14 years ago when this blog got the name “Business is Personal”, you’d occasionally hear “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” I found the idea repulsive, transactional, and most importantly – the opposite of everything I’d been taught. The phrase later became part of pop culture thanks to a TV show. I even had a business partner say this to me back in 2006. Because I never believed it wasn’t personal, it marked a turning point in that business relationship – which soon ended. “Business is Personal” was true when “it’s just business” was said to me in 2006 and it’s still true today, perhaps more than ever.

Sales and marketing is personal

The marketing messages that touch us and do some part to convince us to make a purchase are effective because they touch us. I recently heard of a study of a man who had an operable brain tumor. When the tumor was removed, it required removal (or damaged) a part of the brain that controls emotion. There was speculation that he would be more capable of making decisions than most people, since emotion would no longer cloud his decision making. It turned out quite differently. Without the ability to use emotion, he was unable to make even the simplest of decisions. Unable to decide between salt & pepper, or between red wine & white, he required extensive care, rather than becoming a highly logical decision-making juggernaut.

To excel at sales, we must become experts at listening to prospects. We must “get inside the head” of people to learn what motivates them, how they are thinking, and often, what their deepest wants and needs are. My dad used to tell me to “be a good listener”, a phrase which changed meaning from decade to decade. Today, “listen to understand, rather than to respond” has become the catch phrase of many who are figuring out that listening to respond completely misses the point.

We’ve all been subjected to a salesperson who is focused on their quota, or on their sales process, rather than on our wants and needs. It’s frustrating. Transactional. Many avoid businesses with this type of sales team. Eventually, some businesses figured it out and started using non-commissioned salespeople. Despite that, I still get calls and meet salespeople who start the conversation about their quota and the need to close a deal by some irrelevant date.

The sales our companies make are very personal. They allow us to hire people who support their families, which support schools, charities and entire communities. Those sales fund salaries that are spent at other local businesses, that fund infrastructure and schools, and allow our employees to get their kids into schools, sports, outdoor activities and more. In communities where a business is a substantial employer, the impact of that business ripples across the economy of the entire community.

Employment is personal

For many people, their job or their chosen field of work is a part of their identity. It may be what motivated them to go to college or trade school. It might be what got them to spend Gladwell’s perhaps-discredited 10000 hours to achieve mastery, and/or to seek out the mentor who would teach them the ropes. For some it’s a bit bigger piece. Ever spoken with someone who’s unemployed? Would you even begin to tell them that experience isn’t deeply personal? For some, it digs at them to their core and they might never forget it. It might even drive decisions they make for the rest of their lives, simply because they never want to be in that situation again. “It’s just business” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It’s personal when you get the job you’ve worked years to be qualified for. When you get the job of your dreams, it’s personal. It’s personal to take out massive student loans while becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher, etc. When someone tells you that you aren’t good enough at a job and fires you, it’s personal. It’s personal when you come home and explain to your family that you were laid off or fired. When you have one of the greatest business successes of your life, it’s personal. If you have to humble yourself in front of friends, peers, and the people you love because you were fired, it’s personal. When tough times threaten the faith they put in you and tarnish the promises you’ve made to them… it’s personal.

Ownership is personal

That business you built from scratch, the one that almost now one knows how much time, mental strain, money and work you invested in, it’s personal to you. The sacrifices you made, the jobs and financial opportunities you gave up to build your dream, they’re personal too. The dream is personal. It pushes you to work, sacrifice, get your life out of balance, struggle to get it back in balance, only to work harder the following month to keep it that way. Your business is personal to you, no matter how it feels or appears to someone else.

You chose who you wanted to be a hero to. It was a personal choice. There’s probably a reason for it. I think back to how I advise people to take care of their customers, and it surely goes back to watching my grandmother make butter and riding around in my granddaddy’s truck to deliver eggs, milk, butter, and chickens. Even though the world had all those things at the corner grocery store, people paid still paid them to deliver these items to their door. My grandmother’s butter wasn’t simply a round of butter. She milked the cows. She churned the butter. She hand-formed the rounds and then personalized them with a design she hand embossed on the top with a wooden spatula that someone had carved for her.

How is your craft any different from that? How is it “just business”? Please.

For some, it’s who they are

Like it or not, what we do and how we earn a living is quite personal to most of us. Even if you’ve arrived at a point where “it’s what I do, it’s not who I am“, the fact that you had to do some introspection to get to that point is evidence that your business is personal. It doesn’t matter what you do. If you deliver firewood that you carefully chose, cut and had the patience to season before selling it, do you toss it over the fence and leave the pile for the owner? Or do you neatly stack it where they asked and cover it with a tarp so it’s dry and ready to warm their home? If you do the latter, is it really “just business”?

Taking your business personally doesn’t mean you’re emotionally fragile. It doesn’t mean you hate your competitors, or that you’re angry at someone who decides not to buy your product. It means your customers’ success is important to you. It means the work is important to you. How you help them achieve success, how you deliver the work, how you care for them over the years. These things tell people what kind of person you are. The people you rescue and the effort necessary to rescue them is important to you – no matter what form that rescue takes. If it’s “just business”, it shows. If it’s “just business”, you’re just a vendor that can be replaced by the next lower priced option. There will always be a vendor that’s cheaper – and it shows. There will always be someone who takes their work personally. That shows too.

If your business is personal to you, that’s OK. It’s your choice. Don’t let someone else take that away from you.

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Unsplash