In my association role, I often interact with vendors offering a myriad of services. Some of the folks tasked with this outreach to groups are helpful professionals who do their best to enhance our programs. Others are, well, let’s just say they’re not adding value. I’m here to help.
Whether you sell software, a product, or service in the advocacy or government affairs space, chances are good you’ve been presented with the simultaneous challenges of servicing clients and exploring new or existing business leads.
One pitfall to avoid is carefully weighing business opportunities with friends or business associates you’ve gotten to know socially. The advocacy community is inviting and close-knit. It thrived in pre-pandemic conditions with live events, networking opportunities, conferences, and other social gatherings.
If your compensation is tied to direct sales, you need to be careful of spending too much time “catching up” with friends who may or may not be interested in purchasing a product or service. Furthermore, your employer isn’t going to want to see expenses for coffees, lunches, dinners, and cocktails for the same people repeatedly without a sale.
In advocacy, it’s critical to strike a balance between prospect cultivation (developing a relationship) and closing the deal. You can’t lean too heavily in either direction or you’ll quickly find yourself looking for another job.
Whether you’re looking to cultivate a new client prospect or convert a pre-existing relationship into new business, here are some helpful tips to protect yourself against wasting time:
Seek out organizations in need of a solution.
Do your homework and find organizations in need of your product and service and convey to your contacts how you can be a resource or offer a solution to a problem. Sales aren’t just about an individual person or people, but also the organization itself.
Seek out organizations with a budget.
Seeking out sales from organizations that don’t have available budget can damper even a strong personal relationship. Moreover, it could prevent future sales when the organization rebounds. Bottom line: Don’t pursue or pressure organizations that are on a tight budget.
Clearly state your intention.
Don’t request a meeting based on a false premise or request a meeting to bait and switch to another product or service. Advocacy professionals often have strong relationships with vendors and the vendor may request an introduction, which is perfectly fine. Advocacy professionals can provide a positive testimonial, an introduction, or connection, but these should be done with the intent clearly stated.
Be transparent about fees and expenses.
Always fully disclose your company’s fees and expenses and the time for which an agreement is to be executed. Having this in writing and counter-signed and dated by both parties is sound business practice.
Offer an out clause.
An organization’s needs can change. People change their strategies or leave for another position. Having an agreed-upon exit for both parties in the contract or letter of agreement can resolve what might otherwise be an uncomfortable parting of ways.
Joshua Habursky is the Head of Federal Affairs at the Premium Cigar Association and Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.