The most valuable business and life advice I ever received came from an unlikely source in an impromptu moment. In 1994, one of my best friends from college worked for the New Jersey Nets and the franchise brought in football coaching icon Lou Holtz to speak to the organization. The employees were allowed to bring guests and my friend was kind enough to invite me.

After Holtz’s talk, I had an opportunity to ask him this question: “What is the best piece of advice you’d give someone new to the coaching profession?”

Holtz responded, “It’s the same advice I’d give anyone of any age in any profession. When people meet you they are asking themselves three things about you:

Can I trust you? Do you care about me? Are you committed to excellence?

He went on to explain that they are asking these things in priority order. If they can’t trust you, the answers to questions two and three don’t really matter. From that day forward, Holtz’s three question test has been my compass both personally and professionally.

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I share this with you because recently two companies I’ve been a client of for quite some time have lost my business. Their failings serve as a cautionary tale for every entrepreneur on how to handle gaining and maintaining clients.

One, an online marketing firm, began with a singular focus and were becoming an industry leader. It began experiencing systematic failures that were a direct result of what is often referred to as mission creep. Essentially, the company didn’t stay in its lane and as a result a lack of focus caused it to repeatedly drop the ball. These are services I use in my business on a daily basis and will for the foreseeable future -- I’ll just be using one of its competitors now.

The other company was at one point a local business, but simply tried to expand too fast and as a result shifted focus away from paying attention to detail with valuable existing customers such as me (which would have resulted in endless referrals). Its focus went to geographic expansion in the hopes that would then produce growth. In the process the company hired untrained or at best undertrained staff who could not problem-solve, much less be proactive with clients.

In both cases, the businesses hit a point where they failed the three-question test. I could no longer trust them. With their mission creep, I didn’t feel they cared about me anymore and by chasing money instead of quality it was clear they were not committed to excellence.

The greatest shining example of the right way to do it is the Marucci Baseball Bat Company, now known as Marucci Sports. The company began in 2002 in founder Jack Marucci’s backyard wood shed in Baton Rouge, La. It is built on the solid foundation of commitment to an unparalleled level of consistency and craftsmanship. Instead of focusing on growth or diversification it simply focused on excellence. Interestingly, growth and diversification become a natural byproduct of achieving excellence.

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The company has become the standard of excellence in its industry. As a result of building trust, caring about customers and a clear, ever-present commitment to excellence Marucci now have begun to diversify its offerings to include baseball gloves and helmets.

It’s an organization that has never deviated from its focus, which is why I would argue it has achieved best-in-class status in professional stadiums around the country. Marucci is to the baseball bat as Stradivarius is to the violin.

To quote Marucci, “Don’t chase the dollar -- chase excellence and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

When you order a Marucci, every bat is game ready and a little leaguer (think smallest customer) receives the same quality bat as a major-league player (think key account). That's a lesson on trust, care and commitment to excellence every business can learn from. This simple yet powerful strategy of chasing excellence, not money has made the company one of the tops brands in baseball bats.

I’d encourage you to rethink your growth strategy, because we are all far better staying in our respective lanes to gain and maintain a level of excellence that engenders greater trust, demonstrates deep caring and near flawless execution. Once you’ve become best in class and your competition is a distant second, then and only then is it time to diversify your offerings in related categories.

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