If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
People can’t GUESS what you need.
When we share this message people tend to process it in one of two ways:
Most of a room will see it for clarity and simplicity.
“Oh, it can be that simple.”
“Now that I think about it, that $25,000 we received was because we asked for $25,000.”
A second part of the room will see it as slightly aggressive.
For the second group, I would offer this reframe. Don’t think about this as ‘asking aggressively,’ think about engaging your prospect around your impact in such a compelling way that she asks, “How can I help?”
And if you’re asked that question, you need to have a clear answer! That answer needs to be more than a superficial next move. It needs to address exactly what it will take to make the impact happen (in terms of resources, connections, or funding).
Humans seek order. In a very primitive sense, we’ve evolved to recognize faces (the ‘whole’) over features (the ‘parts’). In a cognitive sense, we learn new things by associating them with existing concepts in our brain… so all communication and learning is a mapping exercise inside our brains.
Gestalt theory emerges from these scientific underpinnings.
Think about a time when someone explained something new to you. In particular, think about a time when this explanation was coming from a subject matter expert — a real geek! Think about what it was like to catch — and comprehend — all the jargon coming at you! You likely felt overwhelmed. You likely missed concepts because you were devoting mental resources to sorting out one or two ideas in particular.
This is gestalt in action: Gestalt explains that feeling of WORKING to understand the other person. You were working to create order in YOUR mind.
Let’s contrast this with the presenter’s perspective. Everything is in perfect order for the speaker! She is explaining the concept as it makes sense in her head.
Great sales and effective 1:1 communication begins with the ‘order’ (or mental skeleton) as it ALREADY exists in the prospect’s head!
Instead of presenting your ‘frame,’ or concept, start by asking questions. Then, build your presentation on the prospect’s EXISTING mental skeleton. This has several effects:
It increases the amount of information EFFECTIVELY communicated. EVERY PIECE of information coming in has a category, or a place, in the prospect’s mind. Rather than making the prospect ‘work for order.’
Drawing on more neuroscience, it actually bypasses the fight-or-flight region of the brain. Think about your first impulse when a department store representative walks up to ask, “Can I help you?” For most people, our most immediate impulse is defensive!We can bypass the fight-or-flight (defensive) center when we are continually responding to a prospect’s concept.
You use words that make sense! This other mode of engagement requires us to LISTEN. Not only are we building on the prospect’s mental skeleton, but he is also sharing with us the key WORDS (concepts) that resonate.
In our boot camps, we do an exercise to illustrate gestalt and these learning points. We ask attendees to find a partner and — in two minutes’ time — communicate ONLY what is needed for the prospect to understand the organization in such a way that it could be communicated to someone else.
Most people are pressured by the ‘two-minute’ constraint. They start puking information. You can watch the room and see the prospects’ eyes glaze over. Prospects are overwhelmed with the information coming at them.
We then ask each partner to start over. In the second instance, we instruct the sales person to start the two minutes with an open-ended question… and then to follow-up with at least five more questions during the two minutes.
The exercise is used to show that you can actually communicate MORE by asking questions, and then responding…. by building your message on top of the prospect’s EXISTING mental skeleton.
Here is the example I use to illustrate this point. I communicate what it is that we do at The Suddes Group/For Impact.
(You have an advantage in READING these words. Imagine LISTENING to them.)
Scenario 1: The Suddes Group provides fundraising help. Unlike a lot of consultants, we also focus on organizational development and team development. We focus on the storytelling, the team, AND the funding implementation. We’ll do whatever it takes to help you move the ideas into funding. Often, this means we go on visits WITH you. We have a sales process, a funding road map, and a relationship-based funding model….
Twenty seconds into my ‘spiel’, I’ve lost the room.
Scenario 2: (I pick ONE person — Lisa — and engage in a dialogue.)
Me: Lisa, what is your greatest funding challenge?
Lisa: Trying to figure out what to say to get people to give the money.
Me: Is it that you don’t know HOW to ask? Or that you don’t have a succinct message for the organization?
Lisa: I think we’re pretty succinct in our message. In fact, we’re GREAT storytellers. And, I think we have prospects, we just don’t seem to be able to convert any of them to big gifts.
Me: Do you feel like you have a reliable process to follow?
Lisa: Actually… no… maybe that’s it. Now that you ask the question, there are practices we probably don’t know about to make the ask easier. And then I would say we lack the confidence to ask.
Me (communicating WHAT we do in response form). Lisa, this is what we do. We help teams with those two obstacles. We help them figure out what to say, and how to ask, AND we help them build a process so that they can do this again and again.
The goal of the exercise is to communicate what you do in a way that the other person could communicate with others. In the first scenario, I was forcing the prospect to mentally categorize all sorts of new concepts – most of which weren’t interesting or relevant to the prospect. In the second scenario, we were successful by building questions and then building relevant associations for the prospect.
In 1:1 engagements, you can COMMUNICATE more effectively by asking questions, and then by RESPONDING with relevant concepts.
I’ve been spending a lot of time ‘in-the-field’ the past few weeks coaching some remarkable social entrepreneurs from Mulago, StartingBloc, and (nonprofit graduates of) TechStars.
Here are simple reminders we come back to with almost every social entrepreneur.
97/3. Especially as it relates to start-up / scale-up capital, 97 percent of your funding is going to come from 3 percent of your ‘list’. This is about a few key prospects (not kickstarter, or 1000 requests).
Own your 30,000′ Message. Social entrepreneurs tend to geek-out on WHAT they do. You know WAYYY too much. Focus on the WHY… the ‘TOWARD WHAT END’, or you’ll lose me!
Have an ask. Create SALES TOOLS. Social entrepreneurs create a lot of plans, materials, etc. Show me what you’re going to use to help you get ‘numbers on the table’.
JUST ASK. You don’t have time for extended courtship; neither does your funder.
If this feels too DIRECT, think about it in this way: Your goal is to get the prospect to ask, “How can I help?” And then you need to have an answer. I challenge you to get them to ask this in the first meeting!
(At this stage) You are the Chief Sales Officer. If you don’t like fundraising you’re going to hate managing a fundraiser even more.
Don’t hire a director of development. Instead, hire someone to take things off your plate.
Believe in yourself. Don’t pitch a hypothesis. Pitch a vision.
We’re big on vocab. Team vocabulary is especially important. [Think: CLEAR COMMUNICATION.] Here is some vocabulary for SALES TEAMS. In our roles as coaches, we see a correlation between the adoption of these phrases and the emergence of a true sales culture.
Predisposition: Everything you can do ahead of the visit to make it NOT a cold call or a surprise ask.It’s critical to be able to ask a teammate: “Has this prospect been predisposed?” Or, “Is there any more predisposition we can be doing ahead of the visit?”
Ask: Take some time to define what an ask is with your team. See this Checklist. Most fundraisers don’t make TRUE asks. In the broader sales world, Brian Tracy pointed out that 90% of the time, sales people don’t ask for the order!
Roadmap: As in, “Our goal on this visit is to get a roadmap to the commitment.”There is nothing more frustrating than getting a report from a salesperson that says, “Prospect is not ready yet.” What does that mean?
Equally frustrating is getting a report that you’ve met with a foundation and been invited to submit a grant request.
For how much?
Focusing on what program or priority?
Including what key language?
A good salesperson doesn’t always need to leave with a commitment, but he or she should always leave with a commitment, decline, or a roadmap!
“Numbers on the Table”: This is a term that we use to get clarity, e.g., “We were able to get numbers on the table.” Or, “We had a great meeting but it just felt too forced right now to get numbers on the table.”Either way, I can get a great sense of where we are in the sales process and what to make of the report.
Note: To be clear, we’re almost always trying to get numbers on the table – tied to a project or plan.
Discovery: Discovery is the process of listening and learning about:
Relationship (to case or cause)
When in discovery mode, there is an even greater emphasis on asking questions, engaging, and listening/learning.
It’s important to be able to communicate to a partner before a visit, “We’re going to start out HEAVY in discovery mode and then flip to the presentation.”
Visit: A phone call is not a visit. An email is not a visit. Also, being in the presence of a prospect without any attempt to maximize the relationship at this given moment is not a visit.A visit is a structured one-on-one that includes discovery, dialogue around the [plan/vision/program/story], and some progress toward a relationship goal.
I see too many sales reports that indicate 22 visits for the week when, in fact, all 11 visits were simply ‘points of contact.’
Green Sheet (Dashboard): Each team needs a dashboard – for clarity, speed in communication, and accountability. In fact, with great teams, the dashboard is more important as a fast communication tool than an accountability process.
Commitment: You need to define ‘commitment’ for your organization. I have a loose definition. Anytime I can stand before a board and say, “We can count on Jeff for $X,” this is a commitment. There will always be an ongoing relationship, stewardship, etc. For my definition, I just want to get to the point that I know how the funder plays into the plan (and you could call the funder to verify).This is important especially as you coach each other. “What do we need to do to get the commitment?” This is a great question to smoke out other issues. Maybe there hasn’t really been an ask.
This nugget focuses on the power of one idea: authenticity.
At the For Impact Boot Camp we have everyone practice their presentations, remembering some important keys to success:
Listening (including discovery)
The simple process: Share the story then present the opportunity
I want to highlight authenticity. If you get this one idea it makes you an immediate sales (major gifts) expert!
So many people have call reluctance because they fear “screwing up.” If you are authentic:
You can’t mess up – at least not in from which you can’t recover. If you are earnestly communicating an opportunity to save lives, change lives or impact lives how can that be messed up?
If you’re authentic you can say, “Let me call a time-out and back up. I’m not sure I’m communicating [insert point] clearly.”
You have a REAL dialogue. I’ve watched so many people give robot-canned-spiels. That’s not authentic.
You tell your own story, not someone else’s. Authenticity allows you to make a wonderful visit your third day on the job. You can say, “This is only my third day with [org] but I’m loving what we’re doing and I’m thrilled (but also a little nervous) to be sitting with you today.”
How can someone not respect that candor? It also means you don’t have to be the founder or at the organization for 15 years to make a visit.
You will also find authenticity to be incredibly disarming to the person you’re with. It changes the dynamic of the visit from ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ to ‘shoulder-to-shoulder.’ Think about that dynamic!
Marketing messages are one-to-many. You create a message and then broadcast that to an audience.
In sales, your message is one-to-one. You can build the message for each audience.
In marketing we choose words. We craft statements we think will create interest and engagement for a common denominator.
In sales, our prospect chooses the words; we listen and use their words to craft the message for a denominator of one.
The goal of marketing is to create qualified leads for sales — if you will: identify potential relationships. The goal of sales is to build and maximize those relationships.
With these distinctions in mind, think about the true skills and focus of your funding efforts. If you want to MAXIMIZE relationships, focus on the skills of sales. Focus on engaging individuals, not audiences. Worry less about the perfect words and focus more on clarity of concepts, and the questions to ask.
Your funding plan should be part of your case for support.
The funding plan is the HOW behind the big picture (funding) goal. And, the big picture (funding) goal is what you need to deliver your vision. So, in essence, this is HOW you will deliver on your vision.
Is that important? You bet!
Most organizations don’t have a funding plan! If they do, they don’t think about the importance of the plan as it relates to the case for funding.
The funding plan does a few things as it relates to your case:
It makes it believable. If a funder doesn’t see HOW you’re going to fund the vision, priority,
or project, she/he is not going to commit.
It shows a potential investor how she/he would fit into the funding vision. Context!
It also illustrates that you’re not just picking a number out of the air. Logic!
After you’ve walked through the vision and funding priorities, you come to the
funding plan and ask:
Based on everything we’ve talked about, I would love to ask you about being part of this plan. Mrs. X, I’m not really sure where to go. I don’t know much about your capacity but you’ve indicated you would ‘like to make a really big difference’.
We have several funders on board with us [checking off – with a pen – committed gifts]. I
would like to go this route and ask you, where do you see yourself?
(You can let the prospect think about it and respond. As with any question, it’s critical that
you LISTEN to the answer and PROCESS the response.)
The prospect responded by saying “I think I could only do this [pointing to $50,000] this year.” Key words: THIS. YEAR.
Important note: Obviously you can’t use the Clueless Close when you’re with your top prospects. If you know you NEED to ask for $1M or you NEED to ask for project funding (tied to a specific number) you can’t afford to be clueless. Use the Clueless Close with first-time funders when your funding plan is not dependent upon a specific commitment.
Be prepared for the answer.
On a different visit for the project, I tried to ask the same question, but that prospect started laughing before I even finished. “Nick, I’m not on your chart.”
I paused and said: Could you tell me more about what that means?
He responded, “My wife and I are committed to seven big projects right now.”
Key Words: RIGHT. NOW. These are big community philanthropists in the middle of some huge funding commitments. He was telling me that though he loved our project, it couldn’t be one of his top projects right now.
At the end of that visit, he committed to $10K. The goal of every visit is to maximize the relationship at this given moment. In this case, there was a lot of potential for the future as he and his wife finished up with other projects, and I now had more information about capacity than I had before.
The Takeaway: The Clueless Close is a great way to ask when you don’t know what to ask for. And you will no longer be ‘clueless’ after this close.
But people often don’t realize there are usually two (or more) parts to the decision. There is the decision itself:
“I will invest in this organization…”
“We need to let this person go…”
Then there is the decision about the mechanics: how much, when, etc.
Steve Elder — one of our Senior Partners — will often invoke this concept when counseling me around an important business decision: “It sounds like you’ve already made the decision, now you’re just deciding when…”
This is really simple and powerful. Too often we go back and revisit the decision-making process —
simply because we’ve not figured out mechanics. Thinking of decisions-within-a-decision helps to clarify commitment to the broad decision.
This has application to the sales / philanthropic process. At times, it might make sense to simply focus on getting a prospect ‘in’. Example, “Look, I know this is a big ask and a big decision. We don’t have to finalize a number today. What we really have to do is get your commitment that you’re ‘in’.”