Today’s customers are looking for more than just a product or a service; they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. So when B2B enterprises commit to improving their practices around such goals as sustainability, inclusion, and social justice, they turn their businesses into platforms for change that attract more customers, writes Greg Ricciardi, president and CEO of creative brand agency 20nine.

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Greg Ricciardi

COVID-19’s acceleration of trends within the B2B space is sending jaw-dropping ripples throughout C-suites and marketing organizations around the globe. For years, B2B leaders have been told that they need to catch up to their B2C counterparts when it comes to capabilities in ecommerce, direct-to-consumer relationships and creative storytelling. Now, we’re realizing that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the B2B space, purpose will look a little bit different for every company, but the thrust behind every established purpose should be an inherently human one.

The pandemic has catapulted digital transformation needs to the forefront of B2B executive conversations. According to technology research and advisory firm Gartner Inc., a full 80%  of B2B sales interactions will take place in digital channels by 2025, requiring no small pivot when it comes to how companies engage their buyers along their journeys. But if a company’s leaders are thinking about the needed transformation only in terms of technology, then they’re missing the point.

The simple fact is that, yes, today’s B2B organizations do need to start meeting B2C-level expectations when it comes to establishing relationships with their customers. But these expectations go well beyond how people discover and purchase from a B2B enterprise. It starts, in fact, with the company’s very purpose.

The Rise of Purpose in B2B Organizations

Every single brand today needs to reassess the value it brings to its customers and question its continued relevance in their lives. That goes for B2C and B2B companies alike. And this is where purpose comes in.

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Brands that put purpose first were already gaining ground prior to the pandemic. But for the most part, the brands that have done so most successfully have existed on the consumer side of the aisle—brands like TOMS, Patagonia, Kind, Method, Allbirds, and Unilever. But that’s going to change.

As we emerge from the pandemic, purpose will prove to be a core and essential differentiator for both B2C and B2B companies in the future. After all, today’s customers are looking for more than just a product or a service. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to make a difference and know that the companies they support are of the same mindset.

This desire to align with like-minded brands doesn’t end with people’s shoes and skincare products. On the contrary, more so than ever, business leaders signing multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts want their investments to mean something, not just for their companies but for the world around them. And they want to be able to communicate and demonstrate that meaning to their employees, customers and stakeholders.

The challenge for companies in 2021 will be to not only redefine how they provide value to their customers but also how they provide value to the world around them.

The Unique Challenge of Purpose in B2B

On the consumer side of the aisle, purpose often manifests in giving—giving back to communities, giving products to people in need, giving portions of profits to causes near and dear to a company’s circle of influence.

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For B2B enterprises, becoming purpose-first looks a little different. After all, the TOMS buy-one-give-one model of donating products to those in need doesn’t work quite as well when your product is an integrated SaaS-based technology stack designed to streamline operations across an elaborate supply chain. But that doesn’t mean your company can’t still put purpose at the core of its business model.

In the B2B space, purpose will look a little bit different for every company, but the thrust behind every established purpose should be an inherently human one. No matter how technical a space a company might play in, its leaders must turn their attention to the very real effect that it has on the people around and within it. Sustainability, diversity and inclusion, social justice: When enterprises commit to improving their internal and external practices around these goals, they turn their businesses into platforms for meaningful change.

In the drive to become purpose-first, B2B organizations shouldn’t just be following in their B2C counterparts’ footsteps. They should be leading the charge. By putting purpose at the center of their businesses, they have the opportunity to not only build a more sustainable future for their employees and shareholders, but also for the world around them.

Greg Ricciardi is president and CEO of Philadelphia-based creative brand agency 20nine. Connect with him at [email protected] and on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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