All associations are in the business of sales, whether they want to believe it or not. Here are a few tips for changing the culture around the office, as well as an example that shows these tips in practice.
Girl Scouts have been everywhere this past month—in grocery store lobbies, at street corners, and at the entrance to the Metro station nearest my home. Until cookie season ended this week, my workdays were punctuated with Girl Scouts hawking their Tagalongs, Trefoils, and my favorites, Samoas, at my Metro station.
What was interesting is that each group of scouts peddled their cookies with a different sales tactic. One evening, the girls were shouting their sales pitch. Another time, they opted for the “They’re going fast; get yours today” ploy. Yet another time, they had come up with an original song.
No matter the strategy, one thing was clear: These girls really embraced their roles as salespeople.
Do associations? Wes Trochlil, president of Effective Database Management, posits that many associations don’t really consider themselves as being in sales.
“The only way to get the job done is if there is money coming in the door,” Trochlil said. “Associations have to realize that revenue is required to support the mission of the organization—and selling drives that revenue.”
Here are a few tips for modifying your association’s culture to embrace sales.
Acknowledge that the association is in the business of selling. The word “sales” often has a negative connotation, with a slimy car salesman coming to mind. “I think that’s compounded by the fact that associations are nonprofits, and again, there’s this mindset that we’re not supposed to be in the business of making money, and if you’re selling, you’re making money,” Trochlil said.
But associations need to throw out that image and replace it with a positive one. After all, the good work that they do for their members and industries (e.g., advocacy, working to advance the profession, research) is possible due to the revenue they bring in from dues, conferences, and other products, programs, and services.
Identify what the association sells. “In one sense, that’s very easy,” Trochlil said. “Look at all the things that require people to pay you—those are the things that you’re selling.” For instance, your list might include member dues, conference registration, magazine advertisements, certification programs, online learning programs, sponsorship, and more. These are all areas that should be viewed through a sales lens.
Create a sales process. For each of the products that you sell—whether its membership or sponsorship—associations should have a clearly defined sales process. “It shouldn’t be done ad hoc or haphazardly,” Trochlil said. He added that anyone who is doing sales at the association should know and follow the process. “The key is that if more than one person is doing sales, everyone selling needs to do it the same way,” he said.
Learn from experience. Years ago, when Trochlil was working at an association as a membership director, he witnessed firsthand how a sales mentality can positively change an association’s bottom line. At that time, the association hosted about 35 events a year, and one staff member processed all of those event registrations. She realized that a lot of these companies that were registering for the events would probably be very interested in getting their names out in front of attendees, so she brought the idea before the executive director, who gave her the green light to make the ask.
Sponsors were offered everything from their names printed on promotional mailings or onsite printed pieces to a mention at the podium during the general session. Within one year, the association went from zero sponsorship dollars to $100,000, Trochlil said.
“She identified a need that was there,” Trochlil said. “She knew these organizations and knew they’d be willing to do this, and more importantly, she asked for the sale. She called them up and said, ‘Here’s what we’re doing. Would you be interested in doing this?’”
How do you inspire a culture of sales in your own office? Please leave your comments below.