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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

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 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!

Take Massive Action

A few weeks ago we published “10 Action Steps to Help you Engage in 2016.” Over the next 10 weeks, we will use each action step as a week long theme to help you get it done!


A ‘Campaign’ is all about ACTION. The literal translation or definition of a ‘Campaign’ probably has its provenance with Napoleon and War. As any great general or military leader will tell you, success in war is about MASSIVE ACTION – NOW.

We’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of organizations screw around for years trying to figure out what to do, when to do it, where to hold the kickoff, etc. There are great organizations out there who, right now, are still debating the “impact of the economy and the recession,” or “somebody else has kicked off a campaign in our community” or “our donors are tired and maybe we should wait” and on and on. UGH!

CHALLENGE FOR THE DAY: What are the 3 ‘MASSIVE ACTIONS’ that you could take RIGHT NOW that would cause an EXPLOSIVE EXPONENTIAL JUMP or a QUANTUM LEAP for your organization?


Then, GO DO ‘EM.

The ‘OPEN’ vs. ‘CLOSE’ Paradox

Brian Tracy, one of the best sales trainers in the world, says that 40% of salespeople don’t close. Jack Canfield, of mega-phenom Chicken Soup fame puts the number at 60%.

As the old (and only?) song by the Monkees goes, music_note“I’m a believer…” when it comes to JUST ASK.

However, we have re-framed the ASK (CLOSE) to PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY (to INVEST, to OWN, whatever).

With that said, I am convinced more and more that it’s much more about the ‘OPEN’, not the ‘CLOSE’, that makes the SALE.

Do a GREAT OPEN! It’s a VISIT, not an appointment. Talk about yourself and ask about the prospect. Then… you can move to purpose of visit.

***In our For Impact Presentation Flow, the OPEN is built around you… them… us. Amazing how many people don’t begin the VISIT talking about themselves and then the prospect before they start talking about the organization.

Pending into oblivion…

Once you’ve made an ask (numbers on the table), the prospect status can be either pending or committed/declined. Pending implies that we’re working toward a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The challenge is that so many requests never get to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’… they fade into pending oblivion.

Pending into oblivion sounds like this [my commentary in brackets]:

  • “Well we didn’t want to harass the prospect after we asked.”
    [so we didn’t follow-up to see if it was a yes/no and so it went nowhere]

  • “The family says it’s still thinking.”
    [16 months is a long time to be thinking, do you think something’s going to change about that next month?]

  • “If we forced them to a decision, I’m worried they would say no.”
    [but we don’t know that for sure, so instead we let the relationship function in this grey area — moreover, without dialogue we can’t actually deal with objections]

There comes a time when we need to force a decision. When it’s been 16 months… when you’ve made four visits… you’ll know it when you come to it.

You can simply say, “Prospect, we’ve had some great discussions about this project and it’s time to come to some sort of decision about a commitment. We [as an organization] are moving forward and we just need to know where we stand. We need A commitment [TODAY].”

If we can’t ultimately report each request as a pending or a commit, it’s likely we didn’t really ask in the first place or we’re not doing our jobs.

There is a greater danger than getting a ‘no’. It’s not having dialogue, not having any real sense of what’s working in your system, and leaving relationships in a grey – stagnant area.

Tom is helping a college wrap-up a huge campaign. The five-person development team has about 70 sizeable gifts pending. Tom rallied the troops in August and said, “We’re in a phase in which there is no more pending.” For the last six weeks the team has been out having commitment conversations with each family, prospect and foundation. This has generated $14M in commitments over the last two weeks.

See also:

A Sales Process

“You’re in sales… get over it!”

Tom first said this (that I recall) at a workshop in 2001.  He had developed a Sales Process for The Suddes Group several years earlier and we’ve been teaching around this sales process ever since – helping organizations build a sales teams, model and culture.

At a high level this process has two components: PLAN and EXECUTION.

The Plan:

The Execution:

The Plan components are pretty simple:

  • Case for Support: Every organizations needs to know WHAT to say (the message, the story, etc).
  • Presentation Design: And HOW to say it.
  • Qualified Prospects: And of course SOMEBODY to say it to.

Case for Support: This is not one-in-the same as a case statement.  I’m fonder of the prep work that organizations usually pile into the case statement process than the actual case statement – which amounts to a long document that nobody reads.
To me a case for support is about honing in on your message.  It’s about:

  • SIMPLIFYING that message
  • Pulling out the ENGAGING pieces
  • Answering the common questions for your org, your project or your campaign.
  • Communicating the WHY (cause and case), the WHAT (again, simplifying what you do or your priorities) and the HOW you’re going to get it done which includes either a funding PLAN or funding RATIONALE.

Most Case Statements spend too much time outlining the need with statistics.  You’re not going to convince your best prospects of the need (the CAUSE).  You’re going to sell your best on the SOLUTION (the CASE).  As well, I think most case statements neglect to dive into the funding plan.  One common reason campaigns don’t succeed is that top prospects aren’t convinced you have a PLAN to be successful with your overall funding goal.

Our case-for-support-shorthand is around simplifying the PURPOSE (at 30,000′).  The THREE funding PRIORITIES (at 14,000’) and funding PLAN (at 3′).
Presentation Design: It’s equally important to figure out HOW you’re going to engage people with your CASE.  Not PowerPoint’s, not fancy brochures… but experiences, tours, mind-maps… The questions you’re going to ask to create engagement.

In 1952 Walt Disney created a 4’x6′ storyboard illustrating Disneyland at night.  This visual design was what finally secured financing for Disneyland.  As he said, “Bankers don’t have any imagination, none at all.”  After reading this story we’ve often DESIGNED big storyboard engagement tools to draw people into the Case for Support.
Qualified Prospects: Without offering any guidance around our version of PREP most organizations will say they have a challenge with prospects.  We find they are better equipped around prospects than they think… and usually we find they need more work around the CASE and the DESIGN.  Prospects is about three things:

  1. Identifying prospects:  The single best way is to create an IDEAL PROFILE and share this with others to generate names.  Asking for prospects (without guidance) will get you nowhere.
  2. Prioritizing prospects: Build a Master Prospect List – a list of your most important prospects in descending order of importance.  Work from this list.  Live this list.
  3. Strategize prospects: Take the time to create a unique strategy for each prospect.  Don’t ‘wing it’.

In terms of Execution you can repeat again and again.  I could offer an infinite level of explanation I want to reinforce the simplicity and the discipline in following these three steps:

Predisposition: This is not a ‘step’; it’s a mindset.  Predisposition is everything you can do to make it NOT a cold call.  It’s also the part of the strategy to GET the visit.

Presenting the Opportunity: In the sales process most prospects can be ASKED on the first visit.  With bigger prospects you might move to a two-visit strategy – discovery and then the presentation (ASK) but never 6, 7, 8,etc. visits.

A good litmus test to know if there was a REAL ASK:  Could you follow-up and confirm the ask…with a number… in writing?  If not, was probably more of a murky exploration than a real ask.
Follow-up: See my notes on How to Follow-up.  This is where the money comes in.  This is where most organizations drop the ball.  If you can’t follow-up then you don’t need more prospects, you need to get better at following up.

  • Follow-up with the ask, in writing.  Then DRIVE The follow-up with the prospect… ball is in your court.
  • Complete a memo-for-the-record to create institutional memory.
  • Follow-up with yourself – be your own coach.  What could you improve for next time.

How to ask funders to follow a deadline

Use an Action Forcing Event

This one goes back in the memory banks. I can’t remember the project but I know I found myself in the living room of a very decorated and venerated stud (read: people-write-multiple-books-about-this-guy). He served high up in the State Department for many years and may even have held a cabinet position during the Reagan Years. To put it in perspective, he casually recalled a meeting he once had with Saddam Hussein ‘way back when!’

We were putting together a strategy to secure leadership funding when he said to me, “Nick, I think what we need in this instance is an Action Forcing Event.”

“Working in the State Department nothing was even accomplished without an Action Forcing Event. You see… we would just make up events and special ceremonies to create deadlines… to get people to make decisions. “


Every group project, whether it be a homework assignment in college or a $100M funding campaign comes down to getting a bunch of people to do something… in the case of the campaign it’s to MAKE DECISIONS… MAKE COMMITMENTS.

Without some sort of a timing rationale, these decisions are never made. Similarly, homework assignments in college are never finished until the night before they’re due.

Create and Action Forcing Event when you have a bunch of pending commitments and you need a reason to close. For example, after you’ve established the request, “Nick, we’re going to close this round of funding on October 15th [date of ask: July 27th]. Would it be okay to work with you to come to a decision before this date?”

On paper a request in July and a drop dead of date looks like a long time. It’s not. You’ve probably seen within your own organization requests that linger forever… years even. You can certainly close well ahead of October 15th but having this nominal ‘Action Forcing Event’ gives you a backstop… a rationale or reason to be really pushing for an answer at the end of September.

Other examples of Action Forcing Events:

  • “We need to have decisions by [Date] which will help us determine how to phase the project.”
  • “If we can secure $3M in commitments before May 16, we can go ahead with the build on the school starting this summer. Otherwise, we wait for another year. I’m going to be following up with you as we approach May for this reason.”
  • “Nick has agreed to match all pledges (up to a total of $1M) that we secure before Dec 31. I would like to follow-up with you ahead of this date because we could DOUBLE your commitment.”

The Takeaway: Include a ‘timing rationale’ in your request, or in your follow-up, that you can use as a deadline for a decision.

Selling as a team – 3 important tips.

Some things to think about among team members before you go on a visit.

  1. Clarify the goal.
  2. It’s paramount that you clearly articulate the goal of the visit for everyone on your sales team. Remember, the goal determines what you say. I did a coaching call yesterday in which we established two objectives:

    1. To get the prospect’s permission to discuss the funding plan
    2. To ask for a gift to fund the vision.

    About the strategy above: The prospect visit was not set-up to be an ask so we needed to get permission to talk numbers. That could be permission to come back and talk about the funding plan on a next visit or, if the prospect were to say, “How can I help?” we need to be prepared to move on to objective 2 on this visit.

    I hope the example seems simple. The key is that we didn’t just send in a team to do ‘stewardship’. Nothing worse that a visit with no goal alignment and tons of opportunity.

  3. Identify the leader to manage flow

    There can be one and only one person managing the flow of the visit. Identify that person within your team then trust in that person.

    No sales call or presentation ever goes as planned. Someone is going to have to make adjustments and control tempo, altitude and flow. Trust in the leader, follow the leader.

    When I’m leading I will say to the other person (executive director, board member, etc), “No matter how chaotic the visit might seem at any point I will always be in control of the flow and navigating toward the goal.”

    If I’m leading I’ll cue the other person along the way:

    “Bill, could you talk about your experience in starting summer camps at other organizations? I would like to share with [prospect] some of your experience and the approach we’ll incorporate to start new programs.”

    Note: I think it’s fine to change the leader in the middle of the visit – but the point is to know who is navigating.

    I will also review the PRESENTATION FLOW before each visit as a reminder of the general flow.

  4. Identify key questions
  5. Actually, number three should read: REMEMBER TO LISTEN

    We typically outline some key questions with the team as a way of forced listening. Tendency will always be to talk too much. We review some key questions as a way of coaching everyone about the importance of listening… of letting the prospect talk.

    For a visit we strategized on Monday.

    • “I know you’ve often spoke of the need to increase impact in your giving. Could you talk a little bit about what that means to you now?” — Clearly the prospect was thinking strategically – asking this question not only gets the prospect sharing information, it’s also incredibly relevant. Probably some hot buttons and land mines to avoid.
    • And, if we’re not sure what to ask for, “NAME, I would love to share the funding plan if that’s okay. Before I do, could I ask you to speak to how this might fit with some of your current funding priorities?”


I was reading a book this morning called THE DESIGN OF BUSINESS
by Roger Martin who is a Dean at the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto.

His big thing is the DESIGN FUNNEL… going from MYSTERY (problem) to HEURISTICS (rule of thumb) and then to ALGORITHM (a system or process that works and can be replicated).

Based on my 35+ years, and a ton of work in the last five years around the ALGORITHM … we have developed the For Impact ROAD MAP, which is also our SALES PROCESS.

You’ve probably all seen it, but I just wanted to reinforce the following:

    6. FOLLOW-UP.

There it is. SIMPLE. STRAIGHT FORWARD. ALGORITHM (Process). You just need to EXECUTE!


Measuring Outcomes vs. Inputs

I was with a University President last week talking about his institution’s Message, Framework, Unique Selling Points, etc. He’s an incredibly well-read, experienced, really bright thought leader. He shared a story about American business, especially MANUFACTURING, as it existed 50 years ago. (These are my shorthand notes. He told the story much more eloquently.)





Replaced the old model with a change in PROCESS (re-engineering around measurement and statistics, etc. Think Edward Denning and Elijah Goldratt.)

The goal was to stabilize the consistency of the PROCESS to minimize and eliminate the BAD STUFF.

Here’s where he went with that re: EDUCATION.

The old INPUT model goes back 500 years (University of Bologna, etc.) Nothing’s changed. Same pedagogy. Teacher. Student. Classroom. If you fail, you’re gone. Throw out the bad. Keep the good. Be ‘proud‘ of the number of students you don’t accept and the number of students who don’t make it.

In education, a new model of OUTCOME-BASED would look at the entire process so that everyone makes it.

INPUT VS. OUTCOME. I found it really interesting and, perhaps more importantly for For Impact leaders, social entrepreneurs, change agents and Development/Sales… think about how this applies to the way we ‘RAISE MONEY’.

The old INPUT-BASED model is all about activity, cultivation, marketing, annual fund, chasing mice.

The new OUTCOME-BASED model (certainly our For Impact model) is all about:

  1. Writing ‘TRIPLE NET CHECKS’ to the organization from the Development Operation.

  2. A laser-like focus on RESULTS/OUTCOME… not on activities, special events, donor acquisitions, chasing mice, etc.

  3. Do only those things that have dramatic, quantum leap, transformational results. (Chase antelopes.)

P.S. A few days ago, a very, very senior development office, principle gift officer actually told our Vice President that the institution needed to “spend the next five years totally focused on building up ANNUAL FUND”.

Can you imagine doing that in ‘business’? Let’s sell a bunch of little stuff to a lot of people… so that five years from now those people can buy more and bigger stuff. We’d be out of business.