With all of the statistics and research reports heralding sustainability’s growing importance in business management practices, one could reasonably assume that technology providers are successfully exploiting the connection that exists between being greener and improving a company’s operational and financial performance. However, the more I speak with industry analysts, clients, prospects and other technology executives it’s apparent that selling green in a business-to-business environment hasn’t necessarily evolved into a slam dunk.
Now some attribute the hesitancy expressed on the part of executives as a by-product of a struggling economy. But the inability to generate significant traction highlighting the environmental gains associated with different software applications and services has more to do with message and approach than the willingness of prospective clients to advance their commitments to sustainability.
A few weeks ago, our company president had the opportunity to address a gathering of technology executives on this very subject, talking at length about how to build a more compelling business case for sustainability. By and large, most corporations have the desire to conduct business in a more environmentally friendly manner – that I firmly believe – but as a technology vendor, touting green doesn’t preclude you from demonstrating that a solution or service is capable of generating financial and/or operational gains.
Most technology solutions fall into well-defined categories such as CRM, ERP and BPM. Whether these types of applications help improve internal workflows or manage customer data better, they’ve been designed to address a very traditional business problem. The notion that a software solution can be used to deliver measurable results against an organization’s green initiatives has only recently come to light. Yet because green is perceived to be ‘hot’ we see a lot of companies integrating it into their branding and product messaging, often to the detriment of a solution’s core value proposition. When it comes to building a compelling business case for sustainability, this is perhaps the biggest mistake a company can make.
Given the pervasiveness of this approach in the B2B arena – and what some would fairly label as saturation in the consumer market – there’s a heightened sensitivity to greenwashing. As a result, many executives are learning to view sales pitches through a skeptic’s lens. At the same time, it’s critical to remember that while awareness for the issues surrounding sustainability are becoming more common at the C-level, many of the individuals who bear the responsibility for evaluating and purchasing technology solutions simply haven’t been charged with incorporating environmental metrics into the decision making process.
So long as purchasing decisions continue to place the most emphasis on financial and operational gains, companies need to build the business case from the ground up and address the desire for greater efficiency, lower costs, improved service and market leadership. In reality, green shouldn’t even enter into the conversation until core ROI has been presented and understood. As companies begin to interject green into the conversation, consider – from a business perspective – how sustainability can contribute to (1) revenue growth, (2) shareholder value, (3) cost reduction and (4) innovation. Placing sustainability within the context of these areas places the green conversation in a language that every executive speaks.
Companies build financial models all of the time to prove out cost and process efficiency. In order to move sustainability up the proverbial food chain (faster), we need to begin applying that level of due diligence to creating models that not only illustrate financial savings but measurable environmental benefits as well. Using vague, generalized statements serves only to obscure genuine business and financial gains that can come in the form of reduced carbon emissions or electronic waste.
Granted there are a lot of factors that get thrown into the pot when deciding on one solution over another but I think it’s infinitely more difficult for companies to reject a solution with a demonstrable ability to create a six-, seven- or even eight-figure savings.
Whether we’re in a recession or not, the appetite for green exists. It’s just that executives aren’t likely to buy in just because a product or service can help them go green. We’ve moved into a new era where sustainability is now seen as a more strategic endeavor, and therefore given greater scrutiny, particularly in relation to its contribution to the bottom line. If technology providers want to forge genuine links between their products and sustainability, the value proposition has to be rooted in helping companies advance their financial and operational performance.
Trade Wings’ Chief Executive Officer and Founder Todd Adelman is passionate about driving business model innovation within the Telecom industry. With more than 20 years of supply chain and asset management experience, Todd leads a number of strategic initiatives designed to establish Trade Wings as a trusted authority on the development and implementation of reuse optimization strategies for network assets.