Selling in the Social Sector
Selling - it's not easy, but it's doable!
Probably the most common thing we have heard across the Enterprise Development cohort is they don’t know how to sell. This comes from both those in the early stages of their trading and enterprise but also sometimes from those who are looking to extend to new markets where they have no existing profile or relationships. Selling products and services is not something that sits comfortably with many in the social sector, it can feel very new territory to other income generation activities such as grant applications and responding to tenders. Furthermore, it can feel complex to talk about both their product information and the social mission. Add on top ever-constrained resources, and selling often falls down the list of priorities. However, earning customers and making sales is obviously crucial to the success of any trading activity or enterprise.
As we listened to organisations talk about the uncertainty or intimidation felt around sales, we were keen to bring in expertise to the programme to help. We felt learning the latest sales techniques could have some, but perhaps, limited value - instead we were keen for the support to focus on providing a robust framework that would help organisations confidently and consistently communicate the value of their products or services.
The Story Cube Framework
Over the last year Michael and Robbie from Story Cube have supported two groups of mental health organisations from the programme, both with’ Sprint workshops (4 quickfire sessions delivered over two weeks) and follow up one-to-one coaching. We’ve seen organisations really value this support both in terms of clarity of their messaging and also confidence to get out there and share it with prospective customers. At the heart of this support is the Story Cube framework, which Michael and Robbie describe simply as a tool to help organisations of all shapes and sizes better explain what they do.
It’s a great framework for ensuring you have complete confidence in what you offer, and why other people should care. You can call this your ‘value proposition’, i.e. what value you offer to customers or users in return for them giving you value (normally their money, but maybe their time for example). The framework breaks down what can be quite a complex set of considerations to six core questions that you have to answer. They are:
- What problem do you solve?
- What solution do you provide to that problem?
- What is your motivation?
- What differentiates your solution from others that exist?
- How do you connect with your audience?
- What obstacles might get in your way?
The first four questions here help you determine what you need to say to potential customers. The second two help you think about how you should communicate with the people you need to reach.
By taking time to think through these questions and find solid, considered answers to each then organisations have much more confidence in their ability to sell themselves and are prepared for the kind of questions or challenges that arise during the sales process.
After all, it’s critical that you understand what is of value in your offer if you expect anyone else to hand over their money, or give up their time or energy.
Common challenges / blind spots for organisations
To help share our programme learning with others in the sector, I was keen to get Michael and Robbie’s thoughts on these enterprise exploring organisations, particularly in terms of common challenges / blind spots for organisations. Four of these are discussed below, whilst we also chat through a couple of other related issues in the video below too.
An enterprise with a social cause will not succeed on its own
The ‘motivation’ question in Story Cube is an interesting one. It’s there, very broadly, to ensure organisations think about this aspect in case it is important. But you don’t need a worthy motivation, for example, to have a successful business. And by extension, having a worthy motivation - as social enterprises or charities do - doesn’t guarantee success. It’s easy to believe that because we find something important, others will. But that’s not how humans work. The real axis of power in the Story Cube, and in any sales conversation, is around the problem/solution. “How can you help me?” essentially. If you can’t convey that value and explain why you offer a quality service or product, then it doesn’t matter how important your mission. What you may find is that your motivation, in the form of a social cause, can be a useful differentiator (from other solution providers), or of course it can be a critical element in the first place. But it’s worth remembering that in many cases as a cause-led business, your competitors will likely be cause-led too, and you still need to outperform them. After all, to fulfil your mission and create a sustainable business model, you need to bring in sales.
You can’t make sales without leads. Leads are simply potential customers who have shown some interest in your organisation. They might have come to an event, or signed-up for an email, or been recommended to you, or visited your website. And there are countless ways to capture these leads and to stay in touch with them that we don’t have space for here. But whatever the source of your leads, or how you track them or follow-up on them, it’s easy to underestimate the sheer volume of leads you’ll likely need to reach your sales targets. It is, to some extent at least, a numbers game, as no matter the quality of your pitch, there are many reasons that prospects aren’t in a position to buy or choose to make another choice. It’s typically estimated that you can convert leads less than 5% of the time. This can be a huge surprise to people who haven’t done a lot of selling. This means that if you want to make 5 sales, you need 100 qualified leads, which can be very daunting. And yes, it is scary. Of course, the only way to tackle this is to get out there and put yourself in front of more people of the profile of your ideal customer, rather than putting your head in the sand. And the more you sell, the easier it will get (which means that conversion rate might even improve).
Leads might come to your organisation from several sources, as outlined above. It’s very rare however for a prospect to become a customer from just a single contact with an organisation. Think about your own behaviour. Maybe you see an advert for something, then visit the website. Then forget about it for a while. Then a friend mentions the product in passing, and you look at the website again and sign-up for the newsletter. Then, after a year of receiving that newsletter, you finally decide to contact the organisation for more info. That’s very normal behaviour but you’re still a long way off being a customer! The research suggests that 11+ ‘touch points’ are needed to convince a prospective customer. As well as those listed above, that might include a phone call, a blog post, a podcast feature, visiting a retail space, attending an event, seeing an advert or a partnership referral, for example. And it’s worth considering too that there are different processes for B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to consumer). When selling to other businesses you may have multiple stakeholders to convince who all need to go on their own journey, and the touch points for a managing director, or any employee, will look different to a consumer buying for themselves or their family.
As a final tip, when you think about which touchpoints you can create for the audience you want to reach, it’s crucial you understand which media will work best for your type of business. Social media, for example, is highly useful for some - but it’s not the be-all and end-all. For some simple printed flyers handed out in the street or pushed through doors will work. For others sponsorship is powerful. For some organisations content marketing might work. You need to consider closely what works for you.
Focus on what matters
One of the real benefits of breaking down your value proposition with a framework like Story Cube, is it helps you understand what you need to focus on. Maybe your problem and solution are in great shape, but you don’t have enough differentiators? Maybe you’re unsure who your audience are, and certainly don’t know how to reach them? That’s OK - it’s better to know than remain oblivious. But if you have limited resources, you’ll want to make sure you’re focusing all your time, money and energy at things that will help you move forward and grow a sustainable, successful organisation. Generally, that means having more conversations with more people and putting yourself out into the world to be judged. It’s tough, but it’s worthwhile. And with a great story to tell (that will improve every time you tell it and get feedback) success is just a matter of keeping going. We often advise people to be ruthless with the things that get their attention, especially in the early days. If it isn’t contributing directly to sales and growth, them stop worrying about it. Yes, it’s fun and often easier, to tinker with logos and podcast ideas and big dreams for the future, but if they aren’t helping directly, leave them alone. A good way to keep focused is to find mentors or advisors who can help you bring that ruthless streak.
You can catch our continued conversation here:
Read more about the Story Cube framework and how to use it for your organisation here.