Updated: May 6, 2022
The missionary and mercenary approach to business from Howard Love’s book ‘The Start-Up J-Curve,’ was further examined Konsyg's CEO, William Gilchrist, who gives his thoughts and perspectives on the fundamental concepts and how they play a significant role at Konsyg.
“Missionaries do what they do because they believe in and are committed to their organization’s mission, versus mercenaries that do a job for the sake of the money.” This is the inspiration of this article, so what is your opinion on this statement?
I would say that even though we classify ourselves as a sales mercenary organization, that doesn’t mean that we are not committed or don’t believe in the mission of the company. I think that even mercenaries can believe in the mission.
I think the difference between the two is that a missionary is part of the organization and is pushing the message as an actual part of the company. A mercenary is pushing a message as an external entity, a sort of militarized version of defining a mercenary. For example, if we put these two approaches in a religious context, there have been Catholic missionaries, but there have never been Catholic mercenaries ever. Thus, to draw a comparison would be a bit challenging because it is difficult to classify them in the same scheme. A missionary would push a message that they are subscribed to and are expanding the message as a part of the organization. For instance, in the tech-sales industry, a missionary would be someone who has worked at ‘Company A’ in America and then opened a ‘Company A’ office overseas. A mercenary is someone who doesn’t work for ‘Company A’ in America, but they could help ‘Company A’ get into an overseas market. I think both approaches would believe in the message, but the relationship between the headquarters or the main mission is different, so in a way I would challenge what the book is saying.
What are your perspectives on these two approaches to business? I think that a missionary believes that all things are perfect and that the world operates the exact same way regardless of others’ differences; whereas a mercenary understands the complexities of the people and the world. Hence, a mercenary is not under the policy or the viewpoint of the headquarters because they are able to adapt and localize. And that is the keyword, that a mercenary can localize and tailor its message so that it can be received in different markets. I think that the way the book is defining both approaches and saying that mercenaries aren’t loyal or aren’t with the program isn't necessarily true. I think mercenaries are part of the program, in that they understand the world a little bit more than a missionary would. A missionary would push a message, while a mercenary would try to tailor its message. What would you say are some of the advantages and disadvantages to each approach? I think the advantage of being a missionary would be someone who is beholden to the organization’s policies and laws, thus a company can keep the missionary under their policy and have a little bit more control over. However, it does come with disadvantages such as that they are limited to the vision and the mindset / scope of the headquarters, so expansion is only determined based on what the headquarters sees best and not the missionary.
Whereas a mercenary has a bit more freedom to bring ideas into the table that the company has not been introduced to, additionally a mercenary has the ability to take initiative and provide value for the company or the mission itself. In your perspective, are the two approaches' role interchangeable, or can they be used together? I think it would be best to have a mercenary in first to lay the framework, and then send the missionaries out later. This is because the mercenary is the first responder and is able to push a message that is tailored to different markets, and then communicate it to the missionaries (or the companies) coming in and setting up their foundations.
In regards to Konsyg, how do these approaches play a role within the company, and how does it affect the way things are sold? It relates similarly to the first answer, which is if a company is looking to enter a certain market, what approach would they do. An example is Groupon, using a missionary than a mercenary approach when entering Asia. They were based in Chicago in the States, and when they decided to set up in Thailand specifically, they thought that the same ways that made them successful in the States would be easily as successful in Thailand. It just wasn’t the case, and Groupon ended up leaving the Asian market because they did not know how to handle the market. Oftentimes, American companies have a missionary-centered approach that if it works in the States, then it works elsewhere. That’s how a missionary works. However, a mercenary is going to be realistic and consider each of the markets, whether be it the Asian, Middle-Eastern or European market. A mercenary will have to tailor their message and values for the markets so that it sticks and that is the advantage of having a mercenary approach because they understand the world in its own complexities.