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Business Advisor

How to Sell Green Products to Builders and Remodelers

Eleven rules for vendors trying to get in to the business of green building

As you know I recently returned from speaking to over 400 sales professionals at two different companies. The first company is a multi-state regional retailer of building products. The second company is a national green products manufacturer/installer. Both groups sold directly to builders/remodelers and both groups wanted to learn more about green building for themselves and also what resources they could share with their builders who wanted to become greener.

Isn’t that interesting? They wanted to learn about resources that would benefit their builders who also wanted to learn green. That desire to help their customers is what brought me to them after all. It was a chance to help them in their business, which I knew would ultimately help me in mine. To that at end I gave them all a “To-Do” List of items to accomplish in the year ahead to help them reach their goals. Items I believe will increase their sales and make their customers stronger! In no particular order I recommended the following 11 ideas:

1. Know your product & your competition. As a green builder I regularly know more about a salesperson’s product than they do. If you are a vendor selling green, learn your stuff as well as you know the old sticks and bricks. Learn how it stacks up to the competition before you come calling on me. Practice at home, not in my office.

2. Learn about basic building science. That means know how what you are selling fits into they larger system of which it is a part. Maybe that’s a wall or floor system. Perhaps the thermal envelope or drainage plane. Just know it.

3. Keep it simple. No two hour presentation please. Just the basics. Think green lists. Where does it fit? Show me fast, then follow my lead if more detail is warranted.

4. Never, ever email a proposal. No matter how much I kick and scream, insist on bringing it to me and walking me through it. Don’t expect or ask for a signed contract but don’t let me off the hook either — make sure I understand what you quoted.

5. Address my fears. Lots of new stuff on the market that I am afraid could get me in trouble. Leverage that. Explain how you will keep my butt out of court and my client happy.

6. Sell to the ego. We all have one so don’t ignore it. Peer pressure can be a wonderful motivator and since nobody wants to be left behind, assure me that by using what you are selling not only will I not be left behind my competition, I will remain out in front of them.

7. Throw out your stereotypes of green building and green builders. It doesn’t matter if I am (or you think I am) a tree hugging, Sierra Club loving vegetarian, if you want my Green (or my clients) you best learn that those stereotypes are fast becoming obsolete. Red or blue, we are all buying green!

8. Remain generous in partnering on legit green homes. Just because your builder wants a sweet deal doesn’t mean you should give it. Save your sponsorships and underwriting for unique, professionally designed and built, nationally certified green homes. Do not settle for anything less!

9. Get your CGP designation. Where else will you get to spend three straight days sitting in a room with potential clients from 9 to 5? I mean a room full of builders and remodelers for three straight days, this should be a no-brainer!

10. Learn LEED for Homes & National Green Building Standard (ANSI 700). If you need an explanation here, begin in GBA’s Green building Encyclopedia Green Rating Systems

11. Believe it!

a. Green ain’t going away

b. Obsolete building practices are history

c. 3rd party inspection are the wave of the future

d. Green does not have to cost more

I hope you can write your own list and take the time to sit down with your key business partners and do some sharing, some strategic planning together. Whether these partners are suppliers, trade contractors or manufacturer reps is up to you. But I believe if you share your insights and wisdom on how they can make their business greener, it will ultimately makes your greener as well!


  1. Armando Cobo | | #1

    How to sell green products or services
    Good article and good points Michael. Too often manufacturers seldom test their products in real life situations and hardly ever in working relationship with other products in a holistic approach allowing them to make claims that are unreasonable and unsubstantiated. This information gets passed down to their sales people, which in turn pass to their clients.

    A sales person should come prepared to a sales call with their products scored to the LEED for Homes and NAHB Standard. That would make it easier for the client to reference all claims. Also, if a sales person tries to sell me a product by slamming a competitor, he gets the boot; it shows to me that his product doesn’t have enough value on its own.

    And finally, this is not just for product sales professionals. Architects, designers, realtors and builders have the same problems making claims and promises that are not true. It really is tough for the end consumer to figure out who is making false claims and who’s not.

  2. Michael Strong, LEED Associate, CGP | | #2

    A Green Label Product Standard
    You know Armando, I had a sales rep talk to me recently about how their product was undergoing testing in Arizona and it kind offlew all over me. I was in an uncharacteristically grumpy mood and short on time and as a result I was a little short in my repsonse. I asked him straight up testing in a hot arid climate was going to help me in in a hot humid one. His repsonse? We are testing for the dry conditions but rather for the UV exposure. Boy did I ever have fun taking my foot out of my mouth! The point is this salesman actually did know what he was talking about but I have been so conditioned by so many that don't I automatically jumped to the wrong conclusion. And this serves as a good reminder to us when we are workign with homeowners-don't try to BS your way thorugh a sales call be being an "expert" on something if your not! See you in Raleigh?!

  3. user-282515 | | #3

    Selling Green Products
    Here in the mid-South, I talk to builder after builder that tell me the same thing: All that matters is cost. They do not care if a product is twice as good as what they are using - if it costs $10 more, they will not use it.

    However, I will say that sales reps should be better educated about "green" than most builders - as evidenced by the Green Building Council of the local HBA. I have yet to go to a meeting that 99.5% of the attendees weren't sales reps. Builders don't even bother going.......

  4. Michael Strong, LEED Associate, CGP | | #4

    Selling Green When Builders Don't Show Up
    Sorry to hear about those challenges Grant. I'd like to say down hear in Houston we don't or have never had that problem but I can't. The cost issue of course depends on what you are comparing. Try to move the arguement away from a comparison to an obsolete building product. Nobody compares the cost of a Hyundai to a BMW after all. Try to get an apples to apples comparison.

    In regard to builders not showing up I would gladly put you in contact with the chairmen of our local Custom Builders Council and Remodelers Council. The CBC regularly draws +75 folks the their lunches and about 20-25% are buidlers, the RC draws +100 and 30% are remodelers. Send me an email and I can send you their contact information on this has been accomplished.

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