Why we need to break the sales technique taboo…
One of the biggest stumbling blocks charities face when developing earned income, is a lack of sales expertise, cemented-in by a further lack of appetite to develop it.
If developing sales skills is ever suggested, the push-back comes as a familiar phrase: “We don’t really like the idea of selling – it’s just not us.”
This is a manifestation of a deeply-held belief, that charities exist to help people, not to sell to them. The implications being that these two aims can only ever exist in conflict, and that to become a salesperson the first things you’d have to sell, would be your values, your mission, and your soul.
That single belief holds the whole sector back: you can have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t market and sell them, they won’t benefit anyone. And it’s also built on a perception that’s at least thirty years out of date.
I’ve trained a lot of salespeople and met a whole lot more. Very few of them are anything like the stereotype – they don’t wear sharp suits, they don’t try and talk anyone into anything, and they certainly don’t think they should “Always Be Closing”.
That said, I probably have met a couple that did have a hint of the fast-talking “spiv” about them. But only the once. And there’s a reason for that – a pushy sales technique pushes people away. Not only is it unethical, it’s entirely counterproductive. And if that’s your image of selling, then it’s not surprising you don’t think it’s you.
You might not know it from watching The Apprentice, but modern sales methodologies have come an awful long way since Arthur Miller and Arthur Daley, particularly at the high-value end. Most salespeople recognise that selling is a relationship business; one based on trust. And the potential value from maintaining their relationships and reputation, is far, far greater, than the value of a single transaction. Good ethics is good business.
Good salespeople know that their job is not to sell people things they don’t need, but to help them work out what they do need, what the best solution for them would be, and to offer it to them, having built the trust and the confidence, throughout that interaction, to carry the sale over the line.
That doesn’t mean they don’t need sophisticated skills and techniques, they need them more than ever: to quickly build rapport, get past any defensive barriers, and create an open, honest dialogue. They need to educate and engage, correct misapprehensions and continually guide the conversation, all while demonstrating authentic competence, expertise and trustworthiness.
Above all, they need to correctly divine what’s genuinely in the best interest of the person in front of them; to work out the best solution, coach the buyer to understand that rationale, and engage them emotionally to follow through with it, because, only then will that person get what they really need.
Ethical salespeople are there to ask, listen, counsel… or at least they should be. And with the right skills and values, it can be an impactful service in its own right; one that helps people to become more informed, make better choices and get better outcomes. Still doesn’t sound like you?
The thing is, charities will never develop those skills, nor access the opportunity and the impact they could unlock, as long as selling itself remains a misunderstood and culturally taboo topic for the sector.