Shelly Parks, CoVision Consulting
“I don’t want to be a used car salesman.” This is the response I most often hear when I ask forming cohousing groups to describe their feelings around using sales techniques in their membership recruitment.
And I get it. We tend to stereotype sales people as sleazy movie car salesman: they pounce aggressively and they don’t listen. They leave us feeling coerced. We picture the guy to the left.
But this salesman only exists in the movies, and we aren’t peddling snake oil. In cohousing, we have a ‘product’ that helps people live better lives in very real ways. Brian Tracy, an author of more than 70 self-development books, reminds us that sales, at its best, is about helping people. When we misunderstand the sales process, or worse, reject it, we miss critical opportunities to improve our membership recruitment. And in cohousing, the best sales and spokesperson for your community is:
Approach Each Customer With The Idea Of Helping Him Or Her To Solve A Problem Or Achieve A Goal, Not Of Selling A Product Or Service. – Brian Tracy
After a career leading sales and marketing teams in the Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) world, I’ve thought a lot about ways to embrace basic sales techniques to better grow cohousing. While there are countless books and trainings on honing sales skills, there are three basic principles to always keep in mind, regardless of your sales experience:
1) Listen More, Talk Less
This seems obvious but I’m always surprised at how often we break this rule when we are passionate about something, myself included. Slow down and take the time to truly listen to a prospective member. I recently ran a workshop for Village Hearth Cohousing in North Carolina on how to use active listening and questions as a tool for member recruitment. My friend Tami, a member of this community, wisely observed that “when we ask questions we pull someone to us, when we talk we push someone away.”
Ask open-ended questions. What are they looking for in a community? What are their goals for the future? What are their concerns? What do they picture for themselves as they grow older?
2) Avoid Mismatching
Mismatching happens when the we assume we know what someone wants to hear. This can stop a sales process in its tracks. Let’s say I’m personally really excited about the planned community garden. I gush about the herb section, the state-of-the-art compost system, and how many zucchinis I think I can grow next summer. But I haven’t asked good questions and actually listened to this prospective member; unbeknownst to me, they hate working outside and the idea of maintaining a garden sounds awful. The prospective member is already thinking this may not be the right place for them.
So, ask! Your prospective member may not be excited about the garden, but it turns out they’re very excited about cooking community meals and helping to manage the kitchen. Asking questions finds the common ground between your community and the prospective member.
3) Be a Guide Through the Sales Process
Just as we use maps to get from point A to point B, we guide someone to cohousing membership using the same principles. The destination and the path to get there must be clearly communicated. And just like visiting any new place, it’s all a lot easier with a helpful, local guide. Being an effective salesperson means being this guide, and helping people to get to where they want to go.
Shelly Parks owns and operates CoVision Consulting, which provides professional consulting services to cohousing groups and is an affiliate of CoHousing-Solutions. CoVision Consulting specializes in helping groups with their marketing and sales needs, group formation and group process.
Contact Shelly by phone or email to schedule a free consultation and learn how CoVision Consulting can assist you in building your community’s membership.
sparks [at] covisionconsulting [dot] com