"Shifting one's focus from getting to giving—and when we say 'giving', we mean constantly and consistently providing value to others—is not only a nice way to live life, it's a very financially profitable way as well."

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That, in the words of Bob Burg, is the basic premise of The Go-Giver, a book he wrote with John David Mann. Bob and I discussed the book during the most recent episode of Marketing Smarts. A parable in the Who Moved My Cheese? tradition, the book follows "Joe," a self-styled go-getter, as he discovers the real keys to success in a series of encounters with successful business folk.

Along the way, Joe learns that the real way to get ahead isn't about hustling, calling in favors, or begging, it's about building strong relationships. To do that, he finds, one must adopt an attitude of service toward others and focus on providing value to them, as mentioned; and, most importantly, one must be authentic or genuine: pretending to care or feigning interest won't cut it; you've got to keep it real.

Bob was quick to point out that he is not talking about being a self-sacrificing martyr: This is business, after all, in which one goal is realizing some sort of profit from our efforts. What he is calling for is, as he says, a shift in focus from one's own personal gain to the benefits that others will derive from dealing with us.

That shift in focus is best illustrated by the first "law" of the Go-Giver: "Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you receive in payment."

To describe how that "law" plays out in real life, Bob suggested that we consider an accountant who charges someone $1,000 to do taxes. If the accountant ends up getting her client a $5,000 refund and provides him peace of mind that his taxes were prepared properly by a professional, not to mention saving him all the time it would have taken him to do his taxes himself, we start to see how the value the client got far exceeds that $1,000 fee. As long as that $1,000 actually covers the time and effort put in by the accountant, along with providing some profit as well, then we can also see how the accountant ultimately got by giving.

"That's the kind of relationship we want to have with everyone with whom we do business," Bob said, "We want to give them so much more in value than we take in payment, that they feel great about it and we make a very healthy profit."

It's hard to argue with the notion that if we focus our efforts as marketers and salespeople on providing our customers real and enduring value, we will thereby build strong relationships and these relationships will support us into the future. The hard part, of course, is actually doing it. It's easy to get distracted and discouraged. Business is competitive, we have real pressures to perform, and, frankly, even when we feel we have been giving and customer-focused, things don't always work out.

Still, when things don't seem to be going our way, it probably behooves us to focus more on what we could be doing for others rather than what we wish they were doing (or had done) for us. Our time and energy are all we ultimately have to work with—and, in fact, they are the only resources we can totally control. We could certainly do worse than directing time and energy toward helping and serving others.

And by doing so, in the end, we build the relationships the end up building us: We give and get.

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