How to Use Consultative Selling to Help End-Customers ‘Go Green’
Manufacturers of professional cleaning chemicals and products have wholeheartedly embraced green cleaning—a significant change considering their initial reluctance more than a decade ago. New technologies and engineering have yielded environmentally preferable cleaning products, tools, and equipment that are better for both users and the environment while performing as effectively as their conventional counterparts. In fact, in many cases, green products are now actually better than the conventional products they were designed to replace.
However, convincing end-customers of these facts has not always been easy. For years there has been reluctance—sometimes considerable—on the part of customers when it comes to selecting green cleaning products. Very often this has been because end-users remember that many early green products were relatively poor performers, costly, or both.
“Greenwashing” has also been a stumbling block at times. This term refers to misleading or deceptive practices used to market green products. Because of these issues, some end-customers have been unsure if the products under consideration were indeed healthier, safer, or green—and were therefore reluctant to choose them.
Astute distributors soon realized it was easier and more effective to persuade their customers to choose green via education. This means taking the time to explain what these products are, why they are green, how they work, their costs and potential cost savings, and their benefits. This more comprehensive sales technique is referred to as consultative selling.
Consultative selling was first introduced in a book written by Mack Hanan in the early 1970s. Although it was initially intended to help distributors and other salespeople improve their performance, the technique has proven valuable for end-customers as well. This is because it provides greater transparency, allows them to better understand what they are purchasing and why they select certain products—in this case, Green cleaning products.
The gist of the consultative selling technique is simple. The distributors ask their clients a series of questions to assess the needs of the facility and its manager, why and how certain cleaning tools and equipment are currently being used, and the manager’s green cleaning goals. They may also look at what cleaning products and equipment are already stored in the custodial closet, as well as the overall appearance of the facility. This can tell the distributor a lot about how effective the location’s current cleaning program is, where there may be room for improvement, and where worker productivity could potentially be improved.
While the theory behind this technique is simple, actually putting it into practice can be a bit more difficult. This is because many end-customers and building managers have what could almost be called a “fingers crossed” approach when it comes to janitorial purchasing decisions, and this is especially true in the case of green cleaning. They are often unsure of what products are being used in their facilities and why; exactly what their specific cleaning needs are; and, when it comes to green cleaning, what it’s all about and how to implement it. Add to that the scores of green cleaning chemicals, tools, equipment, and products now available, and helping clients decide which options would work best in their settings—and why—can be quite an undertaking.
Luckily, new technologies including Web-based analytical tools and systems have been developed in the past few years that can make sorting out all this information a process that is much easier. These systems store vast amounts of comprehensive data regarding all kinds of cleaning products—including green cleaning tools and equipment—so that the end-customer knows exactly what environmentally preferable products are available, the features and benefits of each, and their costs. This allows them to make far more insightful decisions.
When the consultative approach is implemented effectively, distributors become consultants to their clients, rather than just salespeople, improving the client relationship significantly. And more importantly, end-customers become more comfortable and confident with purchasing green cleaning products and transferring to Green cleaning programs for their facilities—which benefits us all in the end.
Leah Runge is the marketing manager for eLev8, AFFLINK’s web-based process consultative selling technology. She may be reached thru the company Web site at www.afflink.com
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