Thursday, January 13, 2011

Turning (Green Technology) Wants into Needs

Selling to wants is fantastic when a surging economy leaves businesses and consumers flush with discretionary income, and it’s admittedly been a while since I took an economics class, but I don’t see the spend-happiness of 2003-2008 coming back soon, so any business looking to penetrate new markets better learn to position their product or service as a need. To be clear, needs are essential and wants are just nice to have. This is a serious dilemma for the green technology industry. Our solutions deliver long-term savings and soothe the ailments of a deteriorating planet, but they’re not an immediate necessity for homeowners, business owners and real estate pros struggling to stay above (murky) water.

Sure, all things ‘green’ come with immediate karmic satisfaction. This just isn’t enough on its own to offset the realities of needing to put food on table and make payroll first. Green technology projects cost more than traditional building for new property development, and they require additional investments for existing structures serving their current inhabitants adequately for the time being. This means sales and marketing professionals in the green industry have to compete with cheaper materials and the short-term inexpensiveness of doing nothing. It’s not a fantastic position…but it’s also not unique to the green industry. Just about every technology sector has successful players facing this challenge, and it can be effectively overcome through the tried and true sales best practices of having your objection responses polished and appealing to the emotional desires of potential buyers.

Here are some examples of turning wanting to green into a need:
Objection: “Building for LEED (or some other sustainability standard) is expensive.”
Response: “I understand that, but companies and individuals that buy or rent green properties are 7% more likely to fully honor their loan or renew their lease.  They’ll pay a 5% premium too for the space. Are you trying to attract buyers and tenants that stick around and appreciate a superior product, or would you prefer dealing with people that don’t think sustainability is a priority?”

Objection: “My building operates just fine. I’m sure we could save a bit on energy, but cash is tight right now.”
Response: “Well, I agree that you could save on energy, and I believe you that cash is tight. The last few years have been rough for everyone. Where I disagree is that your building is operating just fine. Buildings are a lot like humans. They’re not getting any younger and it’s best to address problems when they’re detected instead of waiting. Energy prices are only going to go up too, so wouldn’t you agree that we’d be wise to get healthy before the symptoms get worse?”

Objection: “A 10+ year ROI just isn’t within our investment scope for property improvements.”
Response: “I appreciate that, but let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about hard upfront costs and projected energy savings or revenue from selling energy. We haven’t taken into account increased property value through a cleaner, more desirable neighborhood and creating a more profitable long-term asset. There’s also something to be said for employee/family pride in their company/home and the productivity/values that come with it. Don’t you think?”

Objection: “I’m afraid all this green talk is a trend, and I can’t put myself in a position where look foolish as an early adopter of something that never took off.”
Response: “I understand that what’s fashionable today will likely be appalling tomorrow, but the misconception about green and sustainability is that they are labels instead of building standards. Environmental impact requirements are being worked into building codes worldwide, and in many places, like California, rigid sustainability protocols are mandatory for all new builds and capital improvements. Would you rather be proactive about meeting future requirements or look backwards using outdated practices that will soon be prohibited?”

Objection: “I can’t interrupt my business operations by making changes to reduce environmental impact.”
Response: “Reducing impact just means operating more efficiently by getting more done with fewer resources. If you don’t learn to be more efficient, your competition surely will. Can you afford to fall behind?”

I'm not under any illusion that the “green has to make dollars and sense” mantra is anything new, but so many good-willed and environmentally conscious professionals in the green industry forget that our industry can’t thrive without a bit of sales persuasion applied to the non-converted. Some people will make changes because they feel good, but most need to feel like they’re acting out of necessity, not a desire for warm and fuzzies. 

Given a choice between investing in green and falling behind the competition, most companies and individuals will make the right decision. We’ve just got to help them understand it’s about needs.