Some advice for ‘green’ businesses…

In business the key to success is not so much what you do, it’s the mistakes you avoid. Green businesses are not immune to this phenomena. With that said, here are the top 3 mistakes green businesses make and how to avoid them. Mistake 1 – Assuming prospects care about sustainability.

This is the biggest mistake (and most often made) I see when working with green businesses. Luckily it’s one of the easiest to fix. Contrary to what Al Gore may have you believe, people are mostly motivated by selfish reasons. Going green for most people is a great idea but is not going to trump paying the mortgage. In our current economic climate this is true more than ever. Numerous green companies completely miss the boat on this. They attempt to attract new customers through guilt. They try to convince their prospect that by using their product they will reduce their carbon emissions by X amount. They sell on how important it is to reduce our carbon footprint and use that as their main selling point.

The problem is that guilt doesn’t work in this economy. If this was 1998 in the middle of the dotcom boom with cash raining from the sky it would be a different story. Right now, people care about protecting their families, keeping their jobs and paying the bills. Any esoteric claims of reducing CO2 largely falls on deaf ears.

Fix this mistake:

Tailor your entire marketing/sales approach based on the assumption that your target clients don’t care about the environment. Assume they all drive Hummers, toss plastic bottles into the ocean and that every light in their house is on right now. Then, find out/figure out how your product or service will benefit them. If you can’t figure it out then you have a problem. You MUST be able to satisfy your customers most pressing needs, not the ones YOU think they have. Then, if they have any sensitivity to the planet, that is a bonus.

Mistake 2 – Killing softly with technology

I recently observed a solar sales rep’s pitch to a new prospect and was blown away by how technical it was. The rep explained in great detail why her panels were superior to her competition and bandied about terms like thin-film technology, Azimuth Angles, etc. The prospect had no clue what she was talking about but did at least nod politely. Suffice to say, the rep didn’t close the deal. Compare that to another appointment where 2 prospects asked me where the solar panels (we were discussing) were made. I asked them if they wanted all of the technical details of the manufacturing process of the panels. The main decision maker thought for a moment and said she didn’t care as long as they worked. I assured them they did.

We assume that since we know a ton about our product that our prospects want to know everything. More likely, they don’t. Since we spew tons of info on them, they feel like they have to listen and the true message gets lost. We have all made this mistake. The more info you give a prospect, the longer it will take them to make a decision. At the end of the day prospects want to know 3 things about your product or service:

How will it better my life? Is it the best solution for me? Is it reliable/Does it work?

Fix this mistake:

Leave the powerpoint slides at the office. Deliver your message at the simplest terms possible to your prospects. Remember that the Wall Street Journal is written at a 6th grade reading level. If you are prepared to answer the three questions above, you’ll close more deals than if you have a slick power-point presentation.

Mistake 3 – Leaving Green undefined

Since being green and sustainability are relatively new concepts to the general public, they are loosely defined at best. Contrast this to being a lawyer for example. Most people have a general knowledge of what a lawyer is and the steps to become one (college, law school, pass the bar). Green is newer and defined in a multitude of ways. The mistake that green companies make is not determining (and communicating) what green means to them. This is more a mistake of lost opportunity than anything else.

Once you’ve communicated your belief of green to your employees, customers, prospects, media, community, etc you’ll enjoy numerous benefits including:

You are now seen as an expert in the field (You’ve given your prospects knowledge they previously didn’t have) You can clearly communicate how your product/service compliments your definition of green You gain a huge competitive advantage because your competitors aren’t doing this*

*An ancillary bonus is that once you’ve defined ‘green’ to your marketplace, your competitors have to cede to your definition. Talk about a home-field advantage.

Fix this mistake:

Pull your team together and define ‘green’ for your company. Keep it short (the less complicated the better) and put it on paper. For example, my definition of green is anything that:

1. Creates a healthier environment. 2. Is more environmentally friendly than the alternative. 3. Makes or saves you money.

Once you’ve defined green, communicate it to everyone. Tailor your sales approach and marketing messaging and positioning so that it compliments your definition.

Avoidance of these mistakes will go a long way to help your business enjoy tremendous success. In our current climate (no pun intended) there is a fantastic opportunity for green companies to fundamentally change the way we all live and work. I applaud your efforts to that end.