By Alex Evans, Editorial Director, National Business Awards

Financial leaders play a vital role in the creation of long-term sustainable value - the finance function is in a unique position to support or lead the creation of sustainable success for businesses and organisations. That sustainable success cannot be guaranteed and cannot survive without customers. In order to trade, businesses need customers to be sustainable, they need long term loyal repeat customers, writes Clive Lewis Head of Enterprise at ICAEW.

Finance professionals can influence the strategy of organisations and ensure the approach reflects behavioural changes to make sure sustainability becomes embedded, for the ultimate long term value for customers.

Innovation is the vital ingredient for businesses to be sustainable in the long term, which provides its own set of challenges. Not least of which is coming up with the right idea. To drive a truly customer focused solution, there are three key points which any business can apply;

1. Don’t think you know it all

We’ve all seen businesses come up with solutions, only for them to be harshly criticised by consumers. This results in re-working or watering down their ideas, often a costly medicine. Why not target key stakeholders and bring them in to the development process? This is true customer engagement.

2. If it is new, treat it differently

Whether it’s the way you talk about it, the way you position it, or even if you set it completely apart as its own brand, make sure the sustainable solution you create is distinct.

3. Change means uncertainty – help understanding

Fact 1. Anything out of the ordinary makes people wary.
Fact 2. If people understand, they’re more likely to buy in to it!

Given these two very simple facts, it’s surprising how little is done to tell the story that underpins sustainable solutions. Presentations, story-boards, animations and all marketing material needs to be told from the customer’s point of view. These tools can secure support as required, to drive initiatives forward and encourage purchases.

A good example of innovation that has created sustainability for the customer is Wilson James, a key service delivery company providing managed security services. The company has taken the three innovation points on board and has developed a business model which offers a service where its security guards commit to turning off all the lights in the premises they are guarding at night. The environmentally sustainable practice provides great customer service as the savings to the client are usually enough to pay for the security service. This attention to detail and responsible practice has earned Wilson James fantastic customer retention and satisfaction.

No man is an island, entire of itself (John Donne 1624)............And a business does not operate in isolation. A business buys, creates and sells products and/or services of one kind or another, either to other businesses or consumers. In order to deliver a truly sustainable solution the whole supply chain needs to be managed. Working with producers, suppliers and transport companies in addition to changing practices within the organisation is key to long term sustainable business.

Supply chain standards are generally set by the purchasing organisation, to be applied by all its principal suppliers. Normally, each purchaser operates on an individual basis. As supply chain management develops, organisations can collaborate in the design and monitoring of purchasing policies, and/or the application of standards in the supply chain.

To sustain a business, customers are essential. To sustain the product or service offered to customers requires vision and direction from the leaders of the organisation. They need to look holistically at all aspects of the business – both internally and externally – and take an active role in managing them.

Sustainable business is the future of business.

Visit the National Business Awards website for more information.