Effective go-to-market strategy for your sustainable solution

I often come across marketing material that promotes a green feature of some sort like being certified according to the EU Ecolabel. But if you think it is about the certificate you are missing the point. Focus on the results that come out of it and the value it gives your customers – that is what counts.

Too often sales and marketing focus on the features of the product and thus leave it up to the prospect to connect the dots and translate them to how those features will deal with their pain and give them the prize they desire. This is a common mistake and one that unfortunately is brought over to the sale and marketing of “green” products. Here the problem gets magnified because few people are used to and capable of translating e.g. a certificate or “free of PCV” to what that means for them.

Thus, the value of the green feature is reduced to a more ethical point of view about supporting sustainable development or a particular course. For most, that is not enough, especially if the product also comes with a premium price. At least not enough for the majority of a market segment that is not severely personally invested in sustainability.

“You have to make the translation for them to really harvest the value of your investment in the green feature”.

Not doing so is leaving it up to chance whether your investment in the green feature will bring you value and create a significant impact (more sales of good “green” products = more impact). This of course is not a problem confined just to sustainability but sales in general. It’s never about you. It’s never about your product. It’s always about the pain point of the client and the desired outcome they are looking for.

The 7 whys

There are ways to deal with this. One approach you can use is the “7-whys” method that you are probably familiar with. Here you start with your feature and ask yourself what result does my feature give and why it is important for my customer? And then challenge the answer with “well, why is that important for my customer” and so on 7 times.

Let’s say your product is indoor paint and you have invested time and money on getting the EU Ecolabel certificate for this product. Most customers will not have the faintest idea about what that actually means for the product or what it requires to get it for a product such as pain.

So ask yourself: What changes have we made and why is that valuable for our customers? Perhaps you have changed some components and now avoid negative off-gassing upon painting with it. Why is that important for the customer? It means avoiding an irritating smell in the room in the first couple of weeks. So why is that important? It will mean fewer people getting a headache and finding it harder to concentrate. And why is that important for the customer? More productive workforce. And so on seven times. So, in this case, it is not about the certificate, it could be about getting a more productive and thriving workforce in a healthier indoor environment.

The trick is to find the right result that resonates with your customers and to be able to translate your features to results that count for them. I might come in a different form than you expect.

In the last episode of my podcast (Green Business With Impact that you can find where you get your podcasts), there was a clear example of how connecting your sustainability efforts to the core problems of your customer group is the key to succeeding in getting your effort into the marketplace. As you know from the previous newsletters, I always emphasize the importance of connecting sustainability and the business you got to solve a meaningful problem for your client with your solution. Otherwise, you will never be successful in selling it.

In the interview, he talks about how they have tried to push for different sustainable solutions in the buildings that they’re building and selling to elderly people but having a hard time getting their customers to embrace it. I tried to reposition it based on one of the other things that he talked about, namely that what their customers really care a lot about, is everything related to community, to the social side of living in a housing complex. Their core product is building and selling apartments to elderly people, and at that stage in life, most people are looking for new friends and for places and opportunities to spend time with others to avoid being alone in their homes. Thus, everything that supports them having something in common with their neighbors is high on their wish list.

A “green” feature is not so interesting but a “social” or engaging feature is. Connecting their “green” initiatives and the results that come out of installing them in the building to the social component completely changes the story about the “green” feature.

And here the sharing services that they have as part of their approach fit in perfectly. An example could be that if they could build smaller storage space per apartment, they could avoid having to build a basement with all the extra material like concrete that it demands. Not an easy sell. But let’s try to connect it to a social element like building smaller storage units but then placing them in the community center as yet another reason to come to this shared facility. Another example could be trying to restrict the number of cars. Instead of pushing for fewer parking spots promote and offer car-sharing services.

Then all of a sudden, it’s positioned as part of what they are looking for when they’re buying their new home. My guest immediately liked the idea and found it worth working on afterward.

The good news is that this is no different when it comes to sustainability compared to selling your product in general. So, there will most likely be people on your sales team that knows this and can support the exercise in translating your “green” feature to value for your customers.

You can also go about it the other way and start with your customer’s pain point and look at them and ask yourself: How could a circular solution be an answer to that pain point? What would it look like? What would it take to solve this problem? In practical steps, you simply take your customer’s pain points and go through the five disciplines in circular economy and ask yourself: What can this discipline do to solve this problem? Use the five disciplines to discover a new way to try to solve that problem in a more elegant way – one that will generate business value as well as embedded environmental impact e.g., through more efficient use of resources or prolonging resource life or whatever kind of solution you end up finding.

No matter what you do, just remember that you must make the translation of the results that come out of your “green” features and communicate that rather than promoting the actual “green” feature. Then you are well on your way to creating success and a bigger impact on the world.