Corporate social responsibility at the sales coalface – no more only ‘what’s in it for me’

Imagine our organisations making people feel good because they bought from us; imagine people changing their behaviours for the better because our organisations showed them how; imagine the kinds of conversations and messages that will happen in our businesses when our people see what their contribution is making to the lives of their customers and their teams.

This is not the stuff of fantasy; this is now happening in real time with real people.

In late 2012 we published the detailed 49-page 12 Sales Trends Report for 2013 and released a brief summary of each sales trend in December 2012. In it was the Sales Trend: Corporate Social Responsibility at the sales coalface – no more only ‘what’s in it for me’. Here is an extended overview.

Way back in 1953, Peter Drucker stated in his book The Age of Discontinuity: “The purpose of business is not to make profit but to satisfy the needs of customers. The consequence of satisfying these needs is incremental profit…”

Somewhere along the way this message has been lost by many businesses in the pursuit of profit at any cost and now many are paying for the folly of their ways.

How? Well, costs in terms of lost customers and profits, erosion of consumer confidence and trust, tarnished brands and backlash by shareholders against excessive executive pays and lack of shareholder return.

The irony is often that businesses are at the service of shareholders and it is all about making money for them often at the expense of customers. With public trust in business and governments in fast decline around the world something has to change; something has to be done to reconnect community with business and business with community in a manner that sees everyone benefiting from these associations, not just a few fat cats at the top of the tree.

For instance, The Trust Barometer (government, business media, NGOs) 2012 Survey results shows:

[An] overall decline in trust globally, with steep declines in the levels of trust in government and business. Government is now the least trusted institution – trailing business, media, and NGOs. Business experienced fewer and generally less severe declines in trust, but has its own hurdles to clear – notably that CEO credibility declined 38 percent, its biggest drop in Barometer history. For the fifth year in a row, NGOs are the most trusted institution.

Distrust is now growing, nearly twice as many countries are now Skeptics in 2012 than in 2011. Several mature markets see double digit drop in business trust for instance while Technology remains on top a most trusted the Finance sector including banks are going backwards at a fast rate. There has been an around the world decline in trust in banks with the majority of countries now distrusting governments.

And with that the credibility of CEOs and Government officials has plummeted. Government officials less trusted to tell the truth than business leaders and sadly, but not unexpected, businesses and governments are not meeting [the] public’s expectations.

So it is not surprising that one of the leading sales trends for 2013 is the shift away from the generally accepted corporate view that everything is about money and profits, with a greater emphasis being placed on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), especially at the sales/buyer coalface.

What does this really mean for business? Well, for one thing, those companies that practice genuine CSR find it is indeed very good for business on many levels: profitability, employee retention, brand loyalty, new collaborations and partnerships, innovations and respect.

Articulating and really delivering on CSR will require sales teams to take a whole new approach to market, reposition what they have to offer, rethink how they engage with their clients and how they measure success.

Despite the business naysayers who dismiss things like the environment/planet and community as being irrelevant, the good news is…

Practicing Corporate Social Responsibility is good for business and profits

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, set the scene for CSR back in 2009 placing corporate social responsibility and values-based management at the centre of his vision and strategy for the future of the business and the consumer goods industry.

So important is CSR to Unilever’s future success that every employee’s business card around the world has the title ‘Head of Sustainability’ stamped on it – even the shop floor workers.

The Sustainable Living section of their website shows you how open, transparent and accountable they are making themselves with CSR. Their three main pillars driving Unilever’s CSR are:

1. Improving Health and Wellbeing: By 2020 we will help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being.

2. Reducing Environmental Impact: By 2020 our goal is to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products as we grow our business.*

3. Enhancing Livelihoods: By 2020 we will enhance the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people as we grow our business.

CSR is seriously good business.

Those companies implementing CSR are finding it is very good for their brand(s), driving up customer loyalty at a time when there is so much more competition around fighting for the hearts and minds of consumers, customers and employees.

No longer is business going to be about Share of Wallet (SOW), smart companies know that it is about Share of Mind (SOM) and CSR is about SOM.

So how does CSR impact sustainable selling?

Selling needs to become sustainable. Sustainable Selling is not a fixed state of harmony but rather an evolving process in which the application of sales resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are balanced with future as well as present needs.

It’s about rethinking and reframing ‘growth’ and rethinking sales and incorporating the “sustainable selling” thinking into sales training, sales consulting and coaching (sales coaching) and more importantly, sales strategy.

With the CSR agenda comes Sustainable Selling. More and more questions are being asked by many about how we can best manage business relationships now and for future generations. More and more the sales and business conversations are revolving around managing value rather than only managing cost.

Many individuals are deeply concerned about our planet being in crisis of food and water security, health and wellbeing, safety and achieving world peace as well as environmental destruction yet many feel overwhelmed about their inability to make any significant difference. ‘What can I do? I am only one person’ they say. But if the organisation they buy from or work for says ‘We can do something and here’s how you can help’ then individuals will feel empowered to making a difference.

Every little bit counts and we all feel good when we contribute.

So imagine our organisations making people feel good because they brought from us; imagine people changing their behaviours for the better because our organisations showed them how; imagine the kinds of conversations and messages that will happen in our businesses when our people see what their contribution is making to the lives of their customers and their teams.


So what’s your CSR opportunity?

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments.


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