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7 tips on selling energy efficiency to senior management

Choose the right time and language, and you'll have a better chance of persuading senior management to buy into your energy strategy.

When it comes to energy efficiency, middle management is in a unique and tactically strong position. They have the ability to identify, define and propose energy saving measures as well as mobilize the organizational resources to make them happen and track the impact.

The key to success, however, is the ability get buy-in from senior management. The following steps are designed to help you pitch your ideas and win them over.

1. Choose the right time to engage top management

In many organizations there are designated energy, environment, sustainability and social responsibility meetings. These are good times to talk about energy savings. Another great time, as reported in a survey by Accenture in 2010, is when top management reviews and signs off the energy invoices.

Middle management with good rapport and short psychological distance to top management also may introduce energy savings in all other aspects of the business operations. This would, over time, embed energy savings into the mindset of the organization.

2. Know your top management’s preference

In both new and retrofit projects, over 29 business sectors have shown savings of between 30 percent and 60 percent can be achieved with a two- or three-year payback. The economics of energy savings are well-documented. The important point is to know how top management wants the information and data presented so that they have the appropriate and complete picture for making decisions.

Think back on previous experiences to identify what data representation techniques and presentation styles work successfully. Each top management and C-suite is different. Using this reflection, craft an energy savings message that uses all these pointers.

McKinsey & Company found that only 17 percent of top management are completely disengaged and up to 13 percent of top management would immerse themselves in energy savings and sustainability initiatives. Those sandwiched between the two extremes have a varying degree of engagement. Understanding their information and data preference is vital to ensure successful engagement.

3. Communicate to your top management

As a general rule, prepare energy saving reports and/or presentations as if talking to the boardroom. Then, envisage the questions that may arise and have the additional details to hand.

Simple as it may sound, many energy-saving pitches and recommendations suffer from one significant drawback: the scientific and technical writing styles that use passive and third-person language. While this style of writing is perfect for the scientific community, it removes personality, hinders communication and is not suitable for communicating with non-technical folks.

When top management do not feel a piece of communication is targeted at them, they switch off and focus on other things. Top management also do not like unknowns. What is your recommendation? How does it fit into the business strategy?

Give them the insights and information to assess business impact. Write as if you are speaking with them, in person. Put additional and technical details in the appendices.

4. Use words that link to business strategies

There is a need to simplify the words used in a report and presentation. Technical folks tend to use words such as “high-efficiency,” “premium,” “eco,”  “low-carbon,” “green,” “smart” and many more. Using these words means something to the technical folks. It makes them feel knowledgeable and important. However, this creates friction in the communication process.

First, top management does not necessarily understand these words. In fact, those in the boardroom making the ultimate investment decisions are more likely to respond to the organization’s purpose, values or investment analysis. Using technical lingo is akin to what the Chinese call “chicken and duck talk.” It’s “cock-a-doodle-do” here and “quack quack” there.

Second, technical big words have lost all of their novelty, apart from those new to energy savings.

Third, the mismatch of terms and definitions does not help top management assess its risk and rewards. It doesn’t help the board to make informed decisions. In fact, it creates a perfect environment for confusion. When this sets in, nothing gets done. Communicate to top management using words that they understand and without using energy lingo.

5. Choose words and phrases that align with top management

In marketing, there are some no-no words. Words are not created equal. Some words elicit joy. Others evoke hatred and polarize beliefs. Energy saving is frequently raised to top management as a compliance issue, and many think this is a sure way to spurn disinterest and disengagement.

Top management are energized and engaged by maintaining the status quo. Compliance and tax, along with naming-and-shaming, is synonymous to business risk that needs to be managed at minimum cost.

More liberal top management is open to longer term organizational benefits, environment and social responsibilities. Understanding top management’s business purpose, values, motivation and drivers and then using the insight to align energy savings is key to obtaining and maintaining interest and engagement as it inspires hope. It allows top management to see strategic and tactical fit between energy savings and the organization’s purpose.

Studies have found that messages of hope have a positive correlation with prosocial investment, happiness and engagement.

In top management with a split between conservative-liberal ideologies, it may be prudent to sell energy savings to them three times. Once for the liberal-oriented, once for the more conservative orientation and finally bringing all together for the stamp of approval.

For top management with other ideologies, Accenture found an increasing social and competitive pressure to save energy. Sharing energy saving case studies from similar applications, especially from the organizations' competitors, are fantastic social pressure for top management to pay attention.

6. Modernize the report and presentation layout

Most reports and presentations are presented on justified paragraphs with many words on each page. A single concept or message, can, if padded, span several paragraphs. Based on many eye-tracking studies, people tend to skim through the page looking for concepts and lingo that they understand. The studies also show that people focus on the top of a report or a presentation and rarely go beyond the first few paragraphs.

The messages in a report or a pitch need to be distilled into short and sharp sentences. As a guide, modern reports are presented in several columns, use images and are no longer than 10 to 15 pages cover to cover.

Use one carefully constructed paragraph instead of 10 paragraphs. Use a figure or picture if it could explain a thousand words. If you are writing a report, compress each opportunity to one page. Then, prioritize the concise messages and place them at the top for maximum effect.

7. Set up and plan to succeed

Every organization need to make sure that any energy saving plan they put in place has a high certainty of success. This means that plans have appropriately defined details with corresponding KPIs as a measure of progress.

Resources need to be identified and budgeted — this includes human resources, specialized skills, finance, time, information, authority, space and tools. If these resources are not in-house, at least know where to get them and how much it would cost.

Top management also could be one of the resources the organization can deploy. This could range from providing high-level overviews and advice, PR work, to active monitoring to disarm organizational silos and politics. This would be crucial for energy saving opportunities where the capital cost or effort is from one department and the benefits are for another department.

Top management also would need to have assurances that the implementation of energy savings will be a success. Having said this, the accuracy of cost and savings calculation needs to be commensurate with the benefits from the savings to be made. For example, a $1,000 savings opportunity does not need to have a cost and savings accuracy to plus or minus 10 percent. Doing so could mean that the organization spends a lot of resources — which could be spent on other business priorities.

This article first appeared at 2degrees.

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