As a climate entrepreneur, understanding the stages of problem and solution awareness is crucial for the success of your business.
In this article, we will be diving into the key stages of problem and solution awareness, and how you can use this knowledge to effectively market your business and reach potential customers.
From identifying the problem your customers may not even know they have, to guiding them through the purchasing process, this guide will provide you with the tools you need to navigate the complex world of climate entrepreneurship.
Problem unaware: The customer is not aware that they have a problem or that a solution exists
Just a few years ago, most people on the planet were not aware of the historic problem that climate change poses. When I started my personal fight against climate change in 2008, my best friend and I knew that the most important thing to do was raising awareness. People around us appeared to know nothing about climate change, about the threat it poses to humanity and to our generation and future ones. And when people don’t know about a problem, it is logical that they won’t act upon it.
The same is true for your business and your customers. Even if you identified a critical problem your customers have, they might not have problem awareness yet. For example, someone throwing away refrigerants from old air conditioners in nature or draining it in the sink, might not think that there is any problem with it – although refrigerants are extremely strong greenhouse gases and a single refrigerator leaking could have the same impact as driving around with an old inefficient car for a year.
A perfect example of this stage is also the “never thought about it – we always did it like this”.
So watch out: When you are trying to solve a problem that the people who are affected by or are causing it are not aware of, you will need to start with educating them about the issues first. You will need to explain them their own problem because they haven’t noticed it yet. This is the first step in problem awareness.
This will make it more difficult for you to sell any solution you are offering to their problem.
Problem aware: The customer is aware that they have a problem, but they are not aware that a solution exists
Luckily, awareness of human-induced climate change has changed drastically over the past 15 years, and people around the world, in all generations, in all sectors, even in most political parties have come to understand that the problem exists.
While awareness of the problem increases, there either might be no solutions available yet or your potential customers are simply not aware of any existing solutions at this stage.
When climate change was discussed first, back in the 70s, and 80s, many people believed that there was no alternative to fossil fueled energy, internal combustion engines, and oil & gas heaters. Even in the 90s, some executives of German energy companies believed that renewable energy could never cover more than 4 % of humanities energy demand. Today more than 50 % of German electricity is generated by renewables and more than 80 % are targeted for 2030.
Quick note on the side: Of course companies were protecting their existing business models back then, but renewables were also much more expensive than existing conventional generators. Today, especially solar and onshore wind have become the cheapest generators in many markets. And this development led the energy companies who were once famous for their coal & lignite plants to become the largest investors into renewable energies world wide. If sustainability is good for business, it will be implemented. Now back to topic.
You will find that most of your customers (depending on your business of course) will be aware of the problems and pain points they experience. But they might not be aware that there are solutions to those problems. Alternatives, that can release them of their pain and make their lives easier and more sustainable.
This is why you need marketing and sales in your company.
Especially in the early days of your venture, your customers will not know that you and your solution exist. You need to create awareness of your solution through a combination of targeted marketing and sales.
Reaching out to people via cold emails or cold calling is a tedious process but can generate interest in your product and provide you with leads to sell to.
A much better way to generate leads in today’s digitally connected economy is to build an audience around your field of expertise and the problems you are trying to solve. If your target customers are aware of their problem, they will look for a solution and search online. Create articles and knowledge bases, share them on LinkedIn or Reddit in groups about your specific topic. There is always a group or an old (but very active) web forum about any topic. Did you know there are specialised web forums for plumbers? Or lovers of a specific motorbike?
Figure out where your potential customers meet and try to help them there to establish yourself. One warning though: These communities don’t like if someone just comes in to sell things. View it rather as an opportunity to make yourself known, provide valuable content, and let them come to you.
Solution aware: The customer is aware that a solution exists, but they are not aware of the specific details of the solution
A big problem for the roll out of residential solar PV always was that people were frightened by the huge upfront cost. Startups which offer rooftop PV in a rental or leasing model changed that.
And after a few people tried the new rental models, more people got aware of the possibility that they don’t have to buy the full plant for +20k but that there were alternative solutions.
However, just because you know that alternatives exist, does not mean you know how they work, how much better they are, and what conditions come with them.
At this stage, customers might already know your product and your brand and this provides you with a little trustability and expertise when talking to them. You might not need to convince them anymore that you understand their problem, but rather explain how your product is really the best solution to their problem.
Active consideration: The customer is actively considering a solution and researching different options
Most people don’t buy the first option they get. Think of a young couple buying a car. It’s a big decision, coupled to a lot of money, and potential future family plans. They will try out and compare many potential cars before they make a final decision.
Depending on your business and the availability of alternatives to your product, people will try more or fewer alternatives before deciding to go with yours. At this stage, you really need to understand the primary criteria your customers use to valuate their alternatives.
The primary criteria of cars used to be the looks. Yes, I know, very superficial, but it’s true. It’s what companies focused on in development, too, because the looks were deciding whether it’s gonna be top or flop. By today, fuel efficiency and safety have moved to the top, but note that this is primarily driven by financial concerns and only secondary by sustainability.
When you understand what your customer values most in your product or its alternatives, then you can make your product the most valuable. Create and communicate your unique selling points (USP) to show why your product is the best choice. Some companies even go so far that they create “Top 3 Alternatives” or “Top 3 solutions for problem X” posts and pages on their website to directly compare to their competitors.
Give it a try and find your unique selling point! If you are having difficulties pinpointing it, send me a message.
Purchase: The customer has made a decision to purchase a solution and is in the process of implementing it
Congratulations! A potential customer turned into YOUR customer. Now they will need to implement your product or service into their business (or life) and make the most of it.
The implementation of a new tool or process can have tremendous impact on the value generated by your solution. Now the “real” work starts and you need to deliver on everything you have promised. Make sure that your customer gets the most out of your product and has the easiest start possible.
Many businesses use this as a cross-selling opportunity. You don’t have to support the implementation for free. Instead, you can sell consulting services to ensure a high-quality implementation and future customer support. You will need it if you want to retain your customers in the future.
Post-purchase evaluation: The customer is evaluating the effectiveness of the solution and determining if they are satisfied with their decision
No decision is ever permanent. After buying and implementing your solution (or someone else’s), customers will continue to evaluate whether their chosen solution provides the value they expected. Maybe new problems come up now which make another solution look more promising.
No matter whether they are super happy with your product or not – there will be new learnings you can consider to improve your offering and to provide even more value to your customers.
This is not a linear process: Each customer has their individual journey
While it may seem like a very linear customer journey, it is not. Customers might go back and forth between stages, try out some solutions and go back to the drawing board. When you talk to potential customers, try to find out where they are on their journey and what they plan next.
Pick them up where they are instead of expecting them to come to you.
I am sure this understanding of problem-solution-awareness will provide you with better tools for your next sales round
No matter when or where you talk to potential customers, they will be in different states of problem and solution awareness. Make use of their current state by focusing on the information they need most. Do they know their problem but are not aware of any solutions? Tell them that your solution solves their problem. Do they know your product and alternatives? Tell them why your product is the best alternative for them! And finally, just try to understand where your customers are coming from and what their motivation is behind them trying to find solutions for their problems.
Good luck and let me know, how this article helped you with your next sales call! 🚀
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