NEW YORK — B2B business leaders overwhelmingly embrace the concept of their organizations having a sense of purpose, but they don’t have the know-how and abilities necessary to make that a reality, according to new research.

The B2B Purpose Paradox, a study conducted jointly by the ANA, Carol Cone On Purpose and Harris Poll, found 86% of B2B companies believe purpose is essential to growth. Yet only 24% are at the point where purpose is embedded in, and therefore influencing, their businesses, the study found.

“B2B companies are far more advanced on their purpose journeys than we expected. Yet there is a significant gap between companies with a stated purpose — their reason for being, beyond profits — and their activated purpose, one that is fully embedded in the organization to influence culture, innovation, operations and engagement in society,” said Carol Cone.

The survey of 259 respondents from B2B companies across sectors attributed those businesses’ slow adoption of having an integrated purpose to a number of factors, including 56% of respondents feeling like doing so is more of a PR exercise than an authentic move. 51% said they don’t see purpose playing a role in a company’s ability to compete. And 50% said they are hindered by not having the ability to operate with purpose at the center of business.

A majority of respondents, however, also said they support purpose’s role in B2B organizations. 87% feel purpose protects their company’s reputation; 75% said purpose supports recruiting; 75% agreed prioritizing purpose had a positive impact on their growth; and 64% feel purpose is critical or nearly critical to everything they do.

The B2B Purpose Paradox also found that companies wanting to activate purpose have advocates within their own organizations who could help them do so.

“Believers,” who represent 21% of employees of surveyed companies, believe their companies would be more successful if they focused on purpose. Believers also say purpose can lead to new customers, guide decision-making and enable companies to charge a premium while making a positive impact on society. They are also more likely to defend their companies in times of crisis, recruit top candidates, collaborate across the organization, buy from other purpose-driven organizations, and provide better customer service, the study found.

Other findings include:

•    B2B companies are increasingly embracing purpose as a driver of business growth, contrary to the commonly accepted belief that they lag well behind their B2C counterparts.

•    The C-suite drives purpose strategy within respondent organizations, while HR, corporate strategy, and planning lead implementation.

•    Hybrid B2B/B2C companies (serving both consumers and other businesses) are more effectively integrating purpose than companies that are solely B2B.

•    The financial services, insurance, and professional services sectors lead in purpose, while manufacturing and telecommunications lag, among the eight industries surveyed.

•    B2B companies admire and do business with other companies that are purpose-centric: the majority of B2B purchasing decision-makers choose companies with purpose and are willing to pay more for their products and services.