The Ask

The Elevator Pitch is Dead

“What’s your elevator pitch?”

The lore of the elevator pitch comes from the early days of Hollywood when one would hope to trap an executive in an elevator and ‘pitch.’ The Elevator Pitch is an enduring shorthand that represents the simplest description of what you do.

You need brevity and simplicity… but simplicity alone is not your goal! Your goal is to get the other person to say, “I get it!” or “I want to learn more!”

The Elevator Pitch is dead. What we aim for is Elevator Engagement.

We achieve our goal more effectively and efficiently if we focus on the two-way (engagement) and not the one-way (pitch). Instead of spewing for 20-60 seconds (even if succinct), think about one great question you can ask the other person to get them ENGAGED in a conversation.

At our boot camps we do an exercise to illustrate that you can actually communicate WAYYYY more in 60 seconds by simply asking one or two questions than you can by talking (however concise you may be). It works because:

  • In asking a question, you start with the other person’s construct (or gestalt!).
  • We become fully engaged when we are talking. So, the simple act of getting the other person to talk changes the level of engagement. (This is Dale Carnegie 101!)
  • If you start with a question, you immediately learn what is pertinent and non-pertinent. You can use a short amount of time on relevant information.
  • Finally, we can position our work in their words. LISTENING is one of the most powerful selling skills in the world.

Earlier this year we were helping an organization make a neuroscience pitch to a foundation. The executive director was asked to appear before the foundation board and ‘make a pitch’. We had to reprogram her default, one-way pitch, to instead starting with a question to the panel of eight. She simply asked, “Has anyone ever had experience with a stroke, or a family member that’s had a stroke?” The board chair raised his hand and then spent two minutes talking about the importance of neuroscience research. Others jumped in. They were engaged — fully.

The executive director was able to simply build on the conversation. Though she had eight slides prepared, she found she only needed to use three of them (in response to the conversation). The board said it was one of the best pitches they had ever received – that’s because she didn’t pitch; she engaged.

She was awarded the grant!

Nota bene: There are many circles (usually tied to funding communities, e.g., silicon valley and nyc / financial) where a ‘pitch-deck’ is standard affair. Don’t let the ‘pitch deck’ put you in ‘pitch mode.’ As in the neuroscience story, you should focus on engagement. And, of course, we’re partial to the one-page pitch deck!


What Does ‘An Ask’ Look Like? A Checklist.

There is a lot of room to define this one… you should take the time to define it within your organization.

In the For Impact world A REAL ASK satisfies this checklist:

  • We were WITH a prospect – physically.

    See: Just Visit. There are exceptions to this but 19 times out of 20 the ask is done in person so that there is engagement and dialogue.

  • We asked the prospect for specific help with a specific project, program or level of support.

    In doing so the dollar figure was clear. Example: “John, we need your help, would it be possible for you to underwrite this project for $20,000?”

    It wasn’t open-ended, we didn’t ask, “Could you give whatever you can give?”

    Also, in being specific, the funding rationale wasn’t for ‘unrestricted’ or ‘operations’… those aren’t specific. See: Have a Funding Rationale – Something specific to ask for.

  • The ask was a dialogue – a back and forth with questions and listening — so that we could ensure that we were maximizing the relationship at this given moment.

    Read: The Ask as a Dialogue to help with this concept.

  • We will expect a YES or a NO – and will follow-up accordingly.

    Thinking about how to get to a YES or NO ensures you have covered appropriate mechanics and you can continue within a sales process. Otherwise, there is a risk of pending into oblivion or unclear follow-up.

Without the definition provided by this checklist we often find:


Confidently Answer Any Curveball Question with the Rule of 3

Here is a framing device to help you answer any question in a calm and confident manner. It’s called The Rule of 3.

The Rule of 3 is simply the framing of THREE things to simplify a concept.

Yesterday a coaching client described a ‘tough question’ received from a board member about an upcoming project. In response to a plan about expanding into three new cities the board member asked, “How EXACTLY how the funds will be used in each of those three cities?”

The organization has a complete business plan that details every penny for each city. However, it would’ve been too vague to say, “Yes, we a complete business plan… it’s here in 40 pages.” So the ED froze.

Now that the ED has The Rule of 3 in her bag of tricks! She can simplify 40 pages on-the-fly by limiting herself to three bullet points. With the Rule of 3 the ED tried her first impromtu response, “Yes Nick… all the funds will be used to do these three things. 1) Purchase the curriculum 2) Provide Training and 3) Deliver ongoing assistance to partner organizations).”

Simply by summarizing the 40 pages in three bullet points the ED delivered confidence and clarity in her response.

The Rule of 3 is a magic framing device. Studies have shown that we as humans are wired to receive and remember three’s. Four bullet points seems like ‘too much’ and two seems like ‘not enough’.

Action: I want you to think about a tough question you’ve received in the past few weeks. Force yourself to go back and answer the question by saying:

  • “Yes, it comes down to three key objectives….”
  • “There are three goals we’re looking to achieve…”
  • “There are three parts to the answer…”

You will sound confident in your answer. You will be more confident in your answer. The person asking the question will be impressed by your answer — often saying, “Wow, you really have this down!”

Also, observe the Rule of 3 in action with any great speaker, marketer or politician. Now that you’re looking for it… it will appear EVERYWHERE!

Tom first shared the Rule of 3 with me about ten years ago. It’s since proven time and time again to be the most powerful framing device there is because 1) It’s simple 2) Easy to use and 3) Humans are hard wired to positively receive groups-of -threes.


Altitude Awareness: Stay at 30,000′

We use an Altitude Framework to order thinking, communications and storylines.

30,000′ The WHY VISION

In sharing this with others one goal is simply to make everyone aware of 30,000′ and what it means to “share the message and story at 30,000′”.

People respond to you at whatever level you communicate. So, if you’re at 3′, talking about where the architects are placing bathrooms, this will frame the conversation. Instead, if you’re at 30,000′, talking about changing and saving lives… the conversations will be different.

One example: Last year I worked with a well-respected social entrepreneur and Ashoka fellow. A driven individual and true visionary, he gets up every morning trying to change the face of poverty. Whenever he went to make an ask, however, the conversation always turned into a debate about the business model (at 14,000′). The Altitude Framework helped him to see why this was happening.

Being an award-winning social entrepreneur, his message had taken shape around ‘doing business in a different way’… about ‘earned income’… about ‘not relying on philanthropy’… about being ‘best in the world at being sustainable’. Naturally, prospects were engaging him at this level (14,000′). The 30,000′ WHY wasn’t coming through in his message. His story needed to be about being best in the world at changing the face of poverty (30,000′) — first — and then incorporating a different business model (at 14,000′).

The Altitude Framework was a simple tool that made him aware of his 30,000′ message. I’m happy to report his funding conversations changed considerably based on this conscious framing exercise.


Ask for a project instead of guessing a number

For Impact Message: Impact Drives Income.

As it applies to the ask… one example. Use a project to drive the ask. That is, if you have a project that is going to require $80K to fund, ask for the project… the IMPACT (rationalizing $80K) instead of just trying to guess a number that you think ‘will be a stretch but not too much of a stretch’.

You will never know EXACTLY what to ask for so instead of guessing, communicate the need.

“The program we just discussed would require about $80K per year… impacting about 300 women and families. Is that something you could help us with?”

If it’s too much, the prospect will let you know. If too little.. that’s okay, you have a lifetime relationship and you can certainly talk to the prospect about other projects.


There can only be ONE leader on a visit.

Just off the phone with a team that’s prepping for a big visit this afternoon. We were doing a last minute strategic run-through. On this visit it’s going to be the ED, a Director of Development and the prospect. They’re going to be doing a tour followed by a sit-down discussion about an $8M effort.

As part of the process we always establish ONE leader. This is the person that is responsible for managing the FLOW of the visit.

One thing’s for certain. No visit ever goes as planned. If you’re on the team it’s imperative to know the ONE person that’s responsible for getting to the goal.

Can’t be two leaders. Worse than two leaders is establishing no lead.

If I’m leading I will advise the other person, “If if things seem totally de-railed I will have a plan in my head I’m following. It’s important I communicate that so you don’t panic if we seem way off track.” Having done this now hundreds and hundreds of times I will let the prospect lead a lot… because I want to listen.

If it’s my first visit with a team member I’ll tell them to imagine a physical ball. Just like one of those retreats, you can only talk when you have the ball. I will carry the ball. When the prospect opens her mouth she ALWAYS has the ball. And, in order to manage the flow of the call I will deliberately pass the ball. For example, “Jim, could I ask you to share a little bit with Ms. Prospect about our outreach program?”

One leader. Not two. Not three. Definitely not zero.


The Steve Jobs Close

I’m assembling a number of closes we cover at our Boot Camp and in our training/strategic coaching. Hopefully, I’ll end up with a solid guidebook we can share with readers. Over the next few weeks I’ll publish a few closes to the blog. Most closes come from a 70 minute audio on closing I recorded last year.

The Steve Jobs Close is really about closing at the highest level. Understanding this ‘close’ begins with an urban legend.

In 1984, Apple was looking to hire new CEO. The company was growing beyond the reaches of the young Steve Jobs. The board wanted some seasoned leadership for the journey ahead. They set their sites on PepsiCo VP John Scully and, as the legend goes, the board spent two days talking about compensation, market segments, business plans, products, etc. At the end of two full days Scull said thanks but no thanks.

Jobs, still looking out for the best interest of his ‘baby’ is befuddled at the board’s inability to close the deal. The story then says Jobs flew out to meet Scully. They went for a walk and Jobs asked Scully to share his thoughts. He spent the duration of the walk just listening to Scully. When Scully finished, Jobs turned to him and said, “Let me ask you one question, ‘Do you want to sell sugar water to kids your whole life or do you want to change the world?’”

Scully go it. He took job. He was CLOSED.

How it works:

The Steve Jobs Close is about closing at the highest level. Ultimately each For Impact organization is saving lives, changing lives or impacting lives. There are times when you just have to look someone in the eye and say, “Let me ask you one question, ‘Are you willing to help us change the world?’”

Unfortunately, Scully went to Apple and tanked it. That’s a different story that ends happily enough with Jobs retaking the helm and inventing the iWorld.

I love this story. I use it often. The Steve Jobs Close is really a story about closing at the highest level.

The board was mulling around with strategy and tactics.

People don’t BUY strategy (think: 14,000 ft). They BUY vision! They BUY purpose!

As Zig Ziglar says, “People buy on emotion and justify on logic.” Don’t lose site of this. You need both emotion and logic but sometimes we need to jump back up to the emotional hook or you can get lost in the logic.

A story from the field.

I was working with Junior Achievement — an incredible organization –- to fund a vision that included the expansion and renovation of a building. I teamed up with our board chair to visit with our very best prospect… the person we hoped would make the lead investment on the project.

On the visit, we started to get really deep into the minutia of one program. It didn’t feel like we were off course – the prospect was enthusiastic – I just knew there way to transition from talking computer terminals to teach kids ethics to an ask for $1M

I worked to reposition the flow so that I was able to move to a Steve Jobs Close. I said, “Mrs. Investor, being ethical is a decision and a commitment – we’ve made it and we’re not straying from it. [Long pause] Everything we’ve talked about today is about transforming Cincinnati and that’s the opportunity we believe we have with this plan in its entirely. [Pause] In that sense, I almost want to transition to a really high level question… to ask if you can help us with that transformation. If so, we’d like to talk to you about being the lead in that vision. “

This transitioned to a dialogue about leadership at $1Million. Mrs. Investor laughed a little (because I wasn’t as graceful as Steve Jobs). However, she felt the gravity and sincerity in what we were asking. After thinking for about 30 seconds she then asked us a series of very introspective questions and ultimately agreed to lead the vision… and lead it with a $1Million commitment.

The takeaway: If you find yourself lost in the weeds, ask yourself, what would Steve Jobs do? Move to a much higher level. Bring it back to the highest purpose… the highest cause…

  • Transforming the community
  • Ending homelessness
  • Saving lives
  • Reinventing healthcare
  • Changing the way education works in America

Note: As I write up real stories from the field I always alter little things – like a name, an organization or a city because I’m talking about real people and real funders. Though I’ve changed some names and places, the story really happened – exactly in this way.


Just Ask (on 2 Pages!)

I did a pretty decent Presentation to a very, very experienced development group on Saturday in Tampa, Florida. The NACCDO is an organization of marketing and development officers of the top CANCER CENTERS in the United States. This conference was hosted by Moffitt Cancer Center, a truly World Class Organization.

My topic was ACCELERATING THE ASK. After the introduction (and tripping and falling), I had about 60 minutes. I prepared for three weeks, plus the entire plane ride to Tampa, plus until midnight the night before and at 5:00 a.m. the next morning.

It’s kind of hard to take 50+ years of selling (I remember first ‘sale’ at 10 years old), 37 years of development work, our two-day boot camp/training camp/sales training into 60 minutes. But, I tried anyway.

One of the pretty cool things that came out of this session, at least for me, was getting all of our FRAMEWORKS and DEVICES on the front/back of an 8½ x 11 sheet of paper.

Here is the pdf. You can even blow it up as a POSTER (which I did for the group on Saturday).

It is, literally, pretty much everything I know about THE ASK. I hope it helps.


Sales Process (A Visual)

Wanted to share this illustration of a customized sales process Kerry and I did with a client. If you’ve been to a workshop you will recognize Predisposition > PTO (Present the Opportunity) > Follow-up from the Roadmap: Sales Process.

Though we made it for one client, I think it’s pretty near universal.

  1. Leads feed into a PREDISPOSITION STRATEGY
  2. VISIT! Do Discovery and then PTO… could be two visits or one but not more.
  3. The GOAL is a big deal to me… if we can get them to say, “Wow, this is great, what can I do to help?” Then it’s not about cultivation, time or a chess-like gambit. It’s about communicating the ‘how to help’… now/today.

    If they don’t say, “Wow!” then we effectively JUST ASK around the goal… and get permission to talk about the funding plan on the next (second) visit.

  4. Follow-up – is a STRATEGY, not an ACTION ITEM.

Download the Visual


Goal of the First Visit

My goal is pretty much the same on every first visit. It’s to get the other person to say, “Wow, this is great, what can I do to help?” Tom embedded this simple goal early on – and it’s stuck.

If you can get the other person to say – in effect – “I’m in!”, then it’s not about cultivation, a series of complicated chess moves or backroom meetings about ‘timing’. It is about answering the question: What can I do to help?

You can get there in two years or twenty minutes. It often comes down to your message or how long it takes you to do discovery and make a connection to your message. To get to this goal means:

    * Clearly communicating the CAUSE.

    * Laying out a tight CASE. (Think of CASE as a solution or address to the CAUSE.)

    * You’ve created ENGAGEMENT. In all likelihood, you’ve listened your tail off to do so.

    * Bonus: Brought a level of PASSION to the first visit. (more…)


The Just Ask Strategy

I wanted to share our JUST ASK STRATEGY with everyone engaged in the For Impact world.

(It’s SIMPLE, not easy.)




NOT A DONOR (THINK ‘Blood/Organ’!)


NOT TALK, TALK, TALK (THINK ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’!)






NOT FACE-TO-FACE, EYEBALL-TO-EYEBALL (THINK ‘Competition/Confrontation’!)



VOCAB, WORDS, FRAMING have a huge impact on your ATTITUDE and ACTION!

Think about getting an appointment with a donor to overwhelm them with information and ask them for money.

No wonder no one will meet with you. 🙂

P.S. Here’s how it works for the For Profit world. Your Board Members will ‘get it’.

(It’s SIMPLE, not easy.)






NOT TALK, TALK, TALK (THINK ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’!)




NOT MAKE A ‘SALE’ (THINK ‘Used Cars’!)


NOT FACE-TO-FACE, EYEBALL-TO-EYEBALL (THINK ‘Competition/Confrontation’!)




Reminder: Get Numbers On-The-Table Early

A reminder about the value of getting numbers on-the-table early in an ongoing conversation. This is as opposed to waiting until the seventh visit.

  • If forces qualification: If a prospect seemed fantastic but says, “Oh, I/we wanted to help in other ways.” Then you at least know what approach to take and you’ve qualified the ongoing and future conversations.
  • A goal – In subsequent conversations (follow-up) you’re working toward a real goal… something concrete… not this ethereal idea of a gift, someday/maybe. This even works if the prospect ‘isn’t there yet’. At least you know where THERE is and you can have an going conversation about THERE and HOW!
  • Get it out of the way! Take a deep breath and get the number/project/level on the table.

If Not You, Who???

If you (or someone in your org) is not out making VISITS, making PRESENTATIONS, making ASKS… who do you think will???

Nobody woke up this morning and said to themselves, “This would be a great day to give $10,000 (or $100,000) to my favorite IMPACT organization.”


20 Ways to CLOSE

Here’s a new audio that is being mixed (in post-production). It will be released and sold later this summer as a packaged CD (yet to be named) around ‘Closing the Ask.’ Blog readers stream the audio for free below.

This is something people have been asking for. I’ve long refused… pushing the importance of being AUTHENTIC (vs. a parrot). Now coaching for many years I’ve come to realize some people will be parrots and others will draw up their own conclusions, their own closes (I hope you share them). My favorite is the Goonies Close!

Here’s an outline of the closes – audio is 70 minutes.

Download the MP3

0:00 Greeting
2:08 The Clueless Close
3:37 The Listening Close
6:29 The Higher Level Close
9:56 The Qualifying Close
15:26 The Math Close
19:05 Conversations To Have With Your Board
25:17 The Binary Close
27:37 Holy Audacity
32:39 The Permission Close
34:54 The Goonies Close
38:35 Top Of The Mountain Close
40:59 The Predisposition Close
43:14 The Action Forcing Event
47:14 Practice Close
50:41 The Handful Of People Close
58:15 The Self-fulfilling Prophesy Close
1:00:33 The Momentum Close
1:06:54 Handling Objections
1:14:17 The Transformational Close
1:16:44 Wrap-Up


Making Things Happen After the Visit (How to Follow-Up)

This nugget comes from an email I prepared for a specific organization implementing a SALES process and SALES approach to funding. I think the points have a wide application – so I’m sharing here.

  1. 24-Hour Follow-Up Rule

    We need to get out our follow-up emails/letters within 24 hours… no matter what. If we wait to write the perfect proposal or pitch, with time, it (1) takes more effort and (2) we lose momentum. I’ll take 80% perfect at 24 hours over 90% perfect in three weeks.

    Speed doesn’t kill… time does.


    The goal is to maximize the RELATIONSHIP at any given time. Funding is a function of the relationship – not the world’s best proposal. Think more about communication and follow-up in terms of a relationship and not a transaction – this will help with #1.

  3. Re: Referrals – think about ONE ACTION item and a manageable timeline.

    It’s great that prospects are saying they’re going to open doors. Focus on ONE action and make it happen. “We’re all about momentum and everyone is busy. To keep the ball rolling, can we talk about making one phone call in the next two weeks?”

    One action will lead to more. Undefined action leads to no action.

  4. “Can you get me a proposal?”

    If someone asks this we need to simplify on the spot.

    • “Sure thing… are you an email person?” (everyone is)
    • “Would it be okay if I summarized points from our conversation in bullet point form and shot that back by email?”

    Save yourself HOURS by converting ‘proposals’ to ‘bullet points.’

  5. Ball is always in your court.

    We’re getting a lot of great ‘pending requests’… if someone says, “give me a few days and I’ll get back to you.” We need to say, “That’s great. If I don’t hear from you by Friday, I’ll follow-up next week.”

  6. Email is for follow-up notes. Use the phone to make things happen.
  7. Be a closer. Always.

    It’s an attitude. Your ability to close translates to lives saved, impacted and transformed. This isn’t about some ‘business jargon’… it’s about real stuff… important stuff. We either believe it or we don’t. And, if we do, then we need to close. If we don’t – let’s quit now.


The Controlling Insight – Just Ask

“The best way to have a GOOD IDEA is to have a lot of ideas.”
-Linus Pauling

“One great INSIGHT is worth a thousand good ideas.”
-Phil Dusenberry

Marcus Buckingham, in his wonderful book called THE ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW, talks about a ‘CONTROLLING INSIGHT’.

He says, “For a ‘CONCEPT’ to go to a ‘CONTROLLING INSIGHT’, it must:
1. Apply amongst a BROAD RANGE of SITUATIONS.

I truly believe… with my heart and my head… that JUST ASK is a ‘CONTROLLING INSIGHT’.

1. It works (applies) to just about anything… anywhere.
2. It exponentially increases growth, sales, life.
3. It’s ALL about ACTION!


9 Tips to Help You Get to the Ask

You just made a great visit… did you ask?

This morning one executive director answered, “Well, no. They [insert prospect] started talking about the economy and I just got uncomfortable.” Yesterday it was, “I can always get some fired up but then I don’t know how to get to the money.”

This list is some coaching for everyone who has ever said, “I felt uncomfortable getting to the ask.”

  1. Always ask.

    It may not be the right time to answer yes but it’s always the right time to ask. If this bothers you, see #2.

  2. If you’re uncomfortable you can soften the ask, but (again) always ask.

    Asking advances the ball. More than that, a prospect cannot guess what you need. That being said, sometimes we’re just really uncomfortable or worried about messing up – especially in the first few visits. If you need to, here are some ways to soften the ask.

    • “Would it be okay to have a follow-up conversation about ways to financially support this project?”

    • “We’re going to need 10 Angel Investors (@$100,000 each). I know this is one of the first times we’ve really had a serious conversation about XYZ. Could we have a talk about the Angel level some time this year?”

    • “Based on everything you’ve seen here today, are you in?”

  3. Be authentic.

    Being authentic makes you an immediate sales expert. It can also help you work through your discomfort in getting to the ask.

    I do a role play at every Boot Camp. I think a big takeaway is for people to see me fumble my way through parts of the visit search for ways to get to the ask. It’s sometimes even awkward – but always authentic and so it works.


    • At start of call: “I really want to cover three points on our call if that’s okay. I would love to share where we’re going, get your feedback and talk about how you can help.”

    • “I’m not really sure how to transition at this point but I think it’s important that we cover the funding plan.”

    • “If I may, I’m going to circle back to the funding level. I need to be so bold as to push on this a little bit because, quite frankly, there are not a whole lot of people to talk to about this.”



Sales Attitude

I was just reminded again of the absolutely “brilliant” spot-on quote of W. Clement Stone:

“SALES are contingent on the ATTITUDE of the salesman – not the ATTITUDE of the PROSPECT.”

Nobody has demonstrated this more in the last couple of weeks than ForImpact’s own Nick Fellers and Derek Grosso. They’re working on a project for Junior Achievement. (Almost) EVERY time they sit down for a visit, there are PROSPECT ‘ISSUES’: (more…)


Sales Nugget 4: Selling Yourself

Frank Sullivan used to say that he spent 90% of his time SELLING HIMSELF… and 10% of his time selling his product.

As a “young pup”, I’ll never forget Frank telling me how, early in his career, he would go to a prospect and say, “This is my background. Some day I’m going to be the most successful insurance salesman in our town, and I need you. Will you please help me grow?”

One of his most important lessons from his own experience was that if you are very honest with everybody and tell them you need their help, you will get it. (Amazingly, 30 years later, this “AUTHENTICITY” still works!)

Frank was also a big proponent of “INVESTING IN YOURSELF”! He believed, as I do, that personal growth, continuous learning, having a “life” outside your organization/business, reading, listening to audio tapes, etc. are all part of your ability to ‘sell’ yourself.

Special Note (for Re-Enforcement):

In the “Little Red Book of Selling”, Jeffrey Gitomer shares his version of Frank’s lesson by listing the 12 ½ reasons “WHY PEOPLE BUY” (which, by the way, he says is one million times more important than “HOW DO I SELL”).

Here are six of his twelve.

  1. I like my SALES REP.
  2. I believe my SALES REP.
  3. I have confidence in my SALES REP.
  4. I trust my SALES REP.
  5. I am comfortable with my SALES REP.

12½. I perceive that my SALES REP is trying to help me build my business in order to earn his. My SALESPERSON is a valuable resource to me.

I hope you “GET THIS”! It’s why the ‘OPEN’ in every FOR IMPACT PRESENTATION is about:

  • YOU!!!!
  • THEM
  • US (The Org)
  • Share:

    Sales Nugget 3: The Importance of Personal Goals

    Re: Frank, It may seem a little weird to talk about “PERSONAL GOALS” when you’re dealing with SALES or SALES GOALS. Frank Sullivan, however, was all about writing out ALL of his goals and plans… personal, financial, business, sales, etc.

    Frank was literally the first person in my “business life” (and, actually, one of the very few people) that talked about his personal life and his family and his own goals… as they related to his business and sales goals.

    Frank ultimately came down with Alzheimer’s at the end of his life, but, by then, he had impacted so many people and left a huge legacy. These “personal goals” and “family first” was his GIFT to me. I am forever grateful.

    ***Frank’s the one who first gave me the idea of “solo time” with the kids, which I turned into BIRTHDAY BREAKFAST, where we actually went over their “favorite” books, TV, friends, food, etc…. and then did their GOALS for the upcoming year. I tried to capture all that in my journal/green book.

    If you’ve never done ‘GOALS’ with a 3-year-old, you’ve really missed out!


    Sales Nugget 2: The 5 Steps on the “Critical Path to Sales Success”

    Frank Sullivan believed there were five activities that every salesman must perform, in order of importance. They were:






    Frank was a master at selling life insurance, which is certainly one of the most difficult “intangible product” sales. (This is much like what we “sell”… when we’re “selling” a cause or a case or a vision or impact or solution.)

    Although I have revised my “sales system” (FOR IMPACT ROADMAP (SALES PROCESS)) many, many times over the years, I can still go back to Frank’s “five steps” and tie much of what I’ve done back to those steps.

    How are YOU doing re: Establishing goals? Getting good names? Making the approach? Making a presentation? And making the customer a client?


    Sales Nugget 1: Ask Everyone for $1Million

    Since we’re all in SALES (and we need to get over it), I’m going to share with you a SALES NUGGET every day this week.

    These five nuggets come from Frank Sullivan, who was my first mentor and perhaps the best life insurance salesman in the world. A Trustee at Notre Dame and a very good friend, Frank wrote a book in 1970 called THE CRITICAL PATH TO SALES SUCCESS. I’m going to share some wonderful nuggets and gems from Frank’s book and his life.

    • Ask Everyone for $1M.

    • The 5 Steps on the Critical Path to Sales Success.

    • The Importance of Personal Goals.

    • Dream Week

    • Selling Yourself

    Sales Nugget 1: Ask Everyone for $1Million

    Re: Frank, “It’s easier to sell a $1 Million life insurance policy to a QUALIFIED PROSPECT than it is to sell a $10,000 policy to a relative with no money.”
    – Frank Sullivan

    One of the things I learned from Frank Sullivan very, very, very early in my development career was that it’s just as easy to sell $1 MILLION life insurance policy to a QUALIFIED PROSPECT… than it is to sell a $10,000 policy to a relative (with no money!)

    That didn’t seem like much at the time. Over the years, it’s been HUGE!

    There were a number of great tips and ideas Frank gave around this “lesson”:

    • Create a PROFILE of what your $1 Million prospect looks like.
    • You’ll never make a $1 Million “sale” unless you “ASK” for $1 Million!!!

    • You must RATE all of your prospects so you can see who’s at the “top”. (See our MASTER PROSPECT LIST.)

    Some years later, while still at Notre Dame, a good friend and one of the most persevering (read “stubborn in a good way”) people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with was Tom Pilot. Tom took Frank’s “Million Dollar” philosophy to its highest level.

    He simply ASKED (almost) EVERYONE for $1 MILLION. It’s amazing how many people said yes!!!


    You Cannot Screw Up, If You Show Up

    My partner and President/Leader of For Impact | The Suddes Group is Nick Fellers. (You already know that most likely.)

    Nick’s a borderline “genius”. Smart. Action-oriented. Authentic.

    He has many great lines, but I heard him say this on the phone yesterday and it just struck me as so freakin’ right on in his role as COACH.

    “You can’t SCREW UP… if you just show up!”

    While Nick was speaking with one of his coaching clients, I think that message needed to get out to everyone.

    Before you can JUST ASK .

    Before you can PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY .


    You need to SHOW UP! (JUST VISIT!)


    The Need to See Prospects

    I love the magazine Selling Power (mostly just because I love the idea of sales). Gerhard Gschwandtner is the founder and publisher of Selling Power and has had a tremendous influence on my thinking. The subtitle of the magazine is “Solutions for Sales Management”, and they provide a lot of solutions!

    I was skimming an old issue (May 2005) looking for more stuff on PROSPECTS and I came across this article called

    Post-9/11 Everything Changed EXCEPT THE NEED TO SEE PROSPECTS!

    (Those are my caps and my exclamation point.)

    The article was by Geoffrey James.

    Here are the guts of the article:

    1. “It’s never been more difficult to get through to an executive to make a FORMAL APPOINTMENT.” In our For Impact World, we deal with that in a number of ways. Most importantly, we don’t look for a “FORMAL APPOINTMENT”
      but rather a VISIT!!!’APPOINTMENT’ (especially a ‘FORMAL’ one) immediately triggers your synapses to think ‘DOCTOR’! Or, worse, ‘DENTIST’!
    2. “You have to do a better job of making prospects want to see you.” The way we do that is making a big, big deal of PREDISPOSITION!!!
    3. The absolute best PREDISPOSITION for all of us in the For Impact World is to actually bring the ‘prospect’ to where you deliver your service. Let them SEE, TOUCH, HEAR, SMELL WHAT you do. Make it palpable. Make it memorable. Make it an experience.
    4. “Once you do get in, however, you’d better be prepared to build a LASTING RELATIONSHIP.” WOW! As most of you know, our GOAL with all of our PROSPECTS is to create a RELATIONSHIP… ideally a LIFETIME RELATIONSHIP… and, thenMAXIMIZE THAT RELATIONSHIP…

    The article goes on to talk about working to get a ‘VISIT’.

    I love their “warning”:

    “Working this system requires PREPARATION and PERSISTENCE.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.



    Talking Time: You v. Them

    It’s a sales mantra: Selling is not telling.

    We all talk too much on sales calls/visits/presentations.

    Do whatever you need to in order to get the other person talking. The more time he/she is talking, the better.

    In fact, often I will say, “I’m talking too much. Tell me what you think about…” [Then I shut up and listen – it’s harder than it appears.]

    Note: Watch what happens to the other person’s body language when you be quiet and engage her in the presentation by letting her talk. Watch as it changes from ‘lost fog’ to ‘enthusiastic engagement’.


    What You Say is Driven by Your Goal

    Change say to ask.

    You have to know what you want (clearly) as an outcome of the visit to know what questions to ask.

    Example goals for a visit:

    Goal: To leave [discovery] visit with clear understanding of whether or not this is a fit for prospect.
    Q: What are your top giving priorities?

    Q: (After outlining project) Is this something you would want to support?

    Goal: Clear idea of project’s rating around capacity and relationship.

    Assuming we got you to the site and you loved the project, could we have a conversation around a lead commitment ? (Question asked after addressing what a lead commitment would mean)
    Goal: Get a commitment from strong relationship (eg. board member)

    What do we need to do to help you come to a decision?

    My questions are direct (but authentic) and driven by the goal. I will not leave a visit until I have what we need re: the goal. This could be a commitment/decline, interest/not interest or a clear road map for action. One of my goals for every visit is always tied to building and/or maximizing the relationship at that given moment and for the long term.

    If you identify the goal of the visit you will ask the right questions.


    Just Visit

    Nick and I have been doing some pretty intense training, teleseminars and coaching in the last few weeks. Plus, I just finished up the GUIDE/WORKBOOK called PROSPECTS. Subtitle: How to identify major gift prospects.

    I said in the Intro that if you’re not going to go out and make VISITS… you’re wasting a lot of time and energy “worrying” about finding new prospects, rating prospects, figuring how much to ask for, etc.

    Familiar followers and fellow evangelists of the For Impact Movement know that our 3rd Insight, battle cry and sales mantra is JUST ASK!!!




    If it were me, I would schedule VISITS with 3 of my absolute best CHAMPIONS (and current investors) as soon as possible.

    On that VISIT, I would

    1. Say THANK YOU.
      and get their FEEDBACK and COUNSEL.
    3. PRESENT an OPPORTUNITY for them to HELP.

    I’m willing to guarantee that ‘GOOD STUFF’ will result!!!


    How to be an Immediate Sales Expert

    This nugget focuses on the power of one idea: authenticity.

    At training camp we have everyone practice their presentations, remembering some important keys to success:

    1. Listening (including discovery)
    2. The simple process: Share the story then present the opportunity
    3. Authenticity

    I want to highlight authenticity because if you get this one idea it makes you an immediate sales (major gifts) expert!

    I’ve found so many people have call reluctance because they fear “screwing up.” If you are authentic:

    • You can’t mess up – at least not in a way that you cannot 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!


    Follow-Up Is 90% Of The Effort

    Like predisposition, follow-up requires a specific strategy. Too often wonderful presentations/asks/sales calls are wasted because there is no follow-up.

    A typical scenario includes someone making a great presentation and then ‘hoping’ a gift comes as a result of the ask. Or, sometimes there is only a phone call that some weeks later in which the substance of the dialogue is one question: ” We were wondering if you had a chance to make a decision?”

    Just remember one thing: “Hope is not a strategy!” – Rick Page

    And for you: Hope is definitely not a follow-up strategy.

    Huge problem: We consider our work finished when we get to the point of making the request. We feel like we’ve shared everything we can and now it must be in the prospect’s hands. That notion is wrong. In fact, follow-up is 90% of the effort!

    Some misc. reminders to help you:

    • Remember, this is not some one-off transaction. It’s all about a true relationship. Follow-up is not really about a strict yes or no – it’s about advancing the relationship, opportunity or plan WITH the prospect.
    • It’s either win/win or lose/lose! You’re presenting an opportunity to save lives, change lives or impact lives. Stop being so bashful.
    • Follow-up is about taking the opportunity to continue the excitement generated on the visit. You’re literally trying to continue the momentum. This could mean:
      • An immediate follow-up letter.
      • An immediate follow-up phone call from champion or volunteer.
      • An immediate follow-up phone call from you.
    • Don’t dodge the issue! The worst follow-up is when you step politely around the pending request (hoping the prospect brings it up or announces to you a commitment). Using your own style you need continue to work with prospect to advance the ball – be direct, sincere and authentic and remember…
      Hope is not a strategy.


    Never Make A Cold Call

    This little nugget is about predisposition–the goal of which is to set the stage for your visit, call or presentation. Predisposition is an important component of the sales process and it’s done in advance of your visit.

    So often I hear about visits where so much work was done to get the visit, there was a lot of strategy around the ask, number, etc. but for some reason or another something just didn’t feel right and so an ‘ask’ was never made. Many times this is because there was zero predisposition beforehand.

    To help you understand predisposition, think of it as the sum of actions that will make the visit as far removed from a cold call as possible. This could apply in many ways:

    • Predisposition to your cause, case or project: If this person has no real idea about a particular problem, then your solution is not going to be as exciting. Or, perhaps it’s a long time relationship that doesn’t know about a wonderful project or campaign initiative. Get this person excited about the project.The best predisposition in the world would be to have the prospect see how/where/when you deliver your impact!
    • Predisposition to the ASK: If an ask is coming out of left field then you did not do a good job of predisposing to the ask BEFORE the visit. If you go a great job predisposing to the ask then numbers are VERY EASY to talk about.
    • Predisposition to the presentation team: The prospect might have a great relationship with a board member and even to the organization but not to you as an executive director or development person. Use your champion to set the stage to predispose for the personal relationship so that you don’t get the cold shoulder.
    • Predisposition in any other way that prevents your visit from being ‘cold’…

    This is a concept. What’s important is that you get the concept and apply it to each presentation strategy so that you’re not met with cold or clueless receptions.

    Action: Look at any visits you have setup for the next three weeks. Force yourself to come up with a predisposition strategy for each visit. Perhaps it’s as simple as a support phone call from a champion or sending over some materials via e-mail–in advance of the visit.


    The Perfect Predisposition

    Short. Sweet. Powerful. Here’s an IDEA that you can use immediately to significantly increase the level of investment from your top prospects. This idea is particularly relevant if you are in a ‘CAMPAIGN’ or trying to involve/engage your top prospects at the leadership gift level.

    The absolute best PREDISPOSITION … is to bring your BEST PROSPECTS …

    This seems so natural and ‘commonsensical’. (That could be a new word.) Yet, to so many people we train and work with … this is a big revelation.

    Don’t tell me you can’t get people to come and visit you. I didn’t say it was easy. I said it will significantly increase the magnitude of the commitment! If they’re really and truly a great PROSPECT … then they need to SEE and FEEL and TOUCH what you do.

    In essence, it’s simply saying that the ‘HOME COURT ADVANTAGE’ is very powerful.

    To me, it’s saying that bringing your prospects/potential investors TO YOU … where you can control the environment, the flow, the tour/agenda … is one hundred times better than their office or home, and 1,000 times better than a restaurant.

    IF … “A PICTURE is worth a THOUSAND WORDS.”


    P.S. Just finished a great book by Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of huge marketing and advertising agency, BBDO. His title and his message were:


    This particular INSIGHT of bringing people to you/perfect predisposition/live memorable experiences IS worth one thousand good ideas …


    Nick was up coaching with a terrific FOR IMPACT ORGANIZATION yesterday in northeast Ohio. He brought in a Board member and her husband to SEE what went on, FEEL the IMPACT and MEET the PEOPLE they SERVE. They were WOWED!

    Twenty-four hours later the couple called with a LEADERSHIP COMMITMENT to help FUND THE VISION. It would not have happened with a visit at home or office.


    Present, Then Follow-Up

    I had a chance last week to be with the COLORADO COLLEGE SALES TEAM. They’re on fire and doing a great job.

    One of the issues/challenges that came up was around the FOLLOW-UP LETTER … and then the FOLLOW-UP PHONE CALL or VISIT.

    What follows is a relatively SIMPLE way to look at this 3 STEP PROCESS.
    I hope it helps.

    P.S. It won’t help at all if you’re not actually making the VISIT/ PRESENTATION in the first place! JUST ASK!

    THE BIG 3


    Pretty self-explanatory. Get the ‘DOLLARS IN THE BUCKET’ (an AREA OF INTEREST and an AMOUNT). Use the PRESENTATION FLOW around:

    • OPEN.

    This is a wonderful place to cover:

    1. ‘Things you MISSED’ on the visit.
    2. ‘Things you DISCOVERED’ on the visit.
    3. ‘Respond to QUESTIONS’ (feedback) from visit.

    The key here is to be both AUTHENTIC and PERSONAL (custom).

    Going through all the work and challenges of getting the visit and making the visit … and NOT doing this PHONE/VISIT FOLLOW-UP is not only WRONG, it is DISRESPECTFUL and a DISSERVICE to the person you’ve visited!

    The (obvious) GOALS:

    1. ‘DOLLARS’ in the BANK’.

    The beauty of this model is that by FOLLOWING-UP … IN WRITING … with a DATE for the phone/visit FOLLOW-UP makes it really hard NOT to do the follow-up!!

    P.S. Take it from someone who has made over 6,000 presentations: The LONGER you WAIT before you send the FOLLOW-UP LETTER … the weaker the response (yours and theirs)!!! ‘Git ‘er done!’


    Persistence Contest


    1. They know what they WANT.
    2. They BELIEVE they are worthy of receiving it.
    3. They BELIEVE they can get it.
    4. They are PASSIONATE about it.
    5. They take ACTION in the face of fear.
    6. They LEARN from their experience.
    7. They are PERSISTENT.

    Quick story on #7.

    An old partner at The Suddes Group, Mike McCarthy, has been a great friend for 20 years. Mike and I once had a “Persistence Contest”. We each took our hardest “pending” prospect and decided we were going to keep calling until they either said “YES” or “NO”.

    I think I called about 30 times. Then I stopped.

    Mike called 57 times. Finally, the guy got on the phone and said, “I just wanted to see how many times you would call me. Every time I got a message and didn’t return it, I figured you would stop. You are the most persistent person I’ve ever met in my entire career.”

    “Count me in. I wanted to make this investment anyway, but your persistence was truly amazing.”

    “By the way, I’d love to have you come and work for my company.”

    57 TIMES.


    Special Note: Going through the effort to get a visit and Share the Story/Present the Opportunity and NOT follow up is DISRESPECTFUL to the potential investor!!! It’s not about YOU. It’s about THEM.


    Get More Aggressive

    Here’s a big lesson/coaching tip from recent experiences: GET MORE AGGRESSIVE!

      • Timing is perfect.
      • They just inherited a large fortune.
      • Their business is booming.

      *They love your CAUSE and CASE!!!

    • DON’T MAKE THE DECISION FOR YOUR PROSPECTIVE INVESTOR … especially before you even get there!!!
      • “They’re burnt out.”
      • “They’ve got 3 kids in college.”
      • “They’re still paying on a pledge.”
      • “I’m not sure they can do $10,000 or $100,000, etc.”

      *It’s not important whether YOU are sure. It’s not your money. Give them a chance to say ‘YES’!

    • Get (a few of) them to fall off their chair … in shock at the magnitude of YOUR PRESENTATION.If you have not caused someone lately to be SHOCKED at the SIZE of your OPPORTUNITY … you’re not THINKING BIG ENOUGH.

    The Most Important Question

    This is a quick one to share – let you ponder and add your thoughts.

    When meeting with a new prospect or a group or even someone very familiar with your organization, what is the Single Most Important Question you should ask to start things off?

    How about this one:

    “What do you know about our organization?”

    Or, if the person has long been associated/involved with your organization:

    “What do you know about this project?”

    Or, more broadly:

    “What do you know about [insert your cause here]?”

    Listening to the answer will do wonders for your ability to have a productive visit. The answer to this singular, one important question could:

    • Save a lot of time (you don’t want to repeat things he/she already knows)
    • Get out misunderstandings (if the prospect has the wrong idea about your org, you can address these points)

    Presumably you know where you would like to be at the end of the visit (the goals).
    Wouldn’t you like to know where you are at the beginning of the visit?

    Two quick stories to share with you to make my point (one good, one bad) and then you get more thoughts/ideas online:

    First, the bad (DID NOT ask the Most Important Question):

    Three years ago we were helping a domestic violence shelter. They were trying to work with the community to locate new space so that they could increase the number of families that they served.

    The prospect was a successful female entrepreneur. In the first meeting it was just she and I (male – single).

    We had a great dialogue, hit it off, made our connections and I asked a lot of questions … Just not the single most important question.

    I was sharing a number of astounding statistics about domestic violence – one of which is that one out of four women are victims of domestic violence.

    She stopped me there …

    “Nick, I know all this … I’m the one of those four.”

    GULP. Who was I to be ‘informing’ her about the problem?

    She was willing to share this information. I should’ve asked the most important question: What do you know about Domestic Violence?

    For another organization (DID ask the Most Important Question):

    A board member and I were visiting with someone that the staff had identified as a great prospect and friend of the organization. I had a thick folder full of information (thanks to all the ‘prospect research data services’, Google and staff interviews).

    After we got to know each other on the visit I asked most important question:

    Q. “Can you just share with us what you know about XYZ org?”

    A. “Just about everything – I think. I was one of the three founders fifteen years ago.”

    We had no idea this woman founded the organization. The staff had no idea. The board had no idea. Needless to say, it completely changed the nature of visit and we moved immediately to an exciting dialogue about HOW we were going to make the vision for the current project a reality.

    Next time you’re on a visit don’t forget to ask The Most Important Question.