The Return on Corporate Generosity

In this three-part series on generosity in sales, I’ve talked about how this must-do work is a three-part journey.

First, there’s what you need to do to be generous at a personal level. Next, we’ve looked at what has to happen in your work as a sales team, because selfishness never sells.

So now let’s talk about that third and final component: how generosity needs to be reflected in your actions as a company.

To do that, let’s tackle a big question: Why should you care?

I like how Kate Johnson, Microsoft’s President and CVP, talked about that in a recent LinkedIn post. Looking at how her own company is doing its part to make change in the world, she credits her CEO, Satya Nadella, for “looking inward.” In other words, she says the task is do more than just ask “how can we serve our customers better?” Instead, they employ deeper empathy for employees and others, and in doing so it brings the company a “tiny step closer to deeper understanding” on how to do more to make a better world.

That’s a better way of thinking. And it aligns with what I often call the reverse ponzi approach in sales: you build trust with others only after you’ve proven you understand people. To be clear, being generous at a corporate level isn’t some call for altruism: you’re doing this because you help yourself by helping others. You only get that chance to sell yourself after you have convinced someone that your company can help them with a problem they have.

So how should you care? There are six big areas where you can make a difference.

1. Give to your employees
Generosity here isn’t just about money. It’s about understanding that every member of your staff has professional aspirations. You are in a position to help them. So do that. Give them the opportunity to train and upgrade their professional skill development. Don’t treat it like it’s just another expense. Companies that have higher-than-average turnover rates also show lower-than-average investments per person on development. Instead, follow the example of one client of mine in the resource sector. They give their employees the ability to move laterally within the company into jobs they find challenging and different. As a result, they have the highest retention rate I’ve ever seen. That’s not a coincidence.

2. Be generous with your customers
People buy from companies they admire and respect. You build both of those by being generous and going the extra mile so a customer means more than just being a sale. Last year, I spoke at Dreamforce. That’s an annual main event hosted by Salesforce in San Francisco. It’s a place where their customers hear keynotes, learn about new products, attend training and network with peers. Canada’s Shopify holds a similar event in Toronto every year, called Unite: focused on developers who use their platform. Both of these events are a big deal for their customers, because they see how hard the hosts work to roll out the red carpet for them. Year after year, it turns people into product evangelists, because they feel they matter to the company.

3. Be generous in how you resolve problems
This one gets overlooked far too often. Be generous with how you resolve disputes and differences of opinion with customers. Give them the benefit of the doubt when problems arise. When a customer expresses disappointment, ask: “how would you like this resolved?” What I have seen in my own field research is that 99% of the time, your customer will ask for something reasonable. And when you act on their request, it has a doubly positive effect (because it was their idea!)

4. Be generous with your leadership
Your company’s leadership is a major asset: including outside of the boardroom. You can afford to be generous with it. Give customers access to leadership. Arrange for your CEO to meet with all your best customers once or twice a year. Be in the office when that visit takes place. And schedule roadshows periodically where you can showcase that corporate expertise when meeting with customers in regions that are well beyond headquarters.

5. Be generous with your social proof
What you say about your customer’s business by way of testimonials and reviews creates powerful social proof that no amount of advertising can buy. Be generous, helpful and sincere. Promote your customer’s business, write a LinkedIn testimonial about your experience working with them. Refer them to clients of yours. When you do this, you are helping them be successful in ways unrelated to your products.

6. Be generous with your markets
Being involved with industry associations isn’t just about being a smart networker. Do it with generosity by engaging in three key actions: speak, train, and educate. The more generously you share information—whether it’s a guest speaker, or by holding workshops—the more prospects will flock to you, and the more customers will stick with you. Sharing knowledge goes beyond you personally. This is a corporate effort. So give everyone in your organization the opportunity to showcase technical knowledge and implementation know-how. That’s how industry expert teams and insiders earn a trusted reputation. The more your market sees of your entire company and what you are all capable of as a group, the better they will feel they know you. Your work doesn’t stop there. Also creating sponsorships, scholarships, charity events and foundations.

As you can see, there are many ways to give back while showing what you care deeply about. From personal gestures to team efforts and corporate action, generosity is a powerful fuel that makes meaningful, lasting change happen in the world. So get ready to win big: be generous today.