RESOURCE: Growing your sustainability consultancy business: Part 1: Preparing for the perfect pitch

Dispatched from the SSC Team

“Put yourself in your client’s shoes.” It’s not just another cliché.

Ok, yes it is.

In this case, however, it is going to make you money.

According to Martin Lines, the marketing director for Nestle Professional, the most important element a consultant can have in their CSR- or sustainability-focused consultancy pitch is customization to the client’s existing business and sustainability strategy.

"Agencies need to demonstrate that their solution is aligned to the client's corporate strategy,” Lines said in a presentation last year.

Sounds so basic, but often consultants get it wrong – pitching ethical reasons for sustainability when a company is operating on thin margins and would be better served by efficiency and cost-saving initiatives, or pitching cost-saving initiatives when a client is more interested in building brand value and brand awareness.

There is no one-size-fits-all sustainability strategy, so why would there be a one-size-fits-all sustainability pitch?

Of course this means you’ll need to do your homework before meeting with prospective clients, but the extra work can pay off if the client is impressed by how much you already know about their business.

Here are three steps for helping turn your presentation into profit:

1.      Go online and read. Read the press releases (Is the prospect always giving money to local charity groups? They might respond to reputation-building pitches.). Google the company looking for news stories or legal troubles (Fined for improper handling of chemicals in 2009? They might benefit from an EMS plan.). Poke around in industry news, scour the website, and look at the employment opportunities. You never know where you might find a hook.

2.      Know who their stakeholders are and what they want. Is the company selling primarily to one large organization (like Wal-Mart) that has sustainability at its core? If so, you’re going to need to know where the client’s client is headed. Is the company working in controversial areas, such as mining, where stakeholder engagement is going to take precedence over things like waste auditing or employee engagement? Knowing who is pushing and pulling on a client can help you find key indicators in developing a sustainability pitch.

3.      Drop in to say hello. So, you’ve done a bit of homework and made a few calls, and the client seems interested. If you think this could be a big fish, take your time. Phone up your contact person and tell him or her that you’re interested in visiting the manufacturing facility, taking a tour of the HQ, or meeting virtually with a few key people to get a better idea of how to make more relevant and customized suggestions. Ask questions. Lots of questions. But don’t get in the way and don’t try to sell them anything.

“Learning how to make the case for sustainability needs to be situational. I customize my ‘making a case for sustainability’ style by asking a lot of questions,” said Pauline S. Chandler, director of the MBA in sustainability at the Antioch University of New Hampshire, Keene, in a recent article on Triple Pundit. Chandler recently took 16 MBA students on facility tours at three New England businesses to illustrate how different organizations will spark different lines of questioning, which then lead to different approaches to sustainability planning. So, take a lesson from academia, and go pay your client a visit. Your pitch might benefit from the day trip.

Once you’ve gathered all the information you think you need, it’s time to develop your presentation. A central tenet in getting an organization to adopt sustainability planning is making the business case for sustainability. Check out Growing your sustainability consultancy business, Part 2: Making the business case for hiring you next week.

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