What Do They Really Want?
Let’s face it: Energy efficiency is not always at the top of everyone’s list of priorities. You may find yourself in a situation where your prospect doesn’t think an efficiency upgrade is the best use of capital. What can you do in a case like this? Find out what does sit atop their list of priorities. You may not be able to help them fulfill their entire wish list. However, what if you reframed your efficiency offering and demonstrated that the value they would experience by approving your project would provide a path to achieving their most cherished goals?
I recently gave a keynote presentation on the East Coast for about five hundred energy controls specialists. Afterward, someone in the audience approached me at the podium and shared a great story that exemplifies this kind of outside-of-the-box thinking.
He told me he had been trying to sell a school system on a major HVAC renovation project for many months. The district’s budget director candidly shared, “Listen, improving our HVAC system is not our highest priority right now. What we’re really focused on is our computerization initiative. We’ve already told our board that we’re going to have 1,600 iPads by this time next year, one for each child in grades five and above. We think the iPad project will really help us see better learning outcomes in our district. Bottom line, we need to focus our attention on getting those iPads before we even think about any HVAC projects.”
A typical salesperson would have heard that reasoning and said “Ugh, cross them off the list. This is never going to happen.” A sales professional—which this person was—would not give up so easily. Sure enough, he said to the budget director, “Makes sense. Let me ask you though, do you have dollars already allocated to procure those iPads?” The director responded, “Well, we haven’t figured that out yet, but we’ll probably wind up leasing them from Apple.”
This sales professional took it upon himself to go to Apple to see what such a lease would cost. Shortly thereafter, he came back to the district with a proposal. “I did a little research, and it turns out that you can lease those 1,600 iPads for ‘x’ dollars a month. And guess what? The monthly savings you’ll enjoy once you install the HVAC improvements that I had originally proposed to you should more than cover the debt service on the iPads. Moreover, while your utility would never give you an incentive to reduce the first cost of those iPads, they will give you money to help you pay for those HVAC improvements, which will in turn generate enough savings to pay for those iPads! Bottom line, if you do what I’m suggesting, you’ll be able to not only ‘check the box’ for the school board on the iPads, but also improve the thermal comfort of your classrooms, which—if I may speak frankly—will likely have a bigger positive impact on learning outcomes, student attendance, and perhaps even teacher attendance in your district than the bump you’re hoping to see from those iPads.”
Not surprisingly, this sales professional secured approval for his HVAC project shortly thereafter. Several weeks after he had closed the deal, he ran into a few of his competitors at a networking event. They couldn’t believe the district had approved the HVAC project. “What? How did you pull that one off? We’ve been pitching them on an HVAC retrofit for nearly two years with virtually nothing to show for our efforts!” The sales professional dryly replied, “It wasn’t an HVAC project; it was an iPad project,” and then walked away, leaving his competitors scratching their heads.
This is exactly the kind of lateral thinking that you as an efficiency sales professional should be using with all of your prospects. As General Eisenhower once said, “Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always try to make it bigger.” He went on to explain that if he made the problem big enough, he could begin to see the outlines of a solution. In so many cases, the problem is not what you think it is. It is usually slightly beyond the margins of what you think you need to solve. Something else is interacting with the situation and causing it to be a problem. So that is what you should be doing—looking for the bigger or adjacent problem and solving it first.
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