New to Sales? Five Steps to Success

If sales has recently been added to your job description, don't worry: Follow this advice to overcome any fear selling holds for you.

Many association executives have a secret: They don't like to sell. Stereotyped images of slick salespeople backing customers into the proverbial corner or dreaded repeat phone calls from someone who considers you a "hot lead" come to mind when we hear the word "sales."

In the "good old days," those of us who didn't like sales could often avoid it. But in today's economic reality, products and programs that used to almost sell themselves are hurting, and staff in departments as disparate as membership, certification, professional development, and conventions have added sales to their burgeoning to-do lists.

Selling in our experience can actually be a satisfyingly enriching experience. Making the switch from dread to success is often simply a matter of realigning your thoughts and actions. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

1. Understand what selling really is. Selling is simply fulfilling your members' needs with products and services that will help them meet their needs. It's matching problems to solutions.

2. Think in terms of connections and networks. As association professionals, we know how to connect with our members, nurturing helpful networks of like-minded people. This action of catalyzing connection and sharing is just selling by another name.

3. Ask and listen. In associations, we know how to ask great questions, to probe, and to listen to what members really need. We possess a thorough understanding of our products and services that will help our members achieve their desired outcomes. All we need to do is make the connection between members' needs and our solutions.

4. Invite and ask. Once you've asked probing questions, listened to members' or customers' answers, and discovered the connection between their needs and your offerings, it's time to invite and ask them to make the purchase—"invite" and "ask" being the key words. We can't really sell anyone what they don't need, at least not if we want to establish long-term relationships, which are essential to associations. We care about our members' success. And that's what professional selling is all about—helping others succeed.

5. Leverage your personal strengths. There is no one right way to do sales, so just be your authentic, natural self. Some people become subject-matter experts. Others enjoy picking up the phone and initiating conversations. Leverage your unique strengths to drive sales in a way that's comfortable for you. Otherwise, it can be hard to generate internal energy, which often leads to inaction. When you leverage your unique strengths and motivations, the inner energy naturally flows to provide the fuel necessary to do sales.

Once you make this mental shift, you can see that selling is really about establishing and enriching long-term relationships that help others succeed. Even the most sales averse among us can find that process to be fulfilling, deeply satisfying, and even joyous.

Vinay Kumar is president and founder of Vinay Kumar Associates LLC in Great Falls, Virginia.  Kara S. McKinn is an association executive in Urbana, Illinois. Emails: [email protected], [email protected]