Can you recall an instance when you bought a product that ended up in a landfill because it wasn’t what you really wanted? Now, think back to the decision-point of your purchase. What could a salesperson have said to you, at that moment, which would have helped you make a better decision? This is what I call “Sustainable Selling.” Sustainable selling is when salespeople employ selling skills to elevate the quality of their customer’s buying decisions.
Sustainable selling is as much in the salesperson’s best interest as the customer’s. Salespeople experience less resistance from customers who know their salesperson’s commitment is to help them make better purchasing decisions. Salespeople and customers work together as a team when they share this common goal.
It’s nice when salespeople help customers make more eco-friendly buying decisions. However, sustainable selling isn’t “sustainable” unless eco-friendly decisions endure beyond the salesperson’s visit. Within the definition of sustainability is the consideration of long-term impacts. If a higher quality buying decision always requires the presence of a salesperson then it’s not truly sustainable. Most buying choices happen without salespeople being present. Sustainable selling perpetuates when it impacts the customer’s decision-making rather than just the salesperson’s selling.
The ranks of customers who prefer to make eco-friendly choices have been swelling recently. Well-intentioned customers, however, may still fall short. An important first step toward sustainable selling is to make sure that customers who want to make eco-friendly choices are successful. For example, a well intentioned customer may decide to switch to rechargeable batteries. Since the batteries are for a second home he hardly lives in, their power drains before being put to use. The customer experiences the batteries to be dead when he needs them. He eventually throws them out, contributing to toxic waste. The problem was a lack of clarity during the customer’s decision making. Speaking with a knowledgeable salesperson wouldn’t have necessarily helped, unless the customer had told the salesperson about his objective for buying the batteries. He needed to specifically say they’re for a second house and won’t be used very much. The customer possesses this essential piece of information for making the best decision, not the salesperson.
If we think more deeply about the learning piece in this example, however, something else emerges. The customer may have in fact learned a valuable lesson about more clearly expressing objectives to salespeople, and if this indeed happened, then the batteries didn’t go to total waste. The buying experience was sustainable because similar mistakes will be avoided in the future. The customer will make better quality decisions going forward. The long-term benefit for the environment may be better than if the customer hadn’t had the battery experience.
For eco-friendly decision making to be truly sustainable, on all levels, salespeople must change. They need to become as cognizant of their customer’s decision process as they are about their own selling. This isn’t what’s happens now. Salespeople are trained to present products as if they know in advance why customers are going to buy them. Then they try to persuade customers to think the same way. Decision-making quality takes a back seat. This is short sighted because buying decisions obtained that way aren’t sustainable. Salespeople lose out in the long run when they don’t help customers make the best decision for that customer. Customers discover other products more suitable for their needs. They’ll eventually find a competitor’s product they’re more satisfied with.
Few things directly impact our quality of life more than the quality of our decisions. When salespeople help customers improve with this fundamental skill, sales relationships become truly sustainable.