What Sales Professionals Can Learn From Not For Profits

Recently I attended a networking event in New York City. Actually it was an awards breakfast and I was being honored (shameless plug inserted) but that’s not the point of this article. Attending the event were leaders in politics, business, not for profits as well as academia. It was a mixed bag of professionals but by and large, not for profits made up the largest group of professionals attending. It was a great event not only because of the networking but the honorees were also very impressive (ok last shameless plug I swear). While networking myself I noticed the room teeming with other professionals networking and pitching business. I was quite impressed by the number of not for profit professionals that were so proficient at networking and had really well executed pitches. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a room of for profit sales professionals that have their networking and sales pitches honed as well as some of these not for profits. I think there is a lot that sales professionals can learn from not for profits in regards to networking and pitching business.

Networking is a topic I often advise my clients on. I have also recently written about the dos and don’ts of networking. While all that is discussed in that article applies here, I think there is more to be learned from our professional friends in the not for profit world. I recently sat down with a good friend of mine, Michele McKeon (pronounced McKyown) who is the Chief Operating Officer for Regional Economic Community Action Program, Inc. (RECAP) for a quick Q and A about networking and pitching from a not for profit perspective.

Q: Michele, you’ve held several executive level positions for not for profits in the Hudson Valley as a well as in the State Capital so I think it’s safe to say you’re well versed in not for profits. Why do you feel networking is so important for not for profit organizations and professionals?
A: Networking is vital for any business. Not for profits are businesses. Networking allows for not for profits to reach a broader audience. There are so many wonderful causes and there are a finite number of people who are in a position to support those causes financially. It is important that not for profits can ‘sell’ their cause in a short period of time to gain the interest of their audience.

Q: Where do you rank networking as a business tool for you as a not for profit professional?
A: It’s absolutely top 5. Moreover, it has to work seamlessly in partnership with our messaging, branding and communications efforts. You also need a staff that is trained to articulate your message really effectively.

Q: As a leader of a not for profit, when hiring do you like to see professionals come in with some sort of networking experience? Do you teach and mentor your staff to network or be a better networker?
A: While I don’t look for that specifically because it’s really difficult to quantify or describe on a resume, you can tell pretty quickly how comfortable someone is interacting with people in an interview. We definitely work with our staff on networking and messaging. We discuss the importance of honing your message to be able to tell your story in 3 minutes or less because it’s usually about the amount of time you have to pique someone’s interest enough to engage you in a longer conversation.

Q: Can you give a specific example of business you developed or some other success story that can be directly attributed to networking?
A: Never assume who is in your audience. Never mail it in. Always believe you are planting a seed. I was giving a quick talk in a community meeting where the public had been invited. I spoke for perhaps 20 minutes. After my talk I stayed and spoke to and answered questions for about half a dozen people and I thought that was the end of it. Two years later I received a call from an attorney.  One of the audience members from that day who I stayed after to chat with had been really impressed with the mission I described and left a gift for my agency in her estate. It was $317,000.

Q: How do you feel networking differs for not for profits vs. for profits? How do you feel they are similar?
A: I think they are more similar than they are different. While a for profit company may be selling a product or materials; a not for profit works just as hard to sell their mission to the public. I think where they differ most would be in the resources they have available to sell their ‘product.’ Not for profits have limited resources to hire a professional who can be responsible solely for networking, public relations and marketing.

Q: What do you think sales professionals or other for profits can learn from not for profits who network well?
A: I would like to think we could learn from one another. However I think what not for profit professionals recognize is concise, clear and personal are what move the needle and captures someone’s interest. For a not for profit that can be the difference in a successful campaign.

This was a great experience as well as interview. I think talking with a not for profit professional like Michele really drove home the similarities of everyone’s goals while also showing how in tune nor for profit professionals are when it comes to pitching business. As Michele commented, not for profits are not ‘selling’ a product but instead their cause and at the end oft he day, selling is selling. I have learned a lot about pitching, selling and networking from this and hope that you do the same.

A Little Bit About My Blog:
I write about a vast array of topics related to marketing, public relations, business development and business management. Sometimes the topic is very focused and my blog addresses very specific challenges with specific answers. While other times my blogs take a wider view of a topic or theory and are intended to make the reader think on a macro-level as opposed to providing specific answers. It’s like the proverb says: “Feed a fish to a hungry person you’ve fed them for a day. Teach them to fish you feed them for life.” The goal is not to give you the answers but to help you solve the challenges of your business through critical thinking. Either way, I hope my blogs elicit a reaction, good or bad. If good, we can compare notes and share stories of success. If bad, we can have a good old fashion debate. May the best debater win.

View all of my blog topics and post here.

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