In the retail world, talk of “purpose-driven organizations” is all the rage. Millennials and Gen-Z’ers, they say, care more about purpose than previous generations.
They want to believe in the products they buy. They spend more money when they think it’s going to a good cause. And they’re not alone – people from all generations tend to spend more when they feel aligned with the product and the company.
If you’ve studied the NLP pyramid of change, you understand why this happens. Purpose speaks to a person at the highest possible levels, the levels of their identity and beliefs. When you can do that, you can get people to do almost anything, even spend more money and evangelize your product.
An example of this principle in action is the brand Rebbl, an all-natural energy drink. Their market is insanely crowded, yet they’ve succeeded in attracting massive investment and penetrating the market very quickly.
A key reason for their success, it seems, is their reason for being.
Rebbl didn’t start as a drink company – it started as a group of folks who wanted to make a difference. They looked at the problem of human trafficking, and decided to do something about it. They partnered with global thought leaders to brainstorm solutions, and eventually the idea arose to partner with vulnerable communities and create economic growth, by working with them to produce sustainable ingredients for an all-natural drink that Americans would gladly pay to consume. In this way, Americans can buy a drink–something they would likely be buying anyway–while feeling like they are contributing to resolving a humanitarian problem.
Rebbl’s purpose-first approach has won them global recognition and the investment necessary to grow quickly in a crowded market. Clearly, it “works.”
But does this same principle apply in complex b2b sales?
There are good arguments to be made that having a purpose driving your organization can improve sales. While b2b decisions are often made differently than consumer decisions, there are still humans driving these decisions, and humans are emotional creatures.
It’s not hard to believe that b2b buyers, when considering two services or products side-by-side, might choose one that aligns with their values over one that is otherwise similar but doesn’t have an overt “purpose.”
Furthermore, a purpose could open doors for salespeople to have trust-building conversations with others who align with the company’s values. It makes for more interesting conversations over dinner, at events, and when with friends.
On the other hand, b2b is not the same as retail b2c. Decisions for major b2b purchases tend to be made by committee, and it is challenging to align everyone on a committee with the practical benefits of a solution, let alone with its “purpose.”
Many b2b buyers might find the idea of a “purpose-driven” organization a bit fluffy. It could even work against the sales team, if the buyer wonders, “How much of my budget is going to support the purpose, instead of to benefit my company, as a customer?”
Furthermore, b2b buyers tend not to post to social media about their b2b purchases, or to loudly proclaim their brand allegiances the way consumers do. One reason that purpose-driven sales works in the retail world is that a retail brand’s biggest salespeople are often the consumers themselves, recommending to friends, posting to social, and loudly proclaiming their love for a product.
In the b2b world, referrals are certainly a potentially significant source of new revenue, but they might be less likely to be made on the basis of “this company helps resolve human trafficking” than on the basis of “this company helps us be more successful.”
On the other hand, I think that actually BEING purpose-driven is very powerful within the b2b space. But you can’t just slap a purpose on top of your organization and call it “purpose-driven.” Buyers see straight through it.
But if you, as the founder, CEO, owner, principal of the organization are driven by purpose, your organization can be, too, and it can permeate and benefit everything you do. For instance, the mission that underlies Membrain is the desire to elevate the sales profession. We want to help salespeople be better at their jobs, sales organizations be better at what they do, and companies succeed in the market – and not just so that they make money. To me, it matters HOW all this happens–it matters that it all be human-centered, that we support people and organizations in ways that make human lives and communities better.
It may not be the same as stopping human trafficking, but it’s a purpose that is genuine to our company, and that genuinely drives what we do. I think it’s a valid differentiating point, because it’s what makes our product and our partnerships really work for our customers.
Having a purpose can also help a company attract the right people, retain talent, and keep your workforce motivated. This in itself can become a differentiating factor.
I would love to hear what you think. Do you know of b2b organizations you would describe as purpose-driven? Does it make you more likely to buy from them? Work for them? What organizations are doing this well? Which ones are doing it badly?
Let me hear from you in the comments.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
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