What Are You Selling And What’s The Return?

Well, what we have above is two questions isn’t it really?  What are you selling?  And what’s the return?  Given that’s the case, let’s be radical and tackle them exactly that way!

What Are You Selling?

It has been said that most of the world’s most powerful brands are not in the business of selling us products or services.  They are actually selling something much more intangible; they are selling experiences and emotional connections.  And given a little thought even smaller companies can take advantage of the same thinking and approach.

The underlying strength of many of these brands is attributed to their success in providing a customer experience that is second to none, where the question of what they’re selling really begins to tap into the emotional and intangible experience that customers have with the company they are engaging with.  Let’s look at some household names and see how they do it:


  • Rolls Royce sells status and luxury, not cars
  • Jeep sells adventure, not cars
  • Apple sells simplicity and user friendliness, not tech
  • Coca-Cola sells diversity and community, not drinks


In each of the examples above these companies have gone way beyond the old standard of selling “features and benefits”.  Each of these companies has managed to connect some for of intangible emotional “pull” to what they are selling.  Very clever!

They have articulated this, through various media in a way that might be described as their “purpose”, which focuses on the benefits or the capability that is being sold, rather than features or benefits.

Let’s pick apart a pastiche example company in a market we might be interested in, say, a heating and plumbing contractor whose main clients are large property management companies.  If we look at the features and benefits approach we might get something like this:


  • Feature: We are a qualified and experienced contractor. Benefit: We’ve seen most problems and can fix things quickly and efficiently
  • Feature: We are Gas Safe, NICEIC, OFTEC registered Benefit: We are qualified to work safely and legally on various heating systems and you get a certificate to prove it


Wow, that sets your world on fire!  And I’m sure you can imagine a deluge of facilities manager rushing out and banging on the door of these guys.  Not!

I suspect, “so what!” is a more likely response. There is absolutely nothing here that sets these guys apart from their competition.

But, they know their competitors. Like many contractors, much of their competition is notoriously unreliable.  So, instead they could be defining their purpose, the benefit and capability that they provide, as something like:


  • We let harassed and stressed property people know that their heating and plumbing issues have been solved efficiently and professionally and, critically, let them know, when we’re done.


The above is much more emotional, it’s all about comfort, security and Peace of Mind for the busy and stressed property or FM manager.

But, clearly, they have got to be able to deliver on their purpose, meaning that they will absolutely need to have systems and processes in place that ensure they do what they say and let the client know when they have fallen short, long before the client finds out.

What's The Return?

Given you have now defined what you’re really selling, how do you get payback?

There’s a lot written about “purpose” and from different perspectives:


  • “You need it to stand out” – The competitive perspective
  • “You ought to have it because it’s the right thing to do” – The ethical perspective
  • “You need one because everyone has one” – The bandwagon perspective


However, we have found there are not many people writing about it from the payback perspective.  And that’s a shame because there are a range of ways in which payback can be assessed; obviously some more directly quantifiable than others.

And, the real reason to talk about purpose is that purpose pays. And if you do it for real, it can pay off big time. We think, there are potentially seven types of ROI you could expect.

ROI #1: Staff Engagement

Having a great purpose actually helps staff make better decisions, especially in your absence, as there is a “north star” against which to assess any decision.  A good purpose will provide direction and help people know what the right thing to do is, so they can do it, without fear.

In addition, your purpose can be used to motivate and inspire your people to use their skills and experience in the best possible way.

ROI #2: Branding

In today’s world of almost perfect competition, where many companies are essentially equal, an inspiring purpose, focused on the benefits and capabilities that you deliver, can set you significantly apart from your competitors.  As such, your purpose can help you attract and retain customers interested in your offering.  Your purpose will focus not on what you get, but what your customer gets from your products and services.

ROI #3: Innovation

A good purpose will help you focus you on things beyond your day-to-day activities, systems and processes.  As we have said before in other blogs, Blockbuster Video is no longer with us and Kodak is a shadow of its former self, because they focused on what they did; renting videos and selling cameras and film, rather than their purpose which was probably “getting entertainment to the customer at a time of their choosing” and “collecting and sharing memories” for Blockbuster and Kodak respectively. 


A good purpose is the anvil on which innovation is forged.  It’s where future products, services and processes are hammered out.

ROI #4: Improved competitive environment

A healthy competitive environment will be enhanced by companies having robust and inspiring purposes, as purpose driven companies are increasingly raising the game in their markets; by definition they improve the world around them.

ROI #5: Investor Attractiveness

If you have thought long and hard, and shed blood, sweat and tears developing your purpose, any potential external investor is going to see the efforts made and purpose driven companies are increasingly more valuable than their counterparts.

ROI #6: Financial Rewards

As a result of all of the above, purpose-driven companies also typically significantly outperform their peers financially, especially in the long run.


So, don’t focus on purpose because you ought to or because it is in fashion. Do it because it is good for your company, for you, for your people, your customers and for every other stakeholder in your business.

Purpose pays. Not just financially, also in other ways. This is why it is so important to be aware of the Return on Investment (ROI) of having a purpose; it acts as a touchstone, a North Star for all to follow.

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