It’s not about you. That’s the secret that every person needs to learn in business—it’s not about you. It’s about helping others, about putting what other people need ahead of what you want. The secret to business is providing value to your customers, not looking for ways to make money for yourself.
To provide value to people, you have to get to know them, to understand them. You have to, in other words, build a relationship. And you can never build a strong relationship on a foundation of, “How can I sell this person something.” The foundation has to be genuine interest and care, a real desire to help and make life better for this person.
When you build that relationship, you’ll see and learn about the problems that the other person has in their life—and then you’ll look for ways to help solve those problems! Sure, some of them might be things that relate to your business and what you can do personally. But many of them will be things that won’t personally benefit you—but you should help anyway. A real relationship is about helping one another and solving problems all the time, not just when you have a vested interest in what is happening.
Here’s why that is so effective: when you build a real relationship, offering real help and information, whatever you’re able to provide, that builds trust and loyalty. It makes the other person much more likely to come to you when they have a problem related to what you do, and it makes them more likely to talk about you with other people they have relationships with who have problems.
We’ve all seen this effect in the media. The classic movie Miracle on 34th Street dramatically tells the story of the Macy’s Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels and other rivals when those stores better fit the needs of those specific customers—and then those customers becoming loyal Macy’s shoppers as a result.
But it’s not just a Christmas movie fairy tale. The power of a relationship built on trust and honesty is remarkable. Adam Grant is a renowned professor at the Wharton School of Business who researches organizational psychology, workplace dynamics. In particular, he emphasizes the concept of reciprocity. As he said in an interview with the New York Times, “The greatest untapped source of motivation . . . is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”
What he has found is that people are most effective for their business when they think about what they’re doing in terms of the benefit to the customer, not in terms of benefit to themselves. Not only does the customer prefer this approach (as opposed to being sold something), but we subconsciously prefer it ourselves, too. Interestingly, Grant’s research further shows that we often don’t even realize what’s happening; we tend to think we’ve just had good luck, or that it was something else we were doing, but his studies have shown over and over again that it’s the outward-looking focus that makes the real difference.
It’s not about you. It’s about other people. It’s not about making money. It’s about helping others and providing value to those around you. When you do that, the money will come.