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The Six Winning Sales Techniques Every Sustainability Consultant Should Master

You are at your first meeting with a potential new client, and they are clearly not keen on undertaking a sustainability assessment for their building. They have to do it because it’s a planning condition, but really, they would rather spend the time and money another way.

Have you ever experienced a situation like this, where you’ve had to try and convince them with a few random facts that popped into your head?

“The building will be cheaper to run in the long term!” but they are investors who would sell straight after construction is over, so they aren’t really interested.

“It will help saving money at the construction stage!” but how? If all they can see is extra resources, extra involvement by various professionals, extra features?

Then you resort to the stick rather than the carrot:

“I’m afraid you have to do it.”

This will work in the short term, of course they will have to do it, but it will be like pulling teeth for the next 12 to 18 months.

Your technical expertise is, of course, fundamental to the job you do. You need to be able to advise your clients about the most appropriate technologies and strategies for their project. Without those skills, you won’t be a sustainability consultant.

However, a survey carried out in 2010 by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (which you can view here) uncovered that in general, more ‘soft’ skills were deemed of extremely high importance than ‘hard’ skills.

Soft skills support you in an area that is less objective and more subtle than your technical knowledge. Interpersonal and influencing skills cannot be easily measured, but have a huge impact on the outcome of your project.

However, not everyone is born with a natural ability to sell ice to the Inuits.

The first step is to come across as a confident professional that knows what you are doing, in order to win your client’s trust. To do that, you need to work on your presentation skills, on your assertiveness, on how you deal with and resolve conflicts, on how you react to changes happening to you and how you can support others when changes occur.

But it’s also essential that you learn to deal with your sustainability consultant job as a salesperson would do. At the end of the day, you are ‘selling’ the idea of sustainability and its benefits.

You need to use all your influencing and negotiation skills to ensure not only that the client ‘buys’ sustainability, but also that they collaborate with you and, if you are lucky, you convert them from client to advocate. This will ensure a smoother assessment process and a far greater chance of referrals and repeat business.

But what if you are shy? What if selling is the last thing you want to do? Haven’t you spent the last decade of your life learning what fabric first is, the three pillars of sustainability, and the difference between a ground source and an air source heat pump?

Truth is, you don’t need to be a sly, ruthless, outspoken, greedy individual to sell. Think about it: selling is not despicable, we all need to buy to survive. Additionally, your role is mainly to provide your client with all the information they need to make an informed decision and you are not going to sell something that your client doesn’t need - in fact quite the opposite. Also, modern sales techniques are more sophisticated than those used in the 80s by door-to-door encyclopedia salespeople.

There are six winning sales techniques that are fundamental to helping you reach your goals, even if you are not a natural salesperson. Try them in your next meeting:

1. Ask insightful questions and really listen

You need to understand your client’s needs first. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you try and reel off a list of generic benefits that will not help them sort out their specific problems, you will not get very far. Asking the right questions will help you to understand whether their main interest is selling quick, or long-term productivity and staff retention, or CSR, or beating their competition, etc. There are enough benefits in sustainability to please clients in any situation. We cover these in the Green Gorilla’s Value of Sustainability masterclass.

2. Sympathise, then sell to their pain

This is the key to selling to people: understand their main frustration and issue, then respond to that with the right solution - are they in a hurry to finish the building and sell? Are they building on a tight budget? Are they worried about their reputation in the marketplace? Different aspects of building sustainability can support and help address any of these issues. Again, we cover how to deal with different clients and their specific issues in our Green Gorilla’s Value of Sustainability masterclass.

3. Enable the client to be the hero

How can you help your client to resolve their issues? The key here is to remember that people love talking about themselves, and so does your client. Talk about the results you can give them, without boasting about your wonderful company and magnificent abilities. If you can make it all about them, you will empower them to find a solution to their issues. This is subtle – but it makes a difference. A client who feels like they are the hero makes for a very satisfied client.

4. Define the value proposition

When you reach the point of talking about the benefits of building sustainably, tell the story in an engaging and compelling way. Do your research, pick a few case studies of similar buildings and companies to that of your client’s, and show them what’s possible. Get them excited about the prospect of building something to be proud of, something that will set them apart from the competition, with a higher rental value, happier building occupants, lower bills etc.

5. Think yourself a winner

Don’t go into meetings with your tail between your legs. Stand tall and be proud of the job you do. On the way to your next meeting, picture yourself sharing a joke with your client, in a relaxed atmosphere where you are confident and persuasive without being cunning. Imagine having a productive, positive, collaborative outcome. The mind is a fantastic machine that can perform the best tricks if we use it right - believe that you can do it, and you will.

6. Smile and be positive

People choose people, rarely products. Your client will buy into you, even if they are not 100% convinced of the sustainability argument. They will trust you to lead them through the process pain-free, and that’s what will make them choose you over others. Negativity is a powerful turn-off. That is why it’s so important that you smile genuinely, you come across as open, trustworthy and assertive.

Our Green Gorilla Masterclass Programme teaches you all of the fundamental skills above, including presentation, influencing, assertiveness and more, so that you can be a winning consultant and keep your clients happy. Our weekly live online masterclasses, which run over the course of eight weeks, will change the way you approach your job and have a profound and lasting impact on you.

Why the world needs more Jacindas to tackle the environmental crisis

I have never considered myself a feminist.

Not in the extreme sense of the term anyway.

Although I have always advocated for equality of opportunities for everyone, whichever sex they identify with, I never contemplated burning my bra. I even enjoy the differences we have in my household, in the roles we play (although I do need to feel free to play that role, I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself into it).

So, when last summer I came across the Women in Sustainability Network, I was sceptical at first.

I imagined a lot of women badmouthing men, squawking like chickens in the barnyard. I obviously had a much distorted view of feminism.

But boy, I was wrong!

I attended one of the Women in Sustainability events and found the presentations and group discussions beautifully enriching. The focus was on how women can become stronger to be better sustainability advocates. There was no comparison to men. It was all about acquiring the confidence to sit at the top tables; doing justice to the skills and qualifications women can bring to those tables, which often we don’t have the opportunity to do.

I loved it.

So I decided to take on the role of Women in Sustainability Hub Lead for Hertfordshire, the region where I live.

I have to say, the biggest lesson of all has come from the first event we hosted as Women in Sustainability Network Herts hub.

On the 30th of September 2020, we had 50 amazing women coming together to learn Why the World Needs More Jacindas to Tackle the Environmental Crisis.

In agreement with the WINS leader, Rhian Sherrington, I decided to start the history of my hub focusing on women's strengths in leadership and sustainability. I wanted an inspiring event to kick off in the right way, to show women that they can make the difference, that they have the power and the right to make things better in this Planet.

Now, this promised to be an “us versus them” type of event, on the basis that women leaders around the world (including Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s PM, the inspiration behind the event title) did so much better than their male counterparts to contain the coronavirus during the first wave of the pandemic. But I didn’t want that.

I wanted women at the event to learn from the illuminated women (and men) who showed exceptional leadership qualities that can help us tackle the environmental crisis effectively, just as they did with the virus.

What key strengths women leaders demonstrate that made the difference then?

We had the good fortune to discuss this with five outstanding women who embody these powerful leadership characteristics:

Giovanna Jagger, co-founder of, and One of the 10 Most Influential Women in Technology 2020;

Sian Conway, Founder of #EthicalHour, and Sustainability Speaker & Writer;

Tara Button, Founder of and Bestselling Author;

Georgia Elliott-Smith, MD at Element 4 and Environmental Activist;

Kate Levine, Founder of Kate Levine Consulting, and Former Global Activism and Communications Director at The Body Shop.

They went through bullying and they were told that they would never be leaders because they cared too much about people. They are activists, moving the masses with their strong ethics and belief in a better world. They challenge the status quo with their ground-breaking businesses and their capacity to put people together and create community.

We had a beautifully lively discussion, from where the most important strengths women leaders need to have are immediately emerged:

  • Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from setbacks and being constantly put down by society;
  • Courage, to stand up, be heard, and not be dismissed, even if you are the only one in a room to have a certain opinion;
  • The ability to get out of your own head and inside other people’s heads and this (we all agreed) might be what prevents other leaders from being equally successful. Ego kills collaboration and it is in the way when trying to take decisions for the greater good;
  • Collaboration, and being able to listen actively to others and to bring them with you in your journey.

Additionally, it was recognised that women often haveto bebetter than men, when they haven’t got the privilege to be automatically considered for leadership roles. Same goes for other exceptional leaders that had to fight for their place at the top, like Barrack Obama.

Among things that made a real difference during COVID was the ability to be empathetic (as opposed to letting big egos and self-interest decide for everyone else). This clashes with the prototypical idea of the strong leader. It doesn’t mean being weak though, that’s a big misconception. Being warm and focus on people instead of profit, but decisive enough to do the right thing at the right time is what probably made the biggest difference. Think of the Dalai Lama, a strong but warm leader, who also happens to be a man.

Emotional intelligence is therefore a trait that needs to be developed and cultivated for effective leadership and to inspire loyalty and trust in people.

We also analysed in small groups what are the potential barriers to acting as leaders or even accessing leadership positions.

Top of the chart, self-confidence.

Research has demonstrated that women outperform men in almost every key leadership capacity (ref. Harvard Business Review), from taking the initiative to communicating powerfully, to displaying high integrity, to inspiring and motivating others, to building strong relationships. However, they don’t believe they do. Stereotypes die slowly, but women are their own worst advocates. A woman won’t apply for a job unless she thinks she can do every single task she will be required to, a man will apply even if he can do half of the tasks required. Statistically, that gives more chances to men to get the top jobs.

Participants to the event identified other barriers to leadership for women, like perfectionism, people-pleasing, impostor syndrome, and interestingly, trying to compete like men, instead of focusing on our own style and strengths.

The event was meant to last one and a half hour, but it was so enjoyable and enriching that many decided to stay for nearly another hour, so we finished it by looking at how we can apply our newly identified strengths to the environmental crisis.

Some of the suggested actions were:

  • Celebrate inspiring women;
  • Mentor other women, join forces, network and collaborate;
  • Deal with people who have different world views and different backgrounds by using emotional intelligence;
  • Take the bull by the horns and display that to the world, but don’t dictate, show people along the way;
  • Have the confidence to stand up and say what you believe, and be a role model to others;
  • Be curious;
  • Use social media to demonstrate your beliefs;
  • Take small steps, changing minds one at the time;
  • Buy other people eco-gifts, to inspire them;
  • Use your ability to listen and connect on a personal level;
  • Challenge social norms on leadership;
  • Raise girls to be less people-pleasing and boys to be more nurturing and less self-involved;
  • Be aware of the power we have;
  • Understand what people needs;
  • Trust with your heart and allow your passion to show.

I can safely say I am a feminist now.

And although I won’t be burning my bras any time soon, I want to support other women to show their courage and use their strengths to save the planet.

We can’t be shy or modest anymore, we need our best abilities to be put to good use, right now.

The world needs us.

With special thanks for our great Hub Ambassadors – Irene Talento, Rachel Wootliff and Olivia Crowshow.

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