After attending ACCE’s Annual Convention in Louisville, Ky., last August, I was back home in Florida, going through a few hundred emails when I spotted one from LinkedIn with the subject line “favor.” I didn’t know the sender, but after congratulating me for being a Lifetime Sales Achievement Award winner, he said he was “curious as to some of the ‘secrets’ of your success.” He had several questions, including:
Great questions from a real go-getter! I was flattered and impressed, and I went right to work on my reply, which went something like this:
Follow-up is the single most important part of sales, as I’m sure you know, so that would be my most important task. Key to good follow-up is taking excellent notes on your discussion(s). That way I know exactly where I am with the prospect. What questions need to be answered? What new information should I bring to the next discussion?
Another key is time management. We all wear lots of hats in the chamber world, and it’s easy to get distracted and derailed by other people’s needs and agendas. Bringing in new members is a priority and takes precedence over most everything else. I think of my time as a little pile of gold sitting next to me and I am VERY careful about who gets to shrink it. First things first, second things second, and keep your hands off my pile of golden time!
There are 14 chambers of commerce in Palm Beach County, plus we have an economic development agency and a convention and visitors bureau that are both membership groups and therefore competition. There are all kinds of business networking groups and other organizations doing their own networking events. It seems like we couldn’t have any more competition, but the strategy here is to standout.
You have to serve your members in a unique way to rise above your competition. It’s not about what you think makes your chamber unique, it’s about how your members view it. For our chamber, it’s our training. What started as a sales presentation grew into a series of training seminars that filled a need in our business community. This member testimonial (more on testimonials later) sums it up:
I have been searching for an organization to join in the Palm Beach area and have attended multiple functions and events of multiple organizations to sway my decision. What impressed me the most about the Chamber of The Palm Beaches was the staff and the sales trainings/seminars. This particular chamber really presents itself well and seems to have the best interest of their members in mind, and really strives for their members to be successful within their organization. —Steve Mitchell, Panzer, Inc.
The seminars highlight our chamber’s strengths, but they also give guidance and teach skills attendees can use in any organization. I tell them that this should be the benchmark they use when evaluating any business development organization. I give them useful information, while positioning our chamber as the leader.
My philosophy is simple: It’s one thing to take someone’s application and check, but it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to make sure they are successful here. Then, they can stay successful, happy members for years to come!
I have been at the chamber for 10 years, seven as membership director. Our chamber takes in an average of 400 new members per year. We have met or exceeded new member goals for five out of the seven years I’ve been membership director. (And the other two years we were darned close!) We have an active, engaged membership which makes my job a pleasure and which is part of my “X” factor, but there’s more.
My X Factor
First, I use publication and messaging deadlines to create a sense of urgency. I have staggered my four directories so that they all have different publication timelines. I also use newsletter deadlines, which works well since we publish one every month. There is always a deadline I can use, and I use them all.
I use the background I gather in my first conversations with member prospects about their business and goals for their participation to determine which element of the publications they are most interested in and which will work best for them. Then I zero in on that deadline to create the sense of urgency I need to motivate them to join NOW. When I’m forwarding information via email, I also include a testimonial from a similar member who benefited from inclusion in the publication. I keep a file of testimonials, so I have at least one for everything we do. They are convincing messages coming from a member, as opposed to a recommendation from me. The testimonials also give me an opportunity to feature members who go above and beyond the call of duty for our chamber.
Second, we offer a lot of training in our chamber. I focus on three seminars in particular:
Members and prospects may attend these sessions for free. If I can get them to any of these, my closing ratios are very high, especially with the Business Builder. It’s basically a sales presentation in a fun format. They leave with a clear understanding of how to get the most out of their membership, which works well for existing members as well as prospects. I also include invitations to the Business Builders with invoices, making them an excellent retention tool! At each session, I have at least one member Ambassador give a testimonial about what’s worked best for them. It’s a win-win: Members speaking about chamber benefits is a powerful sales message, and the Ambassadors are positioned as “go-to” chamber experts.
Third, I’ve often been told that I’m an excellent phone sales person, and I do close a lot of business that way. If your phone technique is so-so, it can be improved, and even if you’re the best phone sales person in town, there are some techniques you should always use:
Closing the Sale
“Are we ready to get you started?” That’s seven words. To get it down to six or fewer, I guess it could be “Can we get you started?”
The biggest mistake sales people make is over-selling. When you’re talking with someone and you’ve explained your message well and they say, “That sounds good,” you should ask for the check! Or, “Great! Are we ready to get you started?” (Okay, now I’m up to eight words.) But don’t keep selling! Just ask for the check.
After I emailed my reply, I started thinking about the exchange of information and I realized, once again, the incredible value of ACCE’s Annual Convention, what an amazing opportunity it is and how much I appreciate the open exchange of information. It’s allowed me to freely learn from others and to share what I know with people who want to improve their performance just like I do. If you’re serious about growing your career in the chamber business, you MUST attend the conference. Who knows what may come of it—you might get some interesting questions about what you do!
Kelly Fanelli is membership director of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla. She was one of 10 recipients of a Gold Lifetime Sales Achievement Award (1,000 total sales or $500,000 in sales) at ACCE’s 2012 Convention in Louisville, where she also was a workshop presenter on using video as part of your chamber’s marketing plan. She can be reached at (561) 833-3711, ext. 235.
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