Profitability is a choice, not a result


(This is the post associated with the July 28, 2016 American City Business Journals column entitled, “Five Secrets to Beating the Profit Recession)


While most leaders primarily focus on the expense side of the P&L when attempting to squeeze more profit from the business, the progressive but precious few choose to concentrate more on a different lever.

To realize greater margins and simultaneously drive more sales, these “profitability mavens” adhere to a 4:1 build vs. sell model, meaning they spend 80% of their time obsessing over the design and construction of unprecedented value – not mere strengths or differentiation or competitive advantage – with only 20% of their time focused on “selling.”

Putting this “horse” (unprecedented value) before the “cart” (selling; marketing; branding; etc.) means having to admit that the “Emperor” (value proposition) has no clothes … a tough pill to swallow for many business owners and CEOs.  One way to know if you truly have unprecedented value is to track how many unsolicited opportunities flow into the business daily.  As Peter Thiel says, “If you have to sell it, it’s not good enough.”

Here are four steps to creating powerful unprecedented value and strong, sustainable customer demand:

  1. Turn salespeople into ethnographers.  The salesperson has an all-access V.I.P. pass to the customer’s facility, more so than anyone else.  Instead of tasking them 100% for “sales,” consider holding them accountable to “key observations.” Challenging the status quo by asking simple probing questions like, “Why do you do it that way?” helps us become accustomed to an ethos of “seek to understand” vs. sell, Sell, SELL!
  2. See what others miss.  Honing the ability to spot customers’ “unspoken needs” takes time, but it can be done.  After making key observations, the next step is to determine – through study, analysis and connecting the dots – what insights can be gleaned.  Insights are specific understandings, judgements and wisdom that emanate from key observations.  In other words, what can you discern that the customer has not yet articulated?
  3. Develop insights into new products, services and experiences.  This is how targeted, high-ROI and high-profit innovation occurs.  Still, be sure to test any new offerings before launching on a large scale, thereby customer-confirming your unprecedented value hypothesis.
  4. Rinse and repeat.  Forever.  This is what continuous value proposition design is all about.

Solving a customer’s spoken problem or “pain” only thrusts you into a world of sameness, the business disease that’s reached epidemic proportions.  Customers can only share what they know – the surface, top of mind issues – unable to articulate that which they desperately need.  They’re simply too close to the situation.  Besides, exploring status quo pain points is the same activity your competitors execute, exacerbating the sameness dilemma.  Based on my three decades of experience, this is precisely why traditional sales training is ineffective.

Designing, developing and delivering unprecedented value allows companies to attract, charge a premium and thrive, all driven by 1-4 above.


Sean Stormes


Sean Stormes is Chief Value Designer of The Third Door®. His firm provides the most progressive concepts, methods, and PRG© (profitable revenue growth) framework and architecture available in the international marketplace to committed senior level business leaders who mean business.

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