consumers, but won’t walk the walk with your employees? Take an honest look within and ask yourself: Am I selling in, or out?

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