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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

Team Selling Framework

The Team Selling Framework is a powerful visual that helps define roles and responsibilities within the Sales Process. In this framework, roles are color-coded: Blue, Red, and Green. Everyone on the team has a role to play, but not everyone is responsible for ‘asking’.


Important note: Think of these as ‘roles’; they are not necessarily ‘jobs’. If you’re a smaller operation you might wear ‘hats’. There are times when you wear a blue hat and times when you wear a green hat. As an entrepreneur, you start out wearing all three hats!

Green Team:

  • This is the Core Sales Team responsible for driving the sales process with prospects, including strategy, asking, closing, and follow-up. The Green Team needs to be out-of-the-office making visits.
  • Green Teamers are Relationships Managers (RMs) assigned to prospects. 
    • There can be only ONE Relationship Manager assigned to each prospect. 
    • The RM is accountable for that prospect’s strategy. 
    • The RM is always a member of your Green Team!

Red Team:

  • The Red Team supports the sales process. One simple way to think about this is to define the responsibilities of the Red Team around ensuring that the Green Team is out-of-the-office more.
  • The Red Team helps with setting up visits, especially with phone follow-up and callbacks.
  • Using this definition, a grant writer is often a member of the Red Team.

Blue Team:

  • Blue team members can be brought into the process as needed/directed by the Green Team. For example, a few years ago I worked on a gift that took 18 months to close. During the process, more than 20 Blue Team members were brought into the process at some point. However, ALL of that activity was coordinated through and by the singular Relationship Manager on the Green Team. 
  • The Blue Team is not accountable for ‘asking’. The implications here are big! It means the model does not default to board members asking their friends for money (see: no more peer-to-peer solicitation). 
  • That being said, the Red/Green Team NEED Blue Team members! They play a crucial role in TEAM selling. The Blue Team members provide context, connection, and credibility in a way that a Green Team Members often cannot. 
  • Blue Team Members can be engaged before, during, or after the visit. Example: Use your ‘Blue’ Team to help with a predisposition, opening doors, and even setting up or requesting the visit. 

Sales Principles

You’re in sales, get over it!” – Tom Suddes

As fundraisers, we’re in sales! We are selling the vision or the impact.

We train and coach executive directors, board members, and development staff around a sales model and process; the goal is to build a true and sustaining sales culture. Before we dive into model and process, we anchor the culture with PRINCIPLES. 

Here are some For Impact Sales Principles to get you started with your team:

  • Maximize relationships at this given moment.
    Development professionals often fall on one of two extremes. The first extreme is too transactional — always about the next gift. The second extreme is so focused on relationship-building that an ask never happens. When we think about maximizing the relationship at this given moment, we are able to drive the focus toward both the human connection (relationship) and the urgency and specificity of how they can help, right now.
  • 97/3, 1:1 and (Top) 10 (The Focus Principle)
    97/3 is like Pareto’s 80/20 rule on steroids. Over time, an organization focused on strategic philanthropy will generally observe that ninety-seven percent of funds come from three percent of its funders. We focus on that top 3% – building relationships, strategies, and asks accordingly. (Build communication and mass-engagement strategies for the other 97%.)

    1:1 means to focus on one-on-one relationships/visits/asks to build and maximize relationships.

    And prioritize your focus around your Top 10 prospects every year. They will deliver the greatest return-on-energy and greatest return-on-investment (in dollars and connections), year-over-year.  

    “Spend more time with better prospects.” – Brian Tracy
  • Plan around Prospects, not Programs.
    Build your funding (action) plan around your top prospect strategies and a routine that maximizes the time you spend in front of prospects.

    This is very different than building your plan around traditional development functions – like the annual event, or a mail campaign.
  • Drive to the ask. Drive to the commitment. (JUST ASK!)
    When will we make the ask? Pick a date! When we simply say, “It’s not the right time to ask,” we’re letting the strategy happen to us. Instead, create the strategy to make the ask happen. Then continue that strategy, focus and persistence to get the commitment.
  • Don’t make decisions for your prospects.
    This is another principle about ATTITUDE. Present the opportunity to prospects. It’s not our job to decide whether or not the prospect wants to change and impact lives, and our society. It’s our job to show them how we have an impact and show them how they can help.
  • “Engage, then plan.”
    When asked what made Intel so successful in the 1990s, retiring chairman Andy Grove said, “We had to engage, then plan.” This is a perfect principle for strategic philanthropy. The ask is dynamic and responsive to the prospect’s messaging/interest. We’ll never really be able to finish the strategy until we engage the prospect.

See also:

The Craft: Affirmations for 2021

Through 2020 and coming into 2021, we collected many fundraising success stories from clients and friends who had to work very hard to stay focused while balancing many realities:

  • The pandemic (and there is not much to say about that).
  • The k-shaped recovery. Some sectors are roaring and as a result, the ‘asset class’ is doing better than ever.
  • Role reshuffling in organizations. So much of our coaching is trying to help leaders and fundraisers find focus amidst uncertainty (and often change).

That hard work often required repeated affirmation. This email compiles many of the affirmations I’ve used over the years, as well as many developed through coaching clients in recent months.

I’m hoping 1-2 lines speak to YOU.


The Craft: Affirmations for 2021

I am a sales professional.
My product knowledge is expressed in impact and vision.
My craft is the forging of the human connection.
There is not a day I cannot grow.

This craft is important.
Engaging is what creates connection. 
Asking is what unlocks generosity and meaning.
On any given day my work can offer the highest point of leverage for our team, organization, and cause. 

My craft is measured by productivity.
In ‘normal’ times I focus on effectiveness and efficiency.
During this time I give myself permission to focus on a different ‘e’ — energy.

Today my ability to connect, unlock meaning, and drive impact is a function of energy.
I will remind myself daily to not waste energy on things I can’t control. 
Instead, I will direct energy toward what I can control: process and perspective.

Connection, meaning, and impact can CREATE ENERGY, 
if I let them. 

I hear of Zoom fatigue but I choose to flip my story: 
It’s not about the medium, it’s about the meaning. 
Virtual visits and experiences can create more meaning and impact (in different ways),
if I let them. 

I don’t know whether a prospect will commit but this is my perspective:
I do not make decisions for my prospects. 
Now is the time to engage.
It’s my job to present the opportunity.
The opportunity has never been greater.

I embrace my craft. Today. In this unique time and place.
I appreciate that I can learn and grow in ways that will benefit me forever;
I choose to see this as an opportunity for more connection and meaning… unlocked by engaging and by asking; and
I will direct my energy toward this process knowing it will save, change, and impact lives.

Discovery Questions, Alignment Questions, and Closing Questions

Questions are powerful tools to a fundraiser (read: salesperson). Effectively used, they help you learn, connect, lead, qualify, and close.

In our work — preparing clients for conversations with funders — we spend more time drafting engaging questions to ask than talking points to present. As organizations and funders have moved to virtual meetings, the effective use of questions has become even more important because our other norms of learning/connecting/leading are limited or replaced.

(See also Elevator Pitch vs. Elevator Engagement

Here are the three types of questions you should be prepared to use.

Discovery questions. Discovery questions are used to learn and gather information. We use discovery questions to understand what is in the prospect’s mind… the words they use… their areas of interest… their objections. 

  • “What has been your best investment (in an organization) and why?”
  • “What do you know about [our organization/project]?”
  • “I sent a lot of materials to review ahead of our discussion. If you had time to review, is there anything that stuck out to you?”
  • “You are heavily investing in [insert theme]. We’ve read through your website, but what are your primary aims in the coming year?”
  • “Why did you decide to join the board three years ago?”
  • “Our organization is so many things to so many people, I like to ask people, how do YOU describe the organization to your friends?”
  • After discussing priorities, “Which of these priorities is most important to you? Why?”

Alignment questions. Alignment questions are pretty simple. They are often used to confirm that you are aligned with the prospect, in which case you can continue to navigate forward toward your goals. If you’re not aligned, they ask the prospect to engage and offer valuable feedback.

  • “Does this make sense?” or “I’ve been talking too much, let me stop and ask you to respond, does this make sense?”
  • If the prospect offers a rejection or a statement that doesn’t make sense you can check for alignment. “Can you tell me more?” Or simply, “Tell me more.”
  • “In our discussion today I would love to talk a little bit about our program and see if there is alignment with your interests. And then, if it makes sense, explores ways we might ask for your help. Does that work?”

Alignment questions can also be used to transition the conversation by asking if it’s okay to move on to the next agenda item, or, in our case, as part of the visit-flow.

  • “Can we talk about how you can help?”

Closing questions. Closing questions involve asking the prospect to do something and they should be able to answer yes or no. (More generally we could also call these ‘action questions’.) This includes making an investment or making introductions to others.

  • “Could I ask you to take the lead (on this project)?” (Leadership Close)
  • Showing a funding plan. “I have no idea what your capacity is, where do you see yourself?” (Clueless Close)
  • “Assuming that this, this and this happens … would you then be willing to make a leadership investment in this vision?” (Contingency close) 
  • See other closes. (audio)

A good dialogue uses an assortment of questions to engage and navigate toward a goal. For instance, in an ask for funding support, you might follow that up with discovery questions and an alignment question to build a ‘roadmap to a close’.

Meaning Before Details

One of the best books I’ve ever read on engagement is Brain Rules, by John Medina. Medina, a college professor, shares simplified neuroscience to keep your brain engaged in order to maximize learning and retention.

This is a worthwhile book for teachers, leaders, and SALESPEOPLE!

One big takeaway from Medina is that the brain processes meaning before details.

“Normally, if we don’t know the gist—the meaning—of information, we are unlikely to pay attention to its details. The brain selects meaning-laden information for further processing and leaves the rest alone.”

Medina, John. Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded): 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (pp. 114-115). Pear Press. Kindle Edition.

There are a couple of ways in which you can help someone else engage around content with this key idea in mind.

The first is — very simply — to start with the ‘why’. WHY are you undertaking this project? WHY did you found the organization? WHY does this matter? The WHY is the meaning… everything else is the detail. The Altitude Framework starts with WHY; it is organized to present meaning before detail.

And the second reminder is to start with the other person’s WHY. Focus on what is most meaningful to the other person. WHY is this important to them? WHY are they doing what they’re doing?

Types of Value Propositions

We’re pretty big on building a value proposition around the impact (of the program, of the investment — hence, our name: For Impact). It’s worth defining other common types of value propositions so that you can illustrate opportunities (to sell impact) within your organization, or so that your team can see how selling-impact compares with existing strategies.

Legacy/Sponsorship: Focused on recognition and/or exposure for an individual or corporation.

Many people don’t think of these as being similar but they both seek to name — or recognize — the funder, whether that’s a family’s name on the side of a building or a local bank displayed on a website banner.

Programs & Capital: Either selling a program, a class, or a school for underwriting. Or, one-time financial raise for capital projects. “Your funding will translate directly to xyz expense.”

Peer-to-Peer: Value proposition (why give) is largely a factor of social currency.Operational: Expressed in terms of an operational need and expresses how the (internal) operation will be improved. Eg. “Help us fund a new position.”

Impact: How the investment will help the organization change, save or impact lives.
These don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Example: Capital + Impact: “Help us with this bricks and mortar project so that we can impact 300 additional families each year, helping them to escape the lifecycle of poverty.”

Building Confidence.

This is a part 2 to yesterday’s nugget: On Confidence.

So how do we build confidence? Here are some ideas and observations based on our research and coaching: 

  • Be authentic. 

    It’s easier to be confident trying to figure out how to be you than to be someone else.

    If you are a junior fundraiser, this might mean learning how to develop your own voice, instead of trying to channel the CEO’s voice. 
  • Practice “self-talk anchored in something that’s real.”

    This is a profound insight offered from high-performance psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais. After helping Olympians and business MVP’s alike he summarizes the key to confidence and efficacy.

    He says that confidence is a psychological skill. It can be developed just like any other skill, through deliberate practice. In very simple terms, he says we need to write down the reasons why we should be confident about something and then practice reading and adopting those reasons so that they are strong enough to become part of our story. “Confidence comes from practicing self-talk anchored in something that’s real. You have to train to be confident!”
  • Do the preparation required to be confident.

    In our For Impact world this is about:
    • Building a strong funding rationale.
    • Doing the work and putting in the time to truly strategize what you’re going to say to prospects. 
    • Training around, or committing to, a sales process that you can trust again and again.
  • Take the focus off yourself. 

    This is a simple reminder to keep perspective. I don’t think this changes confidence levels, as much as it decreases the effects that can come from a lack of confidence. A few reminders in this regard.

    Psychologists estimate that 70% of us suffer from some form of imposter syndrome or another. (I have to imagine it’s more like 100% and 30% of those studied just aren’t honest.)

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor frequently talks about imposter syndrome in her memoir (but she is then quick to talk about how it fuels her to work hard and prove herself wrong.)

    Focus on the impact. You can transfer the focus on confidence (or lack thereof) to:
    • Confidence in solving the problem… 
    • Confidence in presenting the opportunity…  
    • Confidence in doing your best – today – to share the story and present the opportunity…

On Confidence

Confidence is something that’s not talked about enough in the world of fundraising. Thinking about the hundreds of leaders we’ve coached (and my own growth over 20 years), I would suppose half of the coaching focused on process. And, at least at the outset, half of the coaching focused on building confidence… in one’s self… in the process… in the pitch. 

Here is an important finding on the role of confidence in successful sales (and fundraising) from Alex (Sandy) Pentland at the MIT Human Dynamics Lab. In a study where participants were observed making pitches to potential investors Pentland observed that confidence (and commitment) to the idea by the leader were the greatest determining factor in the outcome of the pitch

“The executives [listening to the pitches] thought they were evaluating the plans based on rational measures, such as: How original is this idea? How does it fit the current market? How well developed is this plan?” Pentland wrote. “While listening to the pitches, though, another part of their brain was registering other crucial information, such as: How much does this person believe in this idea? How confident are they when speaking? How determined are they to make this work? And the second set of information—information that the business executives didn’t even know they were assessing—is what influenced their choice of business plans to the greatest degree.” 

Coyle, Daniel. The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups (p. 14). Random House Publishing Group.

I would want an immediate takeaway to be that confidence is important! We need to talk about confidence. We need to coach our teams around their confidence. We need to create an environment where it’s okay for someone to say, “I need to work on my confidence.”

Rarely do I see a leader ask, “What is your confidence level?” Or a sales person say to a leader, “I need your help with confidence.”

Tomorrow I’m going to share three insights to further address finding confidence.

On team size, culture, and performance – Brook’s Law

The size of a team is one of our first considerations when trying to build a fundraising campaign team, or a sales team within an organization.

Complexity is non-linear in that 1+1 team members is not 2x as challenging as coaching one person; it’s at least 2.5x more challenging. You have to build the skills of two individuals, as well as consider the interpersonal linkages between the two individuals.

For this reason, we try to identify the smallest possible team for a project, or a function.

Here is an excerpt from Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal with a good explanation and an introduction to Brook’s Law, which we often cite when building, changing, or leading teams.

Thousands of fledgling businesses have sunk because of an inability to scale their teamwork. Joel Peterson, a professor at the Stanford School of Business, says the rigidity that sets in with scale is one of the main causes of start-up failure. And the late J. Richard Hackman, a Harvard sociology professor, found that teams are much trickier to build and maintain than we like to think. The issue is not that teams never work, but that team dynamics are powerful but delicate, and expansion is a surefire way to break them. “[It’s a] fallacy that bigger teams are better than smaller ones because they have more resources to draw on,” he explains. “As a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate.” In his handbook Leading Teams, Hackman reminds us of “Brook’s Law”: the adage that adding staff to speed up a behind-schedule project “has no better chance of working . . . than would a scheme to produce a baby quickly by assigning nine women to be pregnant for one month each . . . adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

McChrystal, General Stanley. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (pp. 127-128). Penguin Publishing Group.

7 Lessons from Virtual Visits

We’ve spent the last three months helping clients pivot to virtual visits. 

I still don’t think there is any one-size-fits-all advice but here are some of the more frequent lessons, or observations, we’re making.

  1. The sales model continues.

    Clients that had previously installed a sales model (to professionalize philanthropy) have largely continued their fundraising uninterrupted. A lot of the observations below are tweaks, not seismic shifts in strategy.
  2. Predisposition is important, now more than ever!

    The fundamentals of ‘sales’ and ‘human engagement’ are even more important when we can’t visit in person. Another way of saying this is that as we’re all figuring out new norms, doing the basic things well is all the more important.

    The first fundamental element to highlight is predisposition.

    Predisposition is an important part of the sales process. It sets the context for the discussion. As coaches we’re spending a lot more time working through predisposition strategy with our clients, this way the phone call or virtual visit is productive and we don’t spend too much time trying to navigate shifting and ‘new norms’.
  3. We’re constantly tweaking our funding rationale for context.

    We’ve spent a lot of time/effort with our clients positioning the funding rationale. Messaging and funding priorities need to live in a very current context.

    Note, this does not necessarily mean that you need to change your funding priorities, but certainly, you need to be able to speak to them in the context of COVID, in the context of your community, and — if you weren’t already doing so — in the context of social justice broadly and racial justice/equity, specifically.
  4. We practice asking questions and managing the flow-of-the-call in call-prep.

    We spend a lot more time helping clients think through how they will manage the flow of the conversation, in particular, how they will transition from the opening, to the story, to the ask. This includes the language to get numbers-on-the-table.

    Sometimes this is simple as a phrase. Some examples:
    1. “Right now we’re really looking for a handful of people that can come together and help us get this project off the ground. It’s going to require $100,000 all-together. Is that something we could talk to you about helping with?”
    2. (A variant of the Clueless Close, used to accelerate the overall timeline of the funding conversation). When the prospect asks, “How can we help?”
      “We have a pretty good handle on our math. After factoring in some of our existing funding streams, we’re going to need to cover a gap of about $1000 per family. Can I ask you to think about how many families you could help?”
    3. See other ‘closes’.
  5. Champions are (more) eager to help.

    We’re observing an uptick in champion support. As one board member shared, “I feel called now more than ever to step up and helping this organization is my way to do good in the world right now.”

    Now is a great time to work with champions to make new connections and help as natural partners for more complex gift strategies.
  6. Virtual very often means phone.

    Whereas it seems most internal conversations have flipped to Zoom, we’re finding that a lot of the virtual visits are happening by phone.  This isn’t to say visits aren’t happening via video conference but we’re observing approximately 50% of prospects (of all ages and types: individuals/corporations/foundations) replacing ‘in-person visits’ with a preference for phone calls.
  7. Funders run the gamut right now.

    On the whole, we see funders stepping up in a very big way. On a case-by-case basis (especially with individuals and corporations) visit-propensity still can be widely scattered.

    Here is some incredibly generalized advice. Think about your next 10 prospects in a 3/4/3 pattern.  It’s likely three of them are going to tell you they can’t fund right now. Four of them are going to have a behavior pattern (such as being hard to get a hold of) – it may take a little longer to get a hold of them but don’t give up! Three of your prospects are going to say, “Oh, thank you! I’ve been trying to figure out how to do more. I’m so glad you reached out. I/we need to be doing MORE right now!”

    As I told one executive director last week, “I’m telling you about 3/4/3 because I don’t know the order in which you’re going to encounter these prospects… and I don’t want you to get discouraged if the first three say, ‘Now is not the time.’”