Who Are You?

By Kevin G. Armstrong

The secret for any business to achieve success is to grow from being known for what you do, to who you are. I’ve never heard anyone explain this to me as succinctly as Dan Kennedy, author of No B.S. Direct Marketing.

How does this work in practice? If you drive a Ford SUV and it starts making a funny noise, what do you do? You pull into the first garage you see and talk to the mechanic. What he does is fix cars. After making his diagnosis, the mechanic tells you that the problem is your water pump. It needs to be replaced.

To the person who only knows what this mechanic does, what do you expect will be your next question? You guessed it: “how much?”

Now on the other hand, your neighbor, Frank, drives a $500,000 Porsche luxury sports car. He gets up one morning and his car is making a funny noise. Frank is not going to take his car to the local garage. Frank is going to call Brad and book an appointment. Brad is also a mechanic, but who is Brad? Brad is a person who only works on Porsches that cost over $250,000, and he makes them sing. Frank calls Brad and the only question he is going to ask is, “When can you look at my Porsche?”

You can bet your house that the question of price is not going to come up.

Through my 20 years of advising business owners, one observation has remained consistent: the entrepreneurs who are achieving what they want in life and making good livings from their businesses are clear on who they are, and they stick to it. At EOS Worldwide, we call this a “core focus.” The management teams at these organizations are clear on why they exist—their “purpose, cause, or passion”—and what they do—their “niche.”

Author and business expert, Jim Collins, calls this the “hedgehog concept,” and my favorite saying of his is, “More companies will die of indigestion from too many opportunities than will die of starvation from lack of.” From personal experience, when I see a company enter the circle of success, all sorts of opportunities present themselves—we’ll call these opportunities the “shiny things”—and when the company loses its focus and chases after the shiny things, it can at best be costly, and at worst fatal.

Let’s look at two real-world examples of clients I have worked with for over 15 years, and had the privilege of observing their courage in transforming the focus of their organizations from “What” to “Who” and the resulting success: RecTec Industries and R&M Trade Laminating.

What does RecTec Industries do? What they do is design and install playground equipment, and they have a number of competitors. Who are they? They are the people you go to when you want to build a magical place for children, including those with special needs; a place for them to learn and become stronger while they play in a park that RecTec designed specifically for you. If what you want is a park and playground equipment at the best price, don’t waste your time calling RecTec. Throughout their 30-year history, they have never compromised who they are for what they do.

What does R&M Trade Laminating do? They are a trade laminating service that puts plastic on paper. Who are they? They are a group of people who are obsessed with a million types of laminate and the science behind transforming paper products into something that people want to touch and look at for hours, and will last forever.

Companies that are truly focused know how to say no. Click To Tweet

Companies that are truly focused know how to say “no” to opportunities. Jim Collins does an incredible job of explaining this in his book, Great By Choice. If you want your managers to grow people in the right direction, don’t change the direction on them unless it makes real business sense. Stick to who you are.

If your company is a person, who is she? Figure that out, communicate it clearly, stick to it and have exceptional managers in place who will successfully execute a plan that will deliver results while your competitors disappear in the wake behind you, chasing shiny things.


Kevin G. Armstrong is a speaker, business advisor, disruptor, and author of The Miracle Manager: Why True Leaders Rarely Make Great Managers with ForbesBooks. Learn more at kevingarmstrong.com.

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