Bruce Poon Tip embodies Peter Drucker’s adage: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
As the founder of the Toronto-based travel company, G Adventures, Poon Tip has created a culture that has enabled him to take on larger competitors and win.
Earlier this year, Bruce hired my firm to help him accelerate sales. G Adventures was already a successful brand, they’d been named by National Geographic Adventures as the best ‘Do It All Outfitter’ on Earth, they consistently win workplace awards, and Bruce had been an E & Y Entrepreneur of the year twice.
I first met Bruce in 2008 when we were both speaking at Apple. At the time, the company he’d founded on an idea and two credit cards was on the rise. But he wasn’t the industry leader.
Now in 2013, the culture Poon Tip has created and the work we’ve done with his sales team are changing the game for an entire industry.
Here are the three lynchpins for creating a culture that drives phenomenal growth:
1. Find your Noble Purpose
“Our competitors are huge holding companies,” says Poon Tip, “I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to outspend them. One of the things we could do was create a connection with our customers that transcended what we do. It wasn’t just about travel; it was about creating a purpose that didn’t exist, that other companies couldn’t duplicate no matter how much money they threw at it.”
When Bruce hired me to help him accelerate sales, we weren’t starting from scratch. G Adventures already had a strong sense of purpose; they were in the business of changing people lives through travel. Working with his sales team we established their Noble Purpose: “We help people discover more passion, purpose, and happiness.” We then worked with key leaders around the globe to drive it through the organization.
In my consulting work, I find that many organizations have a sense of purpose, but it’s latent. If you ask product teams, implementers, and support staff, they’ll talk about how they improve customers’ lives. Yet if you listen to most senior leaders, the overriding narrative is more about making the number than making a difference to clients. This is especially pronounced in sales, where the crunch to hit quota eclipses improving the customer’s condition.
Bruce Poon Tip cares about the sales targets, but he’s intentional about leading with purpose. He says, “Our Noble Purpose has united us all globally, it transcends culture. It transcends product, it’s given us a laser focus that made us so powerful collectively.”
2. Reframe your sales interactions
G Adventures is so serious about their Noble Purpose, we renamed their sales people Global Purpose Specialists, GPS for short; it’s on their business cards. Instead of just pitching trips to travel agents, like their competitors do, we created super cool (and super confidential, sorry) sales tools for the GPS to use on sales calls to engage their travel agent resellers and help the agents rediscover their own sense of purpose and passion about travel. They’ve changed the conversation from logistics to emotions.
We restructured their presentations. Instead of the usual “here’s how wonderful we are” Power Point filled with features and benefits, the G Adventures sales force establishes their differentiator right up front. When US Director of Sales Ron Fenska presented to a ballroom of travel agents at an industry event, he opened by saying, “Instead of talking about us, let’s talk about you, and how we can help you discover more passion, purpose and happiness in your job.” Ron and his co-presenter, US Marketing Manager Steve Lima, described the G Adventures trips later in the presentation, but they didn’t lead with them. Fenska and Lima’s . .
presentation was the buzz of the conference. Afterwards, every agent in the room came up wanting more information. They’ve since been asked to present at other big industry events. It’s not surprising that G Adventures’ month over month sales growth is trending at over 35%.
3. Don’t let strategy suck the soul out of your stories
In his new book “Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business” (Business Plus, 2013), Bruce Poon Tip describes how he kept the entrepreneurial spirit alive as the company grew. “I remembered the importance of storytelling to entrepreneurship. This was not about being a travel company; it was a human story. “
Professional does not have to mean boring. But sadly, it usually does.
How many endless 26-point corporate strategy presentations do we have to sit through before leaders realize: Logic makes you think, but emotions make you act.
The G Adventures staff makes music videos. Bruce played a Partridge family song at their convention, they have a Star Wars room in their home office, they’re goofy, they’re crazy, one of their core values is Embrace the Bizarre.
When I suggested creating a big purple bag of games and tricks (again, sorry contents confidential) to use on sales calls, no one worried that it would be unprofessional. Instead the GPS team jumped in with ideas to fill it.
I have yet to encounter an organization with passionate customers that does not also have passionate employees. Leaders who want to create a culture of True Believers must be willing to infuse emotions into the business narrative.
Strategy is useless, if you don’t have a team of enthusiastic people to implement it.
Bruce Poon Tip started with a noble purpose and maxed out two credit cards to create a culture of True Believers who are on fire for changing the world.
Outspending your competitors is expensive, and rarely works. Outsmart them instead by creating a culture built on purpose and passion. It’s more profitable, and much more exciting.
This article was written by Lisa Earle McLeod from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.