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Selling Sustainability: Why Sales is the Key to Getting Paid for Sustainability Investments

Posted on  13 April 10  by 

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By Andrew Kent

I recently spoke with a member in the furniture industry who told me, “sustainability is our differentiator.  If our customers know why it’s important to care about green issues, we should win 100% of those deals.”

Until recently, most businesses assumed that being green and making money were diametrically opposed.  Making products more ecologically friendly was seen as a cost, not an opportunity.

Today however, this logic is fast becoming irrelevant.  With permanently higher energy prices, China’s push for clean energy, and growing awareness of the dangers of carbon pollution (such as ocean acidification and global warming), the best companies are recognizing that sustainability and growth go hand-in-hand.  Indeed, many companies we talk to are ramping up their efforts to promote their products as “green.”

Unfortunately, too many companies look at green products through a features and benefits lens.  The standard pitch is, “We’re green, so buy from us!”  That pitch may work if your customers are particularly noble.  But for customers who care only about the bottom line—e.g. most of them—the greenness pitch falls flat.  In today’s intensely cost-obsessed economy, a product’s greenness is rarely enough to make up for the typically higher upfront price.

But this does not mean that green investments are a waste of effort.  On the contrary, it means that Sales has the key role to play in making sure sustainability investments pay off.  Because remember, it’s not what you sell—it’s how you sell

To get paid for being green, Sales must do two things: first, teach customers why sustainability is important for their profits—and then explain how you help customers to be more sustainable. 

There are five basic ways in which sustainability improves customers’ profits:

  1. Reducing operations costs/improving productivity
  2. Reducing capital expenditures
  3. Enabling green product claims
  4. Reducing regulatory risk
  5. Improving employee effectiveness

The bottom line: Price-sensitive customers will only spend the extra money on green products if they understand how greenness helps them reduce costs, sell more, or comply with regulations.  In other words, it’s not enough to make what you sell sustainable—you have to make sustainability what you sell. 

Next week I will go into more detail on each of the five points above, and how to tailor sustainability conversations to individual stakeholder needs.  For now, I will close with advice from Andrew Singer, SVP of Major Accounts at Constellation NewEnergy:

“Earlier we would say that it is not easy being green, but now, it is compelling to be green, and if you are not green, you are behind the curve. Our biggest challenge is staying ahead of the curve, knowing what is next before everybody else does, and bringing that information to our customers. When we answer more questions for our clients than our competitors or other players can, we get an opportunity to execute on our suggestions and energy products.”

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