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News: Associations News

Sales people build bridges

10 April 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Olivia Palmer
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John Scarrott, one of our recommended Consultants, and highly rated workshop leaders and speakers, talks about sales for associations.

Do you need to become more sales oriented but recoil at the word sales? This is what I’m going to be talking about at my workshop “Sales skills for non-sales people” at the Associations World Congress in Vienna on 3 May. I recently spoke with Elana Huthnance, Client Manager for Engineers Australia on this subject. We met when I went to Sydney in May 2016 to speak at an Associations Forum event. Elana has shifted her thinking around sales with some stunning results and agreed to share her experience with me.

What was wrong with sales for you?

“My experience as a buyer is that I’m someone who can’t say no to things. So, when I’m approached by a sales person and they’re using their mechanisms and manipulating the situation I sense it and this I find difficult on a personal level. I tend to either say no outright and early or say yes, to something that I don’t really want. Neither of these two options are good for me but this is what I associated with sales.” 

What happened to change your view?

“My transition to thinking about sales differently was prompted by a change in my job role. Around 18 ago my title changed to Business Development Manager. The emphasis of my role changed to being more about sales which meant a focus on what was right for us financially as well as more broadly as a NFP.” 

There were also changes in our membership that called for a different approach from us. The Gen Xs were still joining because it was the right thing to do. But we were getting into conversations with Gen Ys who were asking different questions, such as:  ‘What do I get? and ‘Why should I join?’ This was challenging at first but I began to respond to their questions, not just with answers but with questions of my own, for example: ‘How can we add value to you and your business? I started to see that my role was not to say ‘Here’s my product, do you like it?’ It was about exploring and finding out ‘what is your business challenge?’”

What helped your transition?

“I started to see that the skillset of engagement and involvement that I had been using in my previous role was perfect for the new Business Development role. We also had some training in not ‘talking at’ someone but in asking the right questions. And then at a different level to explore who are the decision makers and what are their criteria? 

I developed my skill to be able to ask good questions. To do this I research the organisation, and also the person I was going to meet. I get really curious and look for possible gaps. Then I stay open. I stay curious. I don’t see what I think is a gap and then say ‘they must need this.’ Neither do I say, ‘they seem to have that so I won’t ask them about it’. I’m prepared to be surprised. And this often happens but if I was set on a course and stuck to it, I would miss something new and possibly quite valuable.”

And now?

Now I see myself as someone who spans boundaries. On the one side, there is my association and on the other side are our members and members to be. I’m in the middle. I talk with my members. Then I take that back into the association and say ‘this is what I heard’. What does that mean for us and how we address this? How can we continue to add value? This is what our community wants next.

This can lead to some pretty big questions but I like it when I don’t get through the whole agenda. I don’t try and cram it all in in the last 5 minutes, but see it as a reason to set up another call.

And your results?

I’m meeting my membership KPIs and I’ve doubled target already for the second financial quarter.

Elana’s approach says some interesting things about the changing nature of sales and how you might make the transition to getting comfortable with sales:

  • The seller is the bridge: sales is a looped process with the sales person at the heart of it. It is an evolutionary process, a back and forth both between the seller and the members and then between the seller and the association and then within the association to figure out their response. The seller is the bridge, they bring the islands together.
  • Sales is personal: In the way she sells, Elana is close to the thoughts, feelings, concerns of the members, she is trusted by them and they share their thoughts with her.
  • Sales is not the goal but it may be the outcome. The process is one of building something with your customers in the same room as them, live! It’s not something that takes place in private and is then fired at them.  
  • Sales is not short-term. The evolutionary nature of sales means that the conversations you have now, may yield results in the following year, not the current one.  The results may feel like short term because they seem to suddenly happen but they will have been building for a while. Don’t confuse this with failure or slowness to close.
  • Sales is more tentative. You can test your thinking by asking a question. This takes the pressure away because you can be relaxed to be wrong, to hear that you are. And then ask, so now, what does that mean? 

Do you need to change your approach and thinking when it comes to sales? Could your team benefit from a change of perspective? If so, John Scarrott can help you. Get in touch with him at and set up a call with him to talk.

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