Like some of you I watched the movie It’s a Wonderful Life over the holidays.  Growing up that was a family tradition.  James Stewart plays the part of George Bailey, a compassionate but desperate banker who has given up his dreams to help others.  He is broke and about to face criminal charges.  When he is ready to end it all he is saved by his guardian angel Clarence who shows him the amazing impact he has had on the lives of others. Critically acclaimed as one of the 100 best movies in American cinema, It’s a Wonderful Life, has always been a message of hope and love.

But Wharton Professor Ed George sees the movie as even more.  He sees it as a reminder of the essential role character and reputation play in a good businessperson, particularly in today’s customer centered environment. His lesson doesn’t so much focus on the sacrifices the James Stewart character makes but rather in the social capital gained as a result of his decisions, even those that cost him dearly. The social capital is accumulated as George Bailey puts his customers needs before his own.  Because of the reputation he has established the town people, customers, friends, family, all rally around him and follow him.

It’s not surprising that Professor George would bring out the message of character and reputation.  Reputation has never been so visible.  Just think about things such as consumer scoring and reputation optimization strategies.  In their new book The Reputation Economy:  How to Optimize Your Digital Footprint in a World Where Your Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset, Michael Fertil and David Thompson, provide tips on how to managing online images for individuals and companies.  As the title underscores, reputation is your most valuable asset.

It is hard to think of a profession where reputation is not king. Certainly sales is high on the list especially when you factor in the new paradigm in sales and the shift from “selling” as we knew it to teaching and giving advice. Salespeople who succeed in getting customers to follow them will be the ones who show concern and take care of their customers.  The expression  “client first” has been around for decades.  The control of that was in the hands of salespeople—today the power is with clients and client first is not an option.

Only when customers believe we place their interests first will they trust us enough to listen to our insights, be moved by the value we bring, and take our advice. 2015 may well be the year of the reputation.  What is yours with your customers?  What do they think of when they think of you?  We all have multiple talents but when customers think of us they think of one thing first.  And we should be the one who curates what that is.