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What you know AND who you know are important for aspiring sustainability consultants

The SSC Team October 27, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

If you’ve been on our website and really want to become part of our consultant network, you know that there is one thing you should never, ever say. Ever.

Don’t know what it is?

Then you haven’t done your homework.

Sustainability consulting is a small world

If you’re trying to break into the world of sustainability consulting, then you need to truly strategize about how to engage with industry leaders, consultants, and firms who are hiring.

A recent article in Entrepreneur gives a round-up of the 10 strategies for making friends with important people in your networking plan.

The first five steps are all about research, reading, and making an effort to truly understand your potential contact’s business strategy and hot buttons. Next, activate your network, stay in touch, and add value to your potential contact’s day-to-day through meaningful communication.

Have the skills (or grow them)

While you’re “working the room” to build your professional network, make sure you fully understand what it takes to be a sustainability consultant. Know your own skill set and be able to describe how those skills will apply in a sustainability consulting roles.

Know your strengths, and your shortcomings

Don’t oversell yourself to a high-profile potential contact, or you might ruin your reputation before you gain a foothold. Be honest about where you are in your career, what your areas of interest are, and make efforts to improve your skills through practice and education.

Learn more about specific sustainability consulting training courses we offer, and opportunities to work with us

Trying to get a green light on your sustainability project? Become a mind-reader

The SSC Team October 8, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

We have worked a wide variety of with in-house sustainability teams – from one task leader to full departments. The size of the team, or its location in the org chart, have never been a problem.

As long as the company leadership and company values align with sustainability issues, our combined efforts result in real, meaningful progress on sustainability programs. 

However, when we’re trying to win a new client, or even work with our clients and help them persuade their own company leadership to take the next big step in a sustainability project, mind reading can go a lot farther than spreadsheets and case studies.

Telepathy might be a stretch, but using perception and doing a lot more listening than talking, might be the best ways to advance your cause, according to a recent Fast Company article, “Five ways to read someone’s mind.”

1. Start with generational differences

In most business settings, this refers a lot to communication strategies between, say, a Baby Boomer boss and a Millenial intern, but in sustainability planning, you have to consider how clients, co-workers or superiors view sustainability through the lens of how they were raised to view it.

Remember, the EPA was only formed in 1970. Your boss might remember when this happened, and have an opinion about it.

Try to have conversations about how decision makers view the entire issue of conservation, sustainability, government policy, and social responsibility to hone in on their current views, where they are most likely to take proactive steps, and….

2. What are their hot buttons

Everyone has a hot button. When trying to win support for a sustainability effort, doing all of the conversational research on generationaldifferences will help you identify hot buttons before they blow up.

Have conversations about where they believe the company is going and what risks it might face in the future, and then frame sustainability efforts as solutions to the risks the company might face. Then, listen, and listen some more.

3. Consider personalities

Once you’ve figured out a decision maker’s view on the issue, and how to best discuss it to avoid hot buttons, consider the individual’s personality.

How does he or she like to receive information? Lengthy reports? Case studies? Quick meetings? With a strategic plan? On a spreadsheet? During a casual lunch date?

The more you know your client, co-worker, or superior as a person the more you can persuade them of the value of your project in a format that you know is the most persuasive to them.

4. Look for nonverbal communication

You finally get time to present your case for creating a sustainability report for your company or client, but you see that the decision maker is distracted, checking their texts, or looking away. Stop wasting your time.

Instead, toss out the presentation and go back to Step 1.

Leaning in, eye contact, and bringing their own ideas to your presentation are a good sign that you’re going to get a “yes.”

5. Be a good listener

If you’ve prepared a great report on the positive impact of how performing a carbon footprint will help your company’s bottom line, but your CEO keeps interrupting you to ask about supply chain issues, pay attention.

Maybe you can win her over by making the case for doing a Life Cycle Analysis to kick off your larger effort of sustainable change.

If the tone of voice changes, an increase of sighs or (yawns!), or the conversation starts to turn emotional, step back.

Do you feel like you’ve hit a dead-end with your client or supervisor? Consider a one-on-one coaching session with our President, Jennifer Woofter, to talk about roadblocks, circling back, and proven ways to get your project back on the priority list.

Growing Your Sustainability Consultancy Business

The SSC Team June 18, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
Enjoy this blog from the SSC archives: “Put yourself in your client’s shoes.” It’s not just another cliché. Ok, yes it is. In this case, however, it is going to make you money. According to Martin Lines, the marketing director for Nestle Professional, the most important element a consultant can have in their CSR- or sustainability-focused consultancy pitch is customization to the client’s existing business and sustainability strategy. "Agencies need to demonstrate that their solution is aligned to the client's corporate strategy,” Lines said in a presentation last year. Sounds so basic, but often consultants get it wrong – pitching ethical reasons for sustainability when a company is operating on thin margins and would be better served by efficiency and cost-saving initiatives, or pitching cost-saving initiatives when a client is more interested in building brand value and brand awareness. There is no one-size-fits-all sustainability strategy, so why would there be a one-size-fits-all sustainability pitch? Of course this means you’ll need to do your homework before meeting with prospective clients, but the extra work can pay off if the client is impressed by how much you already know about their business. Here are three steps for helping turn your presentation into profit:

1. Go online and read

Read the press releases (Is the prospect always giving money to local charity groups? They might respond to reputation-building pitches.). Google the company looking for news stories or legal troubles (Fined for improper handling of chemicals in 2009? They might benefit from an EMS plan.). Poke around in industry news, scour the website, and look at the employment opportunities. You never know where you might find a hook.

2. Know who their stakeholders are and what they want

Is the company selling primarily to one large organization (like Wal-Mart) that has sustainability at its core? If so, you’re going to need to know where the client’s client is headed. Is the company working in controversial areas, such as mining, where stakeholder engagement is going to take precedence over things like waste auditing or employee engagement? Knowing who is pushing and pulling on a client can help you find key indicators in developing a sustainability pitch.

3. Drop in to say hello

So, you’ve done a bit of homework and made a few calls, and the client seems interested. If you think this could be a big fish, take your time. Phone up your contact person and tell him or her that you’re interested in visiting the manufacturing facility, taking a tour of the HQ, or meeting virtually with a few key people to get a better idea of how to make more relevant and customized suggestions. Ask questions. Lots of questions. But don’t get in the way and don’t try to sell them anything. “Learning how to make the case for sustainability needs to be situational. I customize my ‘making a case for sustainability’ style by asking a lot of questions,” said Pauline S. Chandler, director of the MBA in sustainability at the Antioch University of New Hampshire, Keene, in a recent article on Triple Pundit. Chandler recently took 16 MBA students on facility tours at three New England businesses to illustrate how different organizations will spark different lines of questioning, which then lead to different approaches to sustainability planning. So, take a lesson from academia, and go pay your client a visit. Your pitch might benefit from the day trip. Once you’ve gathered all the information you think you need, it’s time to develop your presentation. A central tenet in getting an organization to adopt sustainability planning is making the business case for sustainability. Looking for ways to become a better sustainability consultant? Check out our blog post that talks about 8 steps to improving as a sustainability consultant!