When I was a little kid and all my friends were selling lemonade on the sidewalks outside our houses in Brooklyn, I set up shop to sell my old toys and trinkets. My stuff was more differentiated, and the margins were better. I didn’t have quite the language to express it at the time, but there seemed to be “inelasticity of demand” for my products, and I had good pricing power. When I could sense the extent of my customer’s need for that shiny brass whistle keychain, I could negotiate from strength. I learned over time to take very good care of my customers, to understand what was really important to them and to work with them to help them find it.

These days, as life and the world have gotten rather more complex, it seems easy for a salespeople (or giant multinational corporations) to lose their way. Closing a deal right away, without regard to long-term opportunities, might take precedence over anything. In some industries, we hear terms like “counterparty” instead of customer, “target” instead of new client prospect or “punter” rather than patron. To me, these terms are counter to the long-term viability of the relationship. There is a philosophical cynicism, combativeness and danger in this terminology.

I simply don’t believe that this is the best we can do. Although it might be naïve to think that everyone can take the time to strive for perfect satisfaction on the part of his customers or “guests,” it is an incredibly good investment to try. Pretty much every company in the world needs to recognize the value of long-term, durable, resilient, trusting client relationships. A good way to build these relationships is to understand your clients better. What is driving them? What are their needs and priorities?  How can you help them conduct and grow their own businesses?

From my standpoint, and from my own IBM sales heritage, that’s a much more sustainable approach to selling. That’s the way to truly empathize with customers and become a provider of solutions to them. Solving business problems is core to the mission of so many of the world’s leading corporations.

Yet, in some industries, client-facing professionals may not take the principles of “sustainable selling” to heart. They may not know how to leverage the full breadth of their resources on behalf of their customers. They may not fully listen to, recognize and deal with objections that arise over the course of the sales cycle. They may end up trading the potential of the future for a smaller and less important near-term “win.”

Better to think more broadly as it relates to the full range of “corporate sustainability” opportunities, encompassing all aspects of environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. Happier, healthier societies and communities, composed of prosperous thriving people, make for terrific end-market demand for the goods and services of the world’s companies.