Sales: It’s a Dirty Job, and Everyone Has to Do It

I recently asked a room full of small-staff association EDs/CEOs how many of them had to sell as part of their job, and everyone raised their hand. When I then asked them to keep their hands up if they liked that part of their job, just two people kept their hands halfway raised (I’m not sure if they were embarrassed to admit they like sales or didn’t feel they should publicly confess their dislike).

I continued by asking the group specifically what they didn’t like about sales, and the answers included: cold calling, revenue quotas, rejection, being told “no,” and not feeling comfortable asking for money. All of those answers were completely understandable, since the most intimidating elements of sales revolve around a fear of failure and rejection.

So can sales be enjoyable for people who didn’t choose sales as a profession?

Let’s think of a different example of a sale. A friend asks for a movie suggestion. You know she likes suspenseful movies, and she loved Jim from “The Office,” a character played by John Krasinski. You just saw – and really liked – his movie “A Quiet Place,” so you suggest that. If she goes and likes it, then congrats, you made a sale! Even if she doesn’t see it, you won’t lose sleep.

Granted, you also didn’t have a revenue target or board conversation on the line if your friend didn’t follow your recommendation. However, just as you knew what movie to recommend, if you know your prospect and focus on finding a good fit for them instead of thinking about your revenue target, you’re much more likely to be successful.

If you think about advertising and sponsorship sales more like pitching a movie to a friend, maybe it won’t be so daunting. Let’s break the process down into the key steps:

  • Understand your prospect. What is important to them?
  • Craft a solid story. What’s exciting/compelling about your offering?
  • Position your story well. Don’t overlook the power of marketing collateral and outreach.
  • Execute effectively. Be a pro with the actual sales conversation.

First, understand your prospect. What are they trying to accomplish for their business? Are they launching a new product? Entering a new market? What’s their competitive position? Are they looking for thought leadership opportunities to speak, write, or otherwise contribute educational content? Are they looking for lead generation via events that include a list of warm leads? If you tried to pitch your suspense-movie-loving friend a feel-good romantic comedy, you would have missed the mark. You’ll also miss the mark with prospects if you don’t get to
know them.

Asking your prospects open-ended questions will enable you to: (a) learn about their business to identify where you can best help; (b) build rapport and trust so they see you’re trying to find the right fit; and (c) put yourself in their shoes as you think about your association’s offering so you’re more likely to suggest proper options. When you know what someone needs, and you know you have the tools to help them, it doesn’t feel like selling, it feels like helping.

Next, it’s time to craft a slam-dunk story. Most association advertising/sponsorship collateral focuses primarily on what’s available and at what price, often on a form loaded with checkboxes. When I recently asked those same EDs/CEOs if anyone ever had a completed sponsorship form sent back without any discussion, no one raised their hand (just as you wouldn’t give your friend a list of movie titles and ticket prices vs. a recommendation).

Before your sponsors and advertisers see a menu of options and pricing, they want
to know:

  • Your “why.” Why do you advocate for members, why are members engaged, and why should they be part of the action?
  • If you can get them in front of people who make purchasing decisions. Who are your members and what is their buying power?
  • Why are you relevant to members? What do your members (their prospects) say about the association?
  • What makes you different from the competition? How much overlap would there be with current participation elsewhere, and is the additional spend worth it?

Now that you have the elements of your story, it is important that you tell that story well.  What is the first impression when a prospect visits your website or receives a marketing email from you? How well do you, your staff and/or members tell the story when an advertiser or sponsor is talking
to them?

  • Telling your story well on your website and in your marketing means:
  • Making information easy to find.
  • Utilizing collateral that places importance on the “why” not the “what.”
  • Making it easy to get in touch with someone who can answer questions/assist in the buying process (vs. completing a form).
  • Once you have those things in place, you need to make sure the conversations continue the story.

Pick up the phone. The best email marketing campaign will fall short on results compared to a combination of marketing and outbound calls. I know calls are often one of the least favorite parts of sales. It takes time to get through to people, it usually takes multiple calls to get someone engaged, and a lot of people will say, “no.” But there is a payoff, and you can make this process less painful.

Tips for making calls:

If you’re calling about sponsorships or larger-dollar spends, you shouldn’t try to get someone on the phone to pitch them, you should schedule a discovery call. You want them to set aside time to speak with you so you have their full attention and they can give you the time to learn about their business and objectives. Bonus: It’s easier to cold call for this discovery appointment than it is too cold call to give a pitch.

Prepare several voicemail scripts that are short, focused on the prospect, and tease several aspects of your offerings. Keep track of which ones you use for each prospect so you aren’t leaving the exact same message every time. I like to think of it as having a conversation where I’m the only one talking and my voicemails build upon each other:

  • Mention a compelling statistic/demographic about your audience.
  • Mention something you saw on the company’s website that could be a hook.
  • Mention several companies currently seeing results from their engagement with you.
  • Drop a testimonial from a member or sponsor about the value they find in the association.

Don’t block off an entire afternoon or day for your calls if you aren’t going to be able to stick to it. It’s often easier to block off 30-minute increments across several days and protect that time for calls. If you get on a roll, then keep going, but push yourself to at least do the 30 minutes without interruption.

Engage your members! A happy “client” will always sell better than you. Ask your members to reach out to their suppliers and introduce you. If they aren’t willing to do that, ask them who their suppliers are and get their permission to use their name in your outreach (“John at ABC company suggested I call you.”).

Schedule your follow-up calls. At the end of each call, review the action items and/or next steps and get the next call on the calendar with an invite. If someone has to reschedule, no problem, but if you don’t schedule the follow-up, it’s easy to fall into chase mode trying to get them to re-engage.

Most association professionals fell into this industry, and the last thing they probably thought they would be doing is sales. But, if you can put aside any negative connotations or fears you have, create a focused pitch, and remember you are creating non-dues revenue to support your association’s mission and members, you’ll find the process much more approachable (and maybe even a little fun).

Author Carrie McIntyre is customer experience officer at The Wyman Company (www.thewymancompany.com), where she helps associations solve their non-dues revenue problems by leveraging products and services that support membership engagement. She can be reached at cmcintyre@thewymancompany.com or (703) 679-7614.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/maxsattana

Learn more tips to make your sales process more fun and successful at a small-group, interactive TSAE Lab, “Making Your Sales More Productive, Effective and Fun!” on May 10 in Dallas. Learn more and register at www.tsae.org/education-events/labs.

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