5 Ways to Sell…your program, your grant (or other) proposal, your great ideas, and/or YOURSELF!

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Why do educators, social service providers, and others working in non-profits need selling skills? Many people report that they “hate selling“ but sales or aspects of selling are part of our lives every day. When you get a job you are selling yourself. When a loved one is asking for money you are likely being sold to. Kids sell, often quite well. Many children have learned what does and does not work with parents to negotiate as much out of them as possible. Often as adults, we’ve forgotten how good we once were at “selling” Dad on letting us have the car keys.

Selling influences your work life more than you might think; when you negotiate even a seemingly trivial decision like a playground duty schedule – that’s selling, especially if you have a strong opinion and you are presenting multiple points. This continuously occurs in the workplace and is even more crucial when you are negotiating what program proposals will be funded, what classes will be deleted, and whose great idea your group is willing to try. Many decisions and their attendant conversations involve elements of selling. That’s why – whether you like the activity of selling or not – you are likely to be “selling” at least some of the time to negotiate and acquire what you need to survive and prosper including at work.

When facing a tough decision, you even “sell” to yourself, arguing both sides and eventually (hopefully?) reaching a fully‑informed decision.

Even if you never sell professionally, selling skills and abilities utilize a number of resiliency building protective factors:

  • Relationships: in skilful selling, everyone wins and relationships are improved.
  • Life skills: successful selling requires effective communication during negotiations, assertiveness in expressing your opinions, and good decision making.
  • Perceptiveness: effective selling requires an ability to read verbal and non‑verbal cues and adjust your dialogue accordingly.
  • Optimism about the future: an ability to sell often improves success in obtaining and maintaining employment and in developing new relationships.
  • Flexibility: skilled selling requires an ability to bend and adjust to the needs of others.
  • Self‑worth: improved selling skills builds confidence in your ability to serve yourself and others.
  • Creativity: effective selling requires originality and imagination.

It’s clear knowing some of the basics of selling can increase your resilience and improve your life. Here are five useful techniques:

  1. Telling is Not Selling: Generate interest from a prospective “buyer” (the person you are negotiating with) by asking questions. People love to talk about themselves and what you are “selling” becomes more interesting if you focus on questions. Ask the person questions about potential use of what you are “selling” rather than making statements of fact. For example, consider a school administrator negotiating with the board of a funding source. Giving a presentation that discusses aspects of the school system and how it would benefit from increased funding may or may not resonate with the goals of the board. By interjecting questions into the presentation, this administrator can highlight aspects that align more closely with the goals of the board. For example, “upgrading our playground will improve the safety of our students. Is that an important goal for you?” This type of questioning can improve chances of success.
  2. Take Time to Build Trust: Trust is essential for high value sales and is very difficult to build quickly. Arm yourself with as many “trust factors” as possible – letters of recommendation, strong recommendations on LinkedIn or other online professional profiles, examples of instances where what you are proposing worked to everyone’s benefit – any example you can keep readily available that would more quickly compel a person that did not know you to quickly trust you.
  3. People Buy From Friends: The most satisfying purchases we make are from people we know, like, and trust. Without all three of these components anxiety can creep into our purchase decisions. This might seem superficial, but the more you can add bonding elements to your interactions with those whom you are in negotiations with, the more it legitimately helps all involved. Chemistry with those you work with is important to uncover as soon as possible, especially if you’ll be working with them beyond the “sale.” For example, do some background research on the decision-makers you are asking to fund your grant proposal. Use the information about what is important to these people in your interactions with them as you sell your proposal.
  4. Become More Articulate. You may or may not have heard of Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to improving the speaking ability of members. Many major negotiations have been favorably executed because the participants had improved their speaking acumen through Toastmasters. Negotiating favorably requires being able to communicate calmly and effectively which Toastmasters fosters in its members.
  5. It Takes 11 “Touchpoints” to Sell: Whether trying to sell a car on ebay or obtain funding for an important program, communication is key. Use all forms of communication available today to “touch” those you are negotiating with. “Touching” up to 11 times as needed is recommended: Email, phone calls, find a reason to send something by physical mail, even fax if that’s how your colleagues routinely communicate. The point is, keep yourself in the minds of “prospects” or the people you are or will be negotiating with to give yourself the best opportunity for success. Use personal protective factors such as perceptiveness, flexibility, and creativity to develop these “touchpoints.”

There are many books of sales tips, techniques, and psychology that will improve your art of selling, and this improvement is crucial. When helping professionals trying to implement strategies that benefit others do not have representatives that can “sell” or negotiate well, disappointment is a likely result. This is especially true when an “opposing side” has greater sales skills and abilities. Resiliency building programs that don’t get funded, teaching jobs that go to inferior candidates, or budget cuts to helping professions often are all a result of a lack of ability to sell. For more information to improve selling skills, read these three top sales publications:

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