Purpose Doesn’t Have To be Noble

Many of you will be aware of The South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference & Festival, which is widely regarded as being the most significant celebration of creativity and innovation covering the interactive, film, and music industries.

I was introduced to SXSW by Mark Liney and his team the team at brand consultancy Re, who recently hosted an SXSW Retrospective event located at Sydney’s historic Powerhouse Museum. Through a series of talks from Re team members who had attended this years festival, they did an awesome job of transporting us all to what I’m sure was a head spinning journey into the possibilities of our Ai enabled digital future.

But I don’t want to dive into the Ai debate or discuss the increasing pace of digital disruption in this post because I was particularly taken by the discussion that gave this post its title.

Following a wonderful presentation by Re Strategist, Alistair Stephenson, I couldn’t help but see many common challenges that were occupying the creators of brand identities and those that are facing sales professionals and the organisations they work for. Chief amongst them being the search for “Purpose”. As consumers we have become much more selective in our purchasing decisions, increasingly favouring brands that we consider to be more purposeful than others. However we have also been turned off by brands whose attempts to appear purpose driven have come across as disingenuous or fake.

We couldn’t ask for better examples of this fakery in practice than the current Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, where some of Australia’s most high profile financial brands have reluctantly had behaviours revealed that would seem to be entirely contradictory to their stated organisational purpose. What do you think? Do words match deeds? Here are a couple of statements from AMP and CBA for your consideration:

“Our promise is to help people own tomorrow. We want to create a better tomorrow for our customers, our communities and our shareholders. To do this we need to establish a culture of help, ensuring everything we do fulfils our promise” AMP
“Our vision is to excel at securing and enhancing the financial wellbeing of people, businesses and communities. To achieve our vision we must earn and keep the trust of our customers, shareholders, regulators, suppliers, colleagues and the many communities in which we operate.” CBA

Really? As the old saying goes "Talk is cheap"! If these statements were genuine surely we wouldn’t be hearing a collective gasp of disgust as a result of the shocking revelations coming out of the Royal Commission.

The same is true of sales organisations and their salespeople in the B2B world. In an increasingly competitive and complex sales and business environment where trust between buyers and sellers has been undermined by decades of dysfunctional behaviours, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of purpose and the critical role it plays in cultivating authentic, high trust relationships, which is great. However, yet again we see a disconnect.

All to often fear derails progress. Because too many sellers lack a purpose beyond making the sale, buyers question their motivation and fear they will be sold a solution that doesn’t help them realise the results they're looking for. And sellers fear buyers are primarily motivated by price, that they are withholding information and are restricting access to key people. Either way this ducking and weaving battle prevails with each side trying to land metaphorical punches in an attempt to get the upper hand.

It seems to me we’re all making life much harder for each other. We shouldn’t be “duking it out”, faking behaviours or trying to mislead each other with grandiose purpose statements that have little to do with daily reality. Which brings me to this quote from SXSW and the light bulb moment that inspired this post:

“Purpose can have a role, but it doesn’t have to be noble”
— Alistair Stephenson, Re Agency

WOW! So you don't have to be saving the population from climate change, striving for world peace or eliminating poverty to have purpose. The team at Re shared the following example with the Lynx body spray brand to illustrate the point:

“Lynx’s purpose is to help teenagers get laid; at first glance an odd purpose that doesn’t feel as ‘important’ as it should. But it's brought to life brilliantly, demonstrating that brand purpose needs to be relevant and meaningful but doesn’t need to be virtuous.”

Here’s another great example with Mailchimp:

“MailChimp provided a final case study in authenticity. Tom Klein, the CMO of MailChimp, spoke about how brand personality should be pushed harder to better connect with customers. Their ambitious MailShrimp campaign put the brand’s weirdness front and centre. Klein gave the brand permission to throw off its corporate shackles and embrace imperfection — with refreshing consequences.”

Many brands have equated their organisational purpose with lofty, worthy and noble goals, and that’s great, but it can also be a problem if your people don’t know how to bring that purpose to life every day for themselves and for their customers. We can’t lose sight of the fact that purpose and meaning is generated at the point where employees interact with each other and with customers. It's those second by second, minute by minute, day by day interactions that either undermine or amplify purpose. Think about your own situation for a moment:

  • Do you understand your organisations purpose?
  • Can you articulate it?
  • What does it mean to you?
  • If you’re a leader how do you live it every day?
  • How about your people? and
  • Why should your customers care?

The bottom line is that you don’t need to have a noble purpose to be purpose driven. Purpose isn’t some lofty out of reach mythical thing. Purpose is very real, and more importantly it is a choice any one of us can make, no matter what you do or who you work for. In fact the research tells us that purpose comes from three things:

  • First is relationships. We get purpose when we interact with each other, when we help each other, when we’re in social interactions. In fact relationships are critical, and probably the most important source of purpose.
  • Secondly we get purpose from doing something greater than ourselves. It doesn’t even have to be something huge, it can be something really small. When we’re of service to other, when we touch somebody else’s life by doing something that matters to them, we get purpose.
  • Finally we get purpose through personal growth and challenge. When we take risks. When we try new things. We again get a sense of purpose through this.

Being purpose driven is someone who sees work as a channel for creating meaning and fulfilment through the continual deepening of relationships, through seeking to make an impact on something larger than themselves, and through pro-actively seeking personal and professional growth. All are core elements of sales and selling at its very best.

It is therefore my belief that more than just about any other profession, salespeople can be purveyors of purpose, and in doing so create a better, more meaningful, more fulfilling, and ultimately more successful world. In closing I want to encourage every sales professional out there to discover and activate your purpose. It’s an inside out process. When you find your purpose, you’ll inspire everyone you interact with to find theirs. Oh, and just maybe more people will be interested in getting to know you, to build a relationship with you, and to doing business with you. Go figure!


Ian J Lowe is the Founder & CEO of eccoh, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation pioneering a movement to change the way the world thinks about sales. The selling environment has radically changed and yesterday’s attitudes, mindsets and cultures are no longer relevant. To succeed we need to be much more than in the past. Our mission is to harness the collective energies of every salesperson on the planet as a force for good in the world. That's the open effect.

Image Credit: Bruce Almighty movie, Universal Studios 2003