Who Knew You’d Need to Know How to Sell?

Who knew you’d need to know how to sell Image

Want your board to approve a change to a process your chapter has been following for years? Maybe it’s time to take online payments for events or shift from paper newsletters to electronic ones? If you’re coming up against decision makers who’ve been in their roles for a time and who believe things are “fine,” asking for a change could be an uphill battle. 

Often, those who are the furthest from the activity that needs to change are the ones that need to approve it. They don’t see the ineffectiveness, the bottlenecks, and the poor results and may need to be sold on making the change.

Let’s say your event committee keeps hearing that members and guests aren’t attending meetings because they can’t prepay online and must bring a check or credit card to the event; you even have survey results to back this up. But for some, change can be really difficult.  

Not to worry. Selling an idea, especially one you believe in, isn’t as hard as it sounds. By incorporating a few techniques used by effective sales people, and with some practice, you can get your point(s) across and get the decision makers to agree to the change.

So how do you get good at selling to your board?

Some people are born salespeople, but most of us need to work at it. Those who are really good know how to:

  • Ask questions and listen: Strong salespeople listen more than they talk. They ask a question or two and wait. This idea of sitting quietly while the other person gathers their thoughts can be difficult. This silence may be awkward but it’s necessary. And when they do talk, don’t talk over them. Give them time to finish speaking. Your goal is not to force a change but to collaborate or partner to develop a new solution. To do this you need to listen, to hear their concerns and their needs, so you can respond appropriately.
  • Be empathetic. Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “…understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and…experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another…without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated.” Listen deeply to really why they’re stuck, what they want to accomplish, and how they measure success. Nod, shake your head, answer in short simple statements where it makes sense, and ask follow-up questions that indicate subtly that you understand their concerns.
  • Overcome objections: Change doesn’t normally happen in a single conversation, so you may need several conversations to fully understand and have the right information and answers to overcome their objections. In the case of taking electronic payments, you may learn they don’t believe a decline in meetings numbers could possibly be related to not taking electronic payments. You could talk – in that meeting or a subsequent one – about how electronic payments would bring in new members, by sharing research that shows how the two are linked and your chapter survey feedback that indicates members and guests are unhappy paying by check.  


Practice, practice, practice…

Role play, with a coworker, a friend, even your spouse. Choose someone who isn’t intimately connected to the change you’re trying to make, to get fresh feedback and an unbiased perspective.

Walking through your conversation before you have it lets you see what works and what doesn’t, and based on the questions you get, what you may have forgotten to include. You’re able to adjust your pitch before you’re standing in front of the decisionmaker. Maybe you haven’t given much thought to why you want to move to an electronic newsletter, other than it’s what all the other chapters are doing. Practicing beforehand will let you see the benefits you should mention, like how an electronic newsletter can engage members and guests better than a paper one, while providing data about who’s reading it and what they’re reading.

Selling to your board doesn’t mean you need to know all the ins and outs of a product or a whole bunch of technical specifications at the first meeting, though you should be prepared to answer general questions about what you’re recommending. It means you listen to the person’s concerns, show you understand why they have those concerns, and translate the benefits of the change into language that will resonate with them and overcome their objections, all of which will help bring them to the “yes” you need to hear.

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