Jamie Smith

The Trillion Trees Act: Five Sales and Marketing Lessons to Learn from Marc Benioff’s Big Pitch

According to Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World, “What you plant now, you will harvest later.” The multi-million selling guide to sales success couldn’t have provided a better quote to start a lesson on the biggest sell that one of the world’s biggest salesmen has ever made:

The Trillion Trees campaign has kind of a ring to it. It’s also got big numbers: 1,000,000,000,000 to be precise and a big challenge that few believed could be accomplished: Sell a big, environmental idea to Donald Trump, pariah of environmentalism and probably the least green president in U.S. history. 

In other words, it had everything an opportunistic salesman loves. For Marc Benioff, owner of Salesforce, environmentalist and one of America’s savviest marketing and sales operatives it must have been a dream challenge. So, with the sales conversion complete and the Trillion Trees Act taking the first steps on the long road to enforcement, it’s worth looking back to learn a few things from the master salesman who made the pitch.

Lesson One: A big sell needs a big idea, and it doesn’t have to be a new one

Like most great businessmen, Benioff wasn’t coming up with a new idea, but selling someone else’s idea in a better way. 

The someone else was Felix Finkbeiner, head of the Plant-for-the-planet Foundation who, at the age of 14, told the U.N. in 2011 that “It is now time that we work together. We combine our forces, old and young, rich and poor; and together, we can plant a trillion trees. We can start the Trillion Tree Campaign.”

This might seem a tad optimistic, but in early 2011 he was coming off the back of the Billion Tree Campaign, which had managed to achieve its target seven times over in its five-year lifespan. By the end of that year, 11 billion more trees were in the earth thanks to the campaign. 

If you trawl through the coverage of the Trillion Tree Act – yes, it’s an act now – you won’t hear much about Master Finkbeiner, but you will hear a great deal about Mr. Benioff. Not least because his part in the story is so dramatic. But the lesson here is that a big pitch needs a big idea, even if you’re only selling toasters or cigarettes. 

PR mastermind and marketing supremo Edward Bernays was only selling cigarettes when he launched the equally powerful-sounding ‘Torches of Freedom’ campaign. By labelling the tiny tobacco tubes as symbols of emancipation and equality for supressed women who were frowned upon for smoking in public just as the feminist movement took off in earnest, he helped to increase the proportion of cigarettes sold to women by 250% within seven years, for better or worse. 

Marketers and salesmen alike can take this advice into consideration, from campaign strategists to door-steppers: Attaching a small and banal sale to something bigger and more positive can really boost your numbers.

Lesson Two: Network! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

If we trace the Trillion Tree Campaign back as far as possible, we arrive at the Green Belt Movement of the 1970, which aimed to plant a meagre 30 million trees in Africa. Only one for every person in Saudi Arabia or one for every 33,333 the Trillion Tree Campaign aims to plant. 

Note: There is sarcasm in the above paragraph.

They had great intentions, and a goal that was honestly pretty impressive, but they didn’t have the backing of the U.S. Government, the U.N. or even the Scouts. The Billion Tree Campaign got the U.N.