24. Sales 101 for Activists

Sales, as discussed in Chapter 2, is the work you do to persuade a customer to take an action you desire. It typically follows marketing, the process by which you attract the right customers to you in the first place. Marketing is what gives your customers a positive impression of you, your cause, and your activities. It also convinces customers that what you have to offer is exactly what they need to fill an urgent need or solve an urgent problem that they have. Once your marketing has successfully communicated these messages, then the sale itself—the finalizing of the transaction—becomes much easier.

The goal of every sale should be to get the customer to take an action. A car salesperson wants his customer to pull out her checkbook and pay for the car. An activist wants his customer to vote for his candidate, participate in an event or make a “lifestyle” change such as eating more vegetarian meals or conserving more energy. If the action doesn’t take place, the sale isn’t complete. While it’s gratifying to get your customer to agree with your viewpoint, that’s only an intermediate step in the sale. The sale isn’t considered accomplished until you get your customer to change his or her behavior.

Although many people try a “seat of the pants” approach to sales, it is actually a complex process consisting of several well-established and highly studied and refined steps. Experts break the process down in different ways, but most agree that it comes down to something like this:

• Prospect

• Qualify

• Needs Assessment

• Restate

• Ponder & Present Solution

• Ask for the Sale & Supervise the Result

Prospect means creating a list of potential customers. If the list is good, a lot of people on it will be likely to buy. If not, if the list is “low quality,” then few people will be likely to buy.

Qualify means separating out the small number of people on your prospect list who are ready to buy NOW from the much larger number who aren’t. People who are ready to buy now are called “qualified.”

Needs Assessment means talking to a qualified customer to find out who she is, what her situation is, and what her needs or problems are. The goals here are to (a) build the kind of positive relationship that facilitates a sale, and (b) gather the information you need to actually make that sale.

Restate means you repeat what the customer has told you in your own language. This confirms for her that you really have been listening to what she is saying—another relationship-building action—and also helps ensure that you correctly understood her.

Ponder & Present Solution means taking a moment to ponder what the customer has told you, and then presenting your product (or viewpoint) to her in such a way that she perceives it as meeting her needs.

Ask for the Sale & Supervise the Result. Asking for the sale means that you explicitly ask the customer to take the action you desire. Beating around the bush doesn’t work! You always have to ask.

Supervising the Result means that once the customer says “Yes,” you make sure she follows through—handholding her, if necessary, throughout the process.

If what you’re selling is simple and/or inexpensive, like a bag of potato chips, this process can take as little as a few seconds, and you may be able to skip some steps. But if what you’re selling is expensive or complex, like a house or car, the process can take days, weeks, months or even years. Progressivism is more on the complex side, so it pays to learn, practice and use the above steps. In the following chapters, I’ll be discussing how each works in an activist context, but first let’s discuss the preparation, skills and attitudes and aptitudes that top salespeople bring to their work.