Hacking for climate sales

About a million years ago I wrote a blog post called “Hacking for Sales.” I posted it on the Scripted blog and didn’t think about it again until this guy Max Altschuler from Udemy contacted me about running a course on it. I demurred and ultimately declined, but he and I stayed in touch. Later, we got some other people interested in the intersection of engineering, automation, and sales together for monthly dinners and meetups in San Francisco. He turned it into the Sales Hacker conference, website, and community, and ultimately sold it to Outreach.

That was my education in sales. Recently, I wrote and taught an accredited course at Diablo Valley College on tech sales and invited my network to guest lecture. Many of them were friends from the Sales Hacker days. As I’ve recently rediscovered my interest in climate science and begun to get immersed in climate technology, I’ve been asking myself: Is there a role for sales hacking in climate tech?

Selling climate tech is different than selling regular B2B tech. There’s a mission-driven element to the product sale that makes it much more powerful and easier to sell, but you have to do it the right way.

There’s a mimetic desire element here too. By capitalizing on the buyers’ idealized vision of themselves, you can appeal to better natures as well as the standard painkiller strategy. 

Mimetic desire (see Zero To One and Wanting) is the idea that all desire comes from external models. It doesn’t come from within. You don’t chose to want things. Your desire is entirely influenced by others. 

This idea is more than just Michael Jordan selling you Hanes briefs. It’s more nuanced than that. It’s fitting in, it’s fear of missing out, it’s viewing yourself as someone who should wear Hanes.

How does this relate to climate sales? We need people to see themselves as climate warriors, contributors to the solution. We need today’s heat pump water heater to be yesterday’s victory garden. We do that by slowly but deliberately building mimetic desire for climate technology. 

There are a few ways to tackle this:

  • Climate technology is high-end (Tesla! Rivian!)
  • Climate technology is mysterious and magical (Induction cooktops!)
  • Climate technology is for really smart people (Gates! Doerr! Musk!)

These models are setting a new standard for what it means to live virtuously. I can see the New Yorker cartoon now: A man at the Pearly Gates getting asked, “And was your carbon footprint?”

If we can get there, we’ve made it. Climate technology and the idea that everyone has a role to play will have gone mainstream. Climate tech entrepreneurs will be the titans of business. Climate tech will be referenced in pop culture: sitcoms, movies, and podcasts. If you still water your lawn, have a combustion furnace, or cook on a gas stove, you’ll be out of touch, old, anachronistic. 

The path to get here is not yet clear. It requires basic selling techniques as well as the latest research on influence. Here’s a best practice on selling climate technology.

  • Explain the costs of status quo. Eventually you will need to adopt. Might as well do it soon! It’s like waiting to buy a plane ticket until the day before. You’re going to pay more and get a worse seat. Better to make the change early. 
  • Sell the sparkle. Climate tech is new, it’s faster, better, easier to maintain, cheaper to operate. That’s why it costs more. 
  • Offer a choice. There are hybrids. Heat pump water heaters still have a pure electric mode. Put an induction cooktop in your kitchen and a gas grill outside. Get the best of both. You choose where to start. 
  • Decarbonize a bit at a time, no need to do it all at once. 

Not everyone will be onboard, of course, but I think there will be more climate heroes than villains, more people influenced by green models than gray ones (gray: the color of smoke and gas). That’s all we need.

For example, I still eat red meat. I love a seared rib-eye, medium rare, crust so salty it makes your mouth water. Will I ever go meat-free? Doubt it, but I’ll be aware of what I’m doing and offset that rib-eye by not eating meat the rest of the week, taking shorter showers (or fewer, especially in the summer when we’re at the pool almost every day), and being willing to pay a lot more for local, grass-fed beef.

I also cook that meat on a natural gas grill and in the winter, we heat one room with a natural gas fireplace. Why? Because I love it. I’m willing and able to pay more for it.

My goal is to be a climate hero, not a climate saint. If most people are closer to me than Julia Butterfly Hill, then perhaps I can analyze my own mimetic models to anticipate how the desires of other people are formed.

For me, it is the Gates and Doerrs and Musks, the technologists who use their money, ingenuity, and general management to invest in or build climate tech and make a ton of money in the process. They have nice things and do nice things. I want to model that.

So climate tech is a tool that gives sympathetic people a way in. It can give a CEO of a B2B SaaS that does nothing climate-related an opportunity to model climate heroes by helping employees telecommute or offset their business travel CO2. It can give suburban parents a way to buy something that looks and feels high-end with extra benefit of being electric, recycled, or compostable.

The point is, climate tech sales is appealing to both emotions and pain points. It’s a unique combination of these two selling techniques and it also makes the sales rep feel good about the deal.

I look forward to exploring this further.

1 thought on “Hacking for climate sales”

  1. Good ideas. Also perhaps appeal our natural instinct to avoid the alternative of doing nothing that is avoiding climate catastrophe uncontrollable wildfires etc

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