The Profit in PurposeThe new winners first answer the question “Why?”

Rachel Klein – Director of Strategy at Avenue

By Rachel Klein, Director of Strategy, Avenue

Not to get personal, but…why are you here?

I don’t mean “Why have you stopped by The B2B Brand Council.” I mean, “Why, with a capital W, are you in business? What’s your organization’s purpose?”

The easy–and increasingly misguided–answer is “To make money.” It’s not a completely wrong answer, as businesses obviously need to make money and produce a profit. But it does mistake the financial bottom line for the ultimate bottom line and misses the point that business purpose expresses an organization’s ultimate, big picture reason for being.

“Due to the generational sea change in B2B, purpose is front and center as a key motivator.”

I will grant you that the above is an argument many B2B leaders have successfully ignored for decades, dismissing it as too soft for the hard-nosed business of selling to other businesses. Now, however, due to the generational sea change in B2B, purpose is front and center as a key motivator for millennials, the new majority of B2B purchase influencers and the coming majority of B2B decision makers.

How important is purpose to millennials?
A 2015 study reported that “Millennials are sending a very strong signal to the world’s business leaders that when doing business they should do so with purpose.” In other words, as both B2B buyers and B2B employees, this next generation of leaders wants more than just a good deal or even good pay–they want to do well for the greater good.

And the 2016 follow-up research indicates that purpose is only getting more important, particularly when it comes to millennials as employees. It states that “Millennials appear to be steered by strong values at all stages of their careers; it’s apparent in the employers they choose, the assignments they’re willing to accept, and the decisions they make as they take on more senior-level roles.” The report also emphasizes that this generation feels little loyalty to employers, with one of the key areas of disconnect being “a conflict of values.”

How will purpose impact B2B buying among millennials?
It’s important to take note above that this prerequisite of purpose among millennials influences “the decisions they make as they take on more senior-level roles.” While B2B millennials may now have the greatest influence as researchers making recommendations, increasingly they will be the final decision makers on purchases–your ultimate B2B customers.

“We have a simple, three-word guide for living the purpose-driven B2B life: Be. Do. Say.”

But how can B2B companies ensure they are in sync with the desires, demands and decision-making criteria of a new generation that is judging them on so much more than product price and performance? At Avenue, where as the Director of Strategy I help midsize B2B organizations discover and live out their purpose, we encourage clients to follow a simple, three-word guide: Be. Do. Say.

1) Be something specific, meaningful and true.
Your purpose, your “Why” must proceed directly, naturally and honestly from your “What.” However, getting at what you are as an organization must go much deeper than what you make. What’s your mission and vision? What are your essential values?

Companies that take the time to answer these questions (and more) via a disciplined branding process involving deep organizational inquiry create a much more meaningful, reliable and realistic foundation upon which to build and grow.

2) Do the things that make your Be-ing self-evident.
You may discover that what you are is exactly what you want and need to be. More likely, you will discover that you need to make some changes in priorities, policies and practices to either be your best corporate self or to reach what may now be only an aspirational state. It is very, very important that you “Do” these things–enact new policies, create new programs, and live them out consistently–so that your organization and the marketplace it serves can see clearly what you’re all about.

3) Say what you are only after your Be and Do are well-established.
There are two great things about Do-ing before Say-ing. First of all, actions are much more persuasive than words–they get your customers to “sell themselves” when they see your overall value proposition brought to life. Secondly, when you do directly communicate to customers, what you say becomes all the more believable.

That’s how you begin to succeed “on purpose.” And succeed you will: research shows that companies operating out of a strong sense of purpose–whether that means serving society, revolutionizing an industry or creating the world’s best place to work–enjoy stronger financial results than those that don’t.

So, allow me to ask again: Why exactly are you here?

EDITOR’S NOTE: For a good example of how purpose has transformed one middle market B2B leader, read “Where ‘Why’ is Taking B2B.”


About Rachel Klein: Rachel is the Director of Strategy for Avenue, the B2B marketing strategy and activation dedicated to helping midsize B2B brands drive change and growth.