Archive for September, 2009

Which comes first, rules or transparency?

September 27th, 2009

The race is on to be more transparent, more green, more sustainable than the next company/product. The only thing lacking is a set of rules, and that’s a big problem. Without firm rules no one knows how to keep corporate score and fans can’t cheer without being able to spot a clear winner.

What we have now is a mixture of sports playing on the same field and the game is who can shout the loudest and point fingers at the foibles in their competitor’s products. That’s not fun to watch and it does nothing to advance the game in a way in which companies, investors or consumers can understand.

Sustainable standards are a game changer. In many cases, how green you are comes down to how transparent you are. Just how “clear” do you need to be? When you’re trying to convey those differences during a sales moment, do you have a convincing answer or do you hesitate?

What are the top sustainable standards  in your industry? How does your product compare?  Are you trying to sell a retail product? Then at the very least you need to be able to answer Wal Mart’s 15 questions.

If you’ve read this far and have no idea what I’m talking about, go HERE and answer these questions. When you’re done with that self-assessment, you’ve made your first big step towards transparency.

Is the back fence mightier than the front gate?

September 27th, 2009

In consumerland could what is said over the back fence, literally or figuratively, have more influence in the green market than what is being conveyed by business?

Read Jacquelyn Ottman’s “Whom Do You Trust To Make Green Marketing Claims”?

She delves into what makes a green product credible – is it the standard or the belief system? Are non-profits more trustworthy than for-profit business? What about your neighbor or best online friend?

This addresses two of the same issues we are covering in Ecolutionary Selling, what is truth in green advertising and whose voice do you trust delivering that truth that makes it more plausible. It’s something we’ve been covering for years on the consumer side of things over on In Women We Trust as women turn to each other for products and advice.

Business can learn two things from this – start answering the questions in the most honest way and begin hiring sales reps who understand Social Media and all the back fence implications. Are they can kind of people that your customers would trust with your message?

How to get “embed” with your client

September 27th, 2009

It’s the holy grail of sales, getting specified into a long-term contract. Today, as compliance and regulations set in, being part of an approved group is even more imperative.

How do you get in bed or embedded with a new client? How to you hold the high ground and keep your product the first choice in a long-term contract?

Back when I was selling directory ad space for Thomas Register of American Manufactures (now Thomas Net) we media reps all knew the drill – do whatever you can to make sure your account gets the first call. The first call had the longest chance to sell the business. The first call is when companies are looking for a solution and they think that you are the best answer.

Of course they’ll also have to call a second and third company during their due diligence period, but that’s just to check pricing and to see if #2 and #3 know more than company #1 knows. Both have to work twice as hard to win client away from the first call choice who spent quality time answering all their questions and creating a friend. Pity the poor company who didn’t make the top three cut. The first three have to really mess up before the company will start the process over again.

So what did it take to get the first call? Credibility and one more thing…

It wasn’t selling bigger ads, as much as it was a combo of bigger 800#s, better pictures, more content, listing every standard they could meet. As the Internet competed for print mindshare, the new threshold for content was having a website, an online catalog, specifications and drawings ready to drop into AutoCAD or an e-commerce site… whatever it would take to establish credibility plus make it super easy to buy.

Fast forward a decade of Internet years.

Today’s competitive market includes all of the above as well with two new additions:

1. Proving how green or sustainable your product is. (If asked to comply, can it?) Companies need to know every transparent detail about your operations and supply chain.

2. If you had to load up your catalog into a client’s database, could you? Do you have a datamaster just like you have a webmaster?

If you’re lucky enough to win a long term bid, the next thing you’ll be asked to do is load up the products specifications into your client’s e-catalog. That’s scary turf for companies who want to be in control of their information. It’s also yet one-more-hoop that must be jumped through when you’re already stretched to the max. Is this new hoop worth it? Absolutely.

Besides gaining a sure thing in future business, you’ve successfully become “the first call” for anyone in the company. Your product has been vetted and blessed.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Once you’ve been through the approval process, you can now demonstrate to other companies how safe you are to buy from.

Let’s say you won a Master Agreement with the Los Angeles Community College District and now your product(s) are in their E-Catalog. Not only do General Contractors, architects, designers and buyers from 10 campuses have access to you as the first choice, but all the other schools and municipalities who want to use the same e-catalog.

That’s not a bad trade off for loading up a few products and yet with a sure thing on the plate, why do some companies hesitate? For the same reason some hesitated at putting up a website, drawings or product pricing. They aren’t prepared for the new way of doing business. It’s scary loading up your database on another’s site. It’s expensive paying for the person who has to do the loading. It’s time consuming in a time-crunched world.

Getting embedded does take time, but unlike trade magazine marketing that requires new offerings and pitches month after month, this just requires that you show up when searched for.

If you’re in sales, add ease of database management to your product’s deliverables. Show up and ship it on time.

Eco-Packaging Your Sale

September 27th, 2009

JoAnn Hines has been provided excellent advice on the packaging of products for decades. This morning she sent out five tips on making your packaging better. She commented on how every product needs a package. It got me thinking about that statement, is it really so true anymore? If a package’s purpose is to protect and sell and the selling part is over, can we dispense with the expensive shell?

Take food for example. This weekend at the farmer’s market I saw a plethora of items all wrapped in their own skin with absolutely no writing on them – yet the texture, shape, color and smell told me the condition of the product inside. I already knew what the product did, now it was a matter of replacing or updating last week’s purchases.

In the same way once your product is embedded into a company’s pre-approved database of suppliers, the outside packaging can come down to minimalist standards. The buyer will be reading off of a database specification chart and won’t need all the writing on the package as to what the product can do; as long as it arrives safely and what is inside matches what you ordered, all is well.

That said, they will be caring about what that box is made of and can they add it to their resource recovery program.

Take the LACCD for instance. They will be spending billions in construction and green building products and furnishings to create 40 new buildings and retrofit 50 or so others over 10 campuses. That’s a lot of shipping pallets and boxes. The last thing they want is more stuff to manage.

While JoAnn’s list was directed at consumer goods, this green B2B construction world is changing the way things need to be packaged. As more things are ordered directly from the web and the “selling is done online,” I can see a new pattern in consumer purchases as well.

In the resource recovery world of the LACCD if you want to score extra points with purchasing:

1. Create the need for LESS packaging. That becomes a selling point when you’re positioning new goods inside a system that may be unwrapping scores of boxes for flooring, chairs, and walls.

2. If you can’t use less due to shipping restrictions or the weight that one person can carry, make sure that package can be recycled. Not only does the paper need to be recyclable, but the inks in the writing as well. What about the tape or glue holding it together? Everything must be considered.

3. If the box is recyclable, how was the box made? Did the cardboard come from FSC managed forests? Can you prove that the content is 50% or 100% recycled?

4. How easy is it to break down into flat sections? I’ve seen construction workers struggling to make things flat.  Anything that creates friction in the total resource recovery process should be eliminated.

This sounds like more more hoop to jump through for a sale, but it’s a good hoop for business. As more companies order directly out of their own catalogs, the less you have to spend on packaging and marketing. Of course your sales rep might want a raise…

Need more green packaging info? Start here in California.