Sustainability in Technology Sales – What can we do?

Capgemini Event

Many weeks ago the ESP and Capgemini team put our heads together. We had an idea, a plan to create a safe environment for sales leaders across technology companies to discuss the environment, sustainability and what we can and should be doing to contribute in a positive way.

On the 2nd December this plan came to life in our Sustainability in Sales Summit in London.  We gathered with a selection of the leaders in the technology sales world to learn from each other and come up with a plan so we all start facing up to the challenge ahead.

Ice Breakers

We started the event by asking some questions to the group about how they have taken action to date personally and professionally when it comes to the environment.  For instance we asked ‘Where do you feel you have made the most changes personally from an environmental perspective?’ The most popular answers were travel and food, while fashion fell far behind with only three delegates choosing this answer.

The second question we asked was ‘How often are you including sustainability in your conversations with your clients?’ These results really split the room, half the group sitting with the ‘very often’ answer and the other half ‘rarely’ mentioning it.  This is quite reflective of the industry as a whole, there are a group who are highly engaged, and a group who aren’t with the latter now making strides to join this conversation and start making action.


Rosemary Stark

With the World Climate Summit being in Madrid this week and Capgemini speaking there, we wanted to mirror some of this activity in London too.  Rosemary outlined the plan for the afternoon, to work through sustainability in more detail, what difference can it make to how we sell and what are our clients looking for.  When she asked the room, environmental focus can still act as a differentiator in the sales process but it’s increasingly becoming an industry standard that’s expected from companies.   In the future, Rosemary suggested, suppliers could be discounted before sales conversations can even start if they are not addressing sustainability on a company, service or product level.


Paul Thomson – Sustainability Observations from a Talent Perspective

Sustainability is at the front of everyone’s minds from a media perspective, a politics perspective and an education perspective.  On a personal level it’s a topic of interest for all our clients and candidates.  From a professional angle, it is unusual for our clients and candidates to have an explicitly sustainable focus when looking for a new job or employee.  However, we are already starting to see a shift, it is becoming something candidates are researching about companies prior to interviews and asking us more about.

When you’re looking at the fight for the very top talent, this is where sustainability and CSR really become an influencing factor.  We have seen individuals even at Director level receiving multiple offers and choosing the company based on which company is doing more from a sustainability perspective.  As the millennial generation, who make more decisions based on ethics than previous generations, come into these leadership roles we will increasingly see talent choosing sustainable or sustainably focused businesses over the alternatives.


Panel Discussion

The panel discussion was hosted by Christine Hodgson, Chairman at Capgemini UK.  Christine raised that while we may not all be feeling it yet in our every day roles, from a board level sustainability is on the agenda every day.   Christine observed that while Capgemini’s carbon footprint wasn’t huge compared to some of the big manufacturing companies, retailers or automotive businesses there was still things they could do.  They looked at reducing air travel for their team, and making other small changes to adjust the way they work.

The leadership team at Capgemini knew they knew they could do more.  It is a huge priority for them.  As a result, Capgemini are the first organisation to put a public target in place aiming to save their clients 10 million tonnes through their services by 2030.  Christine explained that while she wouldn’t expect their sales team to be sustainability experts, every sales person at the company must be able to open these conversations with their clients.  This segwayed nicely into introducing our sales leaders on the panel, each passionate about sustainability and each approaching it in a slightly different way.

Giri Fox, Director at Microsoft

  • Reasons for interest: I was inspired after watching a David Attenborough documentary into action, now it’s a huge part of my role and my life.

Simone Warren, VP at Verne Global

  • Reasons for interest: I wanted to be able to look my teenage daughter in the eyes and say I tried.

James Forrest, Head of Utilities, Energies and Chemicals at Capgemini

  • Reasons for interest: I have seen young people like Greta Thunberg making a real difference, this alongside my two young children who are pushing me to make a difference for their futures.

Claire Milner, VP at Kinaxis

  • Reasons for interest: I want to do as much as possible for future generations.


Do you believe clients are making decisions with sustainability in mind? Does the carbon lens get a sufficient weighting in the decision-making process? Or will price/quality always outweigh this?

  • When buyers look at tech, they’re often not thinking about whether the supplier is sustainable but whether the software is sustainable. However we are seeing a shift in this and responsible supply chains are also becoming important
  • James confirmed that over the last year Capgemini have started measuring their impact on sustainability. All their clients have sustainability targets so it’s helpful being able to give them a measurable return on how you can help them towards this target.
  • Sustainability seems to be a bigger part of the decision-making process in Europe than in North America.
  • From a consumer perspective, they are definitely considering the planet when choosing technology. Microsoft has been affected by this and has had to produce reports on their supply chain and making sure it’s as sustainable as possible.
  • Remember that 81% of FTSE 100 companies has sustainability as a key objective, we are sales people – we know the opportunity that comes with this. If you’re looking to provide a proposal that gets bottom up and top down buy in then you need to start playing this card.
  • At Standard Chartered Bank sustainability has been added into their annual scorecard, effectively KPI’d for employees – if they have to make this difference to earn their bonus they will take notice.


Should front-line sales executives be able to talk about sustainability?

  • They don’t need to be experts, but they do need to understand how their service is articulated within that topic and be able to provide consultative advice on this. For instance, for Claire at Kinaxis they need to understand how the supply chain is affected and consult on this for their client.
  • The basics of sales principles is to know your customer and to do your research. You don’t have to be an expert just do your homework sufficiently.
  • Out of that 81% of FTSE 100 companies with sustainability as a key objective, only 15% have processes in place to measure this. As savvy sales people we need to make sure we understand their objectives and then can support and measure this for them.
  • Do your sales executives read the companies CSR report before seeing a client?
  • Training people on how to differentiate your company from a sustainability perspective is important. If you can find the person on that board, or in that process who’s passionate about this topic and then accurately sell your differentiator to them you’ll be able to tap into their unspoken desires and this makes the sales pitch much easier.


When you look at your clients, how many are worrying about these extesential threats? 

  • At the moment this looks to be hugely divided depending on the industry. Consumer facing companies are seeing it much quicker because of consumer pressure.  Compare this to oil companies, they are still forecasting a demand for the next 15 years and therefore aren’t reacting quickly – even with the stakeholder pressure they’re facing.
  • Consumer facing companies like BMW are a different story. BMW recently moved their entire data centre’s worth of kit to Verne Global’s data centre in Iceland.  By doing this they saved 82% in energy costs, 1.5 million litres of fuel and reduced their carbon output by 3500 metric tonnes.
  • Interestingly, even companies that aren’t looking at sustainability from a CSR perspective are seeing the impact of climate change. For instance global warming, Hurricane Urma, water shortages etc.  Claire gave the example of an employer in Chennai where their staff have to shower at work because they have no water at home.


One of the biggest challenges is air travel, what can we do to reduce our business travel as salespeople?

  • 100% of the audience when asked had been on more than two holidays this year, 80% would say that they are regular business travellers.
  • Services like ‘Slack’, ‘Teams’ and ‘Skype’ are used to avoid travel. You can use services like teams to report on the number of hours spend on video calls and link this to corporate travel costs meaning you can see the actual ROI.  We appreciate that it’s tough to not sell face to face, so sales will always be moving a lot.
  • Small changes are happening but not quickly enough, there’s no incentive for hybrid/electric cars etc at the moment. Perhaps this should be being built into car allowances.
  • One suggestion from the group was to look at travel and face to face meetings becoming an additional cost. ‘This service is priced cost effectively, if you want me and my team to come and see you then we’ll have to charge extra for it’
  • Verne Global have shut all their US offices and encouraged a culture of remote working. By 2020 Verne will have done the same thing in the UK making it a fully home working team here too.
  • When you do have to fly look to carbon offset it. For instance, Easyjet are carbon neutral on all flights and a number of bigger companies will aim to offset flights.  Saying this, carbon offsetting isn’t the answer – we need to reduce what we can and offset what we can’t.


How to have this conversation without greenwashing? 

  • There will be someone connected to the CEO who will have been given this responsibility at board level. You need to find that person and connect the technology to them.
  • Remember that different buyers will have different hooks and incentives. Consider the IT manager buyer will be interested in the highest level of performance for his investment, ticking the green box is simply an added bonus.  All sales-people are used to multi-stakeholder selling at all levels. You need to find the person in the decision-making process who represents the CSR or sustainability conversation.
  • While talking about sustainability in the selling process you must be able to demonstrate authenticity, don’t just offset your carbon output, don’t just talk about recycling make sure you are actually doing it


Questions from the audience:

From a consumer perspective, we are increasingly producing technology for the home or personal use. Where does this mass of technology go after we throw it away, and if it’s landfill what happens next?

  • It’s a depressing story when you look into it, but it does go into landfill and it often doesn’t breakdown
  • Some manufacturers will have reversed their logistics process enabling them to collect and recycle old devices.
  • We need to be held accountable for the entire cycle in the future. We need to lead the way, not wait to be accused or asked about it – let’s make a stand now.


When will the breaking point be? When will people lose interest?

  • There needs to be a genuine passion from the CRO’s. Claire went to Paris when they asked her to be Chair of Capgemini UK and to lead on their CSR initiatives, she said I will only do this if you are serious about it.  If profit always trumped CSR then we couldn’t look int the mirror and say we’re authentic.
  • At Capgemini if the leaders weren’t genuine (and not just about their bonus) they wouldn’t be able to expect their individuals to be authentic about this message. All 210,000 employees at Capgemini must be taking actual actions themselves, it’s part of the company’s mission.
  • It appears to still be gaining momentum, some parents were emailed by schools saying ‘if you want to take your child out of school to protest, that’s ok’. Claire even went as far as to say that she’s had more conversations about sustainability with her team in Paris in the last six months than in the last three years.
  • James said that some employees at Capgemini are even refusing to work on certain projects because they don’t agree with their environmental values. To have sales people actively turning down work on an ethical basis is a tremendous shift and shows how powerful this topic is at the moment.


How do we spread this environmental circle into sales and apply it in our jobs? 

  • The irony is that we all travelled to be at this lecture, what can we do to make sure sales people are being selective about when to travel
  • Capgemini recently relocated a whole team to be near to a client, there just isn’t the appetite from clients currently where the appraise companies that work entirely remotely
  • Sales teams need to make decisions on when it is most important to have that face to face meeting, and what stage. Can you get away with not doing that face to face, or can you set up multiple meetings in that area while you are visiting to the necessity for future trips.
  • It’s important that companies are investing in the technology that enables teams to connect without travelling such as Slack, Teams and Skype.
  • Being upfront with your client about sustainability and making them think before they ask for your whole team to come to their location for a meeting. By putting these thoughts in their mind, they may also think twice about whether it’s a chat you can have over the phone.


Break-out session: How can we amplify sustainability as a sales enabler/differentiator? 


Team 1 – Businesses that truly focus on sustainability need to accept that they might lose sales or deals because of this.  For instance, video calls may not be as successful as face to face meetings and their conversion rate could be lower.  It’s also important to consider the wellbeing aspect of working from home, some people can find this isolating and it’s important as a company that if you have a high volume of home workers you address this risk.  

Team 2 – This group focused on how the leaders can instil some of these behaviours in their teams and organisations. This conversation is only getting louder from a board level so we need to help our sales people to pitch this as a concept that matters to their client’s client and use this to engage their end-user.  How can we engage PR and marketing to help communicate these messages?

Team 3 – We need to educate ourselves, our clients and our companies on sustainability.  We need to be prepared to have these conversation and tailor the message accordingly.  This culture then breeds authenticity. It’s a topic that two years ago people were hardly talking about in the election and now it is a prime focus.  We know sustainability can lower costs, we know that it’s a topic board members are actually interested in, we just need the tools to be able to sell it effectively.

Team 4 – This team focused on objection handling when it comes to sustainability.  They clarified that this starts with education, building an awareness and a passion within teams.  You can then be in a position where you’re able to inspire those who object and where price will come before environment.  However ultimately, in technology sales, will people pay a premium for simply a more sustainable service, probably not unless you have a buyer who truly cares.

Team 5 – This team looked at the generational challenge here.  Millennials are extremely passionate and interested in this topic, they are more likely to work remotely, more likely to cycle to work, more likely to take the steps towards veganism etc.  While older generations are slower to adapt to these shifts. They discussed travel as being a necessary evil sometimes, but to make sure sales teams are fitting multiple meetings or events in when they travel to make the biggest return on this carbon investment.  They also said this is a conversation that needs to transcend election cycles, we need to carry this beyond the election.


We’re coming up to 2020, the start of a new year and the start of a new decade.  It’s the perfect time for fresh starts and new approaches.  Next year we believe we’re going to see sales people win deals because they have got this angle right, and in the same way see people lose deals because they haven’t.   Whether you’re doing it for money, doing it to ensure you’re not dismissed by clients or doing it for the next generation – you just need to be doing it.  

If you would like to provide some feedback on how you felt this event went, or your thoughts on this topic in general please fill out this survey form.  We are offering a £250 charity donation raffle prize draw to the charity of your choice so don’t forget to fill it out!