Entrepreneurs and startups are driven by innovation and big ideas. But are we overlooking the biggest idea of all: prioritizing how we make our customers feel?
Author and business trailblazer Grant Muller shares how to set your business up for success by taking on a human-centered mindset. We sent him a few questions about why this simple strategy works so well in today’s businesses.
- Grant Muller — Image Credit; Thank you — from LinkedIn.com
Grit Daily: Many startups dream of disrupting and revolutionizing stale, old-school industries. In your new book, Top of Heart: How a New Approach to Business Saved My Life, and Could Save Yours Too, you challenge long-held beliefs about how business is done. Could you tell us more about that?
Grant Muller: I tend to view “disruption” in more humanistic terms than startup teams might, though I’m sure most founders would run circles around me with their tech expertise and innovative minds! My approach, Top of Heart, is a shift away from traditional business mindsets. It’s about prioritizing human connection and the quality of every business relationship while letting go of the “numbers and prospects” game too many of us are used to playing.
Putting relationships with customers first may not make tech and startup headlines, but at its core, it’s a fundamentally human, revolutionary business tool we all have at our disposal. This is especially true as tech becomes more complex and people in business mistakenly believe that technology can replace the power of human connection.
The great news is we can have both: technology to advance our daily lives and personal relationships in business that allow tech businesses to be successful and serve more people than ever.
Grit Daily: Since the proof is in the pudding, how has this worldview transformed your life and business?
Grant Muller: I was quite successful in corporate America and then at an internet startup in the late 90s. But nothing compares to the success that being Top of Heart has brought me.
Let me share a story. When I was first starting out in the real estate industry — and before I’d developed this worldview — I was hustling hard. I spent every hour of every day meeting new people, filling my sales funnel, and hoping I’d be “top of mind” to enough buyers and sellers that I could somehow piece together a living. It was exhausting.
I soon realized that I couldn’t keep up the pace of being everything to everyone. I could only meet so many people and keep it all straight. Even though I was running around like crazy, I wasn’t closing more deals. In fact, my business was declining despite my efforts and hefty investments in coaching, radio ads, and internet leads.
I took a long, hard look at my business. I scrutinized every deal I’d closed in the past 12 months and realized that over 90% of my business came from past clients and their referrals, not from the people I was “in front of” at networking events.
I realized then that I had to let go of staying at the top of someone’s mind. I had to dig deeper and build meaningful relationships if I was going to make it.
And that was when I made the shift from my head to my heart. I changed my worldview. As a result of this momentous shift, I’m ranked in the top 1.5% of realtors nationwide and built a seven-figure real estate practice, a business I still enjoy to this day.
Grit Daily: Prioritizing relationships may sound like a slow-burn sales strategy, but it’s clear it works in fast-paced, high-stakes environments. How does a top-of-heart approach play out in startups?
Grant Muller: Top of Heart works in startups the same way it does in more established businesses like my own, primarily because it all comes down to a shift in perspective: moving from a top-of-mind focus to being at the top of someone’s heart.
Still, startups have one advantage I didn’t: they can operate like this from day one! They’re less likely, as growing organizations, to have to unlearn or undo old ways of thinking. From the very beginning, they get to establish a worldview (and workflow) that generates the most successful and profitable relationships possible.
In this way, Top of Heart might be a founder’s secret weapon. Imagine forging more authentic and lucrative relationships, from relationships with VCs, angel investors, and board members to relationships with new clients to equally strong relationships within your business among employees and team members!
Imagine creating a supercharged, Top of Heart-fueled organization with everyone operating from the same frame of mind: that everything begins with authentic human connection, no exceptions. Think of how you’ll be able to grow faster and better, from your culture to your balance sheet. Many of the challenges startups typically face are potentially solved with this powerful shift in perspective.
Grit Daily: Let’s look at this shift from a sales perspective. Most salespeople often wonder, “When my customers need X, will they think of me first?” However, you advise they should be asking, “Will my customers think of me, and will they feel good when they do?” Could you elaborate on this?
Grant Muller: Absolutely! This concept you’re describing, of thinking of someone first, is the top-of-mind sales training so many of us in business have received. This old-school thinking led to the impersonal concepts we hear in sales, like turning people into prospects, dropping them into a funnel, and then closing them. This all falls under “What can I do to make a prospect think of me first so I can close them as quickly as possible?”
On the other hand, your customers feeling good when they think of you, that’s a top-of-heart approach. And it only happens when you make human connections a business priority. It’s dependent on the steps you take to make your customers feel like they belong in the relationship and that they’re special — which is something we all want, right?
This approach is so simple, yet we shy away from it. We’re afraid to make ourselves too “real,” too vulnerable, or too human, so we automatically fall back onto more familiar sales strategies where we don’t have to put ourselves out there.
I’m here to inspire you to take the road less traveled, to do the harder thing. It will feel easier and more natural the more you do it.
Grit Daily: What can Grit Daily readers start doing today to create their own authentic connections?
Grant Muller: First, create an authentic connection with yourself by getting real, present, and open. Here are some questions to get you started:
- What are five adjectives people would use to describe you?
- What inspires you about the world we live in?
- When do you feel most alive? What beliefs are present when you feel this way?
The next step is about impacting others. Here’s a simple but powerful daily exercise to try:
- Each morning, choose one to three people who are in need of love or joy.
- Ask yourself: “How can I be a blessing for them today?” Imagine being in their shoes. What might be valuable for them today?
- Write this item of value next to their name and make it happen. Keep it simple.
Finally comes your heartset, which is about changing your perspective from “me” to “we.” Try preparing for your next business meeting like this:
- Check how you’re feeling and note your mood.
- Decide which personal experiences you’re willing to share with others.
- Prepare one or two stories that will allow you to safely share your current experience and create deeper connections.
This is a simplified version of what I cover in my book, but it will get you off to the right start.
Grit Daily: In the age of AI, your book reminds us that technology isn’t a substitute for human connection. Do you believe this will always be the case?
Grant Muller: Unless there’s some future development in what makes a human being a human being, then my answer is yes, technology will never be a substitute for human connection.
It’s true: We’re in an age where AI and automation are replacing many of the moving parts in sales transactions. For instance, clients no longer follow me to the next house during showings; they simply look up the address on their phone, and I end up following them.
But as helpful as AI is, it can’t replace our human ability to forge human connections (and all the things that come from those connections). AI can respond accurately based on the right inputs. Even so, it will be a very long time, if at all, before AI can “read between the lines,” notice a subtle shift in facial expressions, or pick up on nonverbal cues. We are much more than inputs; the heart and soul of our human experience will be the very last piece for AI to conquer.
In the meantime, AI is a fantastic tool to manage our least human tasks, freeing us to manage the most human ones.
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