Selling Sustainability

Author: Aaron Hersum
Editor: Tilly Pick

I was on the phone with my mentor, Ray, one day doing some role play sales training. We were practicing making an initial call to a prospect. After about 5 minutes of talking, I saw my opportunity to “sell” our service, and defaulted to my typical method of persuasion: spewing various facts and reasons to work with my company. Pause role play. “Dude, I gave you an opening and you ran me over with a freight train,” Ray said, “if you do that, you’ll lose the sale.” And he was right: why should anyone buy something from me if all I do is regurgitate information they have either already heard or could easily find via a Google search?

To date, facts and rationale have never worked for me in making a sale, nor in convincing someone that sustainability is important. Unfortunately, I sometimes can’t help it. I’m passionate about sustainability, and I want to convince others to be passionate as well.

Listening to Change is Simple at BASG tonight share their approach to teaching sustainability reminded me of my training, especially one significant quote from Ray: “The key to any sale is to build a relationship with the person.” By building a relationship with someone, you are actually creating an opportunity to teach them, just as Change is Simple teaches its students.  I love that CiS starts where students are, relates to their lives, seeks to understand and connect with them, and then shares its knowledge. That, in addition to focusing kids on one thing and giving them a chance to find their own way, helps CiS make learning relevant and memorable.

pexels-photo-286748.jpegAgain, I am reminded of my training, and how important it is to learn about the person you’re talking to before beginning to teach them. I try to learn about his or her goals, challenges, and any objections to the knowledge I’m trying to share. CiS helped me see that in the case of sustainability, starting with their values is also very powerful.

What I perhaps loved most about this evening is really quite simple: Change is Simple and its teachers care. They care about what they do, and more importantly they care about the people they teach. By seeking to understand first and letting their students – whether in 3rd grade or well into a career — discover their own answers, they demonstrate they are able to instill valuable information that is relevant. You could say that teaching (and persuading) is really about caring. Tonight, I was reminded that when we care, it becomes that much easier to apply and share our knowledge and experience with others.

So the next time I talk to someone who doesn’t believe in the importance of sustainability, I’m going to make every effort to check my immediate reaction and start in their place, their values. If I’m doing most of the talking, I will know immediately that I am not being a good teacher. If I instead can learn about their problems, I can make sustainability problem-centric to them, just as Lauren, Patrick and their team make learning problem-centric to their students. There is no silver bullet rationale that will convince someone to buy into sustainability, however, if we remember that how we relate to people is more powerful than facts, we can be successful in getting everyone to see sustainability as an essential part of their lives.


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