Growing Your Value Through Less Doing and More Listening

“Growth is an easy concept to understand,” he told me. “All you have to do is sell more of your existing products to new customers, or get new products to sell to your existing customers.”

Allen (not his real name) had not gone to business school. He had not gone to college. I’m not sure he ever graduated from high school. But Allen was one of the smartest men I ever met. Though he had no formal business education, he understood business better than many high-paid corporate executives I know.

I wasn’t talking to Allen because he was selling his successful business. He had already made the decision to pass it on to his niece. But I got to know Allen many years ago when we served together on a non-profit board. Through that interaction, we became friends to this day. I value his insight, advice and perspective more than anyone I’ve known since my father.

So when Allen gave me his “growth-is-easy” line of thought, I couldn’t dismiss it as a wisecrack. Allen was serious. He explained to me how he had grown his travel company from a local booking agency to one of the most successful tour companies in the United States. “The customer tells you all you need to know,” Allen told me. “Too many business owners spend their energy trying to tell customers what they want, instead of listening to customers tell you what they want. I wasn’t smart enough to do the convincing, so I had to rely on my listening.

Allen has an unusual instinct to connect with people. Everyone who meets Allen seems to think he is one of their best friends. To this day, I can’t really figure out how it works. But Allen’s ability to connect with people, and listen to them carefully, is the purest formula for business success I have ever seen.

Working with scores (maybe hundreds) of business owners over the years, I’ve seen few with Allen’s instinct to listen and learn from their customers. “Listen to your customer” is not exactly breakthrough business advice, it’s a concept taught in every marketing class in every business school. But listening is different from understanding, and listening doesn’t come from research, focus groups or corporate planning. Listening comes from engaging with your customers. They will tell you all you need to know about how to grow your company.

 

JIM CUMBEE is President of Tennessee Valley Group, Inc. a retainer-based business brokerage and transition mediation firm in Franklin, TN. Cumbee is an attorney and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experiences that make him one of the most sought-after business transition advisors in the state of Tennessee. The names and fact patterns above have been changed to preserve the parties’ identities.

 

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim Cumbee established Tennessee Valley Group to help business owners fulfill their dreams for life after business ownership. It’s a mission that his 30+ year career history had prepared him well for—in addition to being an attorney, transition mediator and business broker, Jim has been a buyer, seller, and entrepreneur. His broad range of experience gives him unique insight into how business buyers and sellers can achieve their goals.

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