You may think that your work in the world of sustainability puts you in a totally unique industry. But think again! You may not like the idea of equating your work with work in sales, however a lot of the elements of a sales role overlap sustainability.
Just think — if you need to convince an internal audience that it is worth investing in sustainable efforts, aren’t you selling them on it? Or, as a consultant, you’re constantly selling your expertise? With that in mind, here are some tips from sales pros — and some things you definitely want to avoid when you are trying to engage a new client.
Focus on trust. Out of the gate you can’t just throw tons of new (and possibly expensive) ideas right out of the gate. First you need to establish a relationship, which will allow you to build trust. Then when you present a strategic plan the listener will be more likely to be confident in your agenda.
How can you create this trust? Jeff Haden offered three great suggestions in his recent post on Inc. about taking this step. First you need to learn about your contact and their business or organizational obstacles. If you don’t understand their unique challenges and values, how can you create a strategy that will make sense to them?
Find common ground. The best way to connect with a potential client is through a mutual connection. Research has shown that a buyer is five times more likely to engage with a sales person if they connected through a mutual acquaintance. Five times more likely! You can easily translate that from sales to your sustainability business — always look for a common professional connection.
And for in-house common ground? Look for opportunities to collaborate on their projects before pushing hard for someone to immediately jump on board your project. The old adage, “make it their idea” works well when selling to co-workers across departments.
The last tip seems like a no brainer — demonstrate expertise and knowledge in your industry. You may get in the door, but your potential client is probably not going to sign onto any strategy you create unless they believe you really know what you are talking about. Be confident and show that you are tuned into their business and the best ways to make sustainable adjustments in their industry.
As an internal sustainability manager or advocate, it might be helpful to bring in an expert for a workshop to better explain what sustainability is from a position of experience. This may answer a lot of questions for everyone on the team, and give you some insight on what next steps you need to take as well.
With those guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at some of behaviors you want to avoid while selling:
Do not blame others if your performance declines. Your plans aren’t being accepted? You aren’t growing your client base? Before you start casting the blame on someone else, take a real look at what former clients, supervisors, or colleagues are saying about your work. Have things changed?
As a consultant, even if you’ve found one super, amazing client, don’t neglect your other work. Remember do not put all your eggs in one basket. Client needs change, relationships change, and you can’t focus all your attention on only one company or you could end up with nothing.
You probably don’t want to get too political. If you take a stance make sure it is in line with your brand as a consultant or in line with the corporate values. Try to keep your personal feelings in check, and think about the brand you’re selling before make politically motivated statements.