You probably don’t associate the word changemakers with sales. Perhaps you think of changemakers as people who only sell an idea. You may not yet be familiar with my new characterisation of a unique group of change-makers as Activist Entrepreneurs because I still haven’t finished the book! The Activist Entrepreneur is a much needed kind of business for the future of planet Earth. An entrepreneur like other entrepreneurs but with one critical difference – the product or service they are selling is built around a positive change that’s needed on the planet. Change-makers who are Activist Entrepreneurs face many challenges but one that is particularly unique to them is the challenge of selling and closing sales.
Why? It’s simple. When you are setting out to create change, the product, service or even idea you are selling is going to be something new. Something people haven’t seen before or bought before. They might have bought something similar, but possibly not something they perceive to be – well – radical. So the hurdles you have to overcome, the objections that might be raised lift the bar higher than with another other kind of sale. A change maker needs to be sure to put all the ‘persuasive’ ducks in place to make that sale easier to close – and there are often more than individuals or small startups bargain for.
Secondly change makers are very focused on the message they are delivering. When you’re passionate, committed, fiery and full on – let’s face it – you can be a little scary to other people who haven’t yet found their big knickers! We have to find ways to persuade and encourage people to take on something new which makes them feel bold and courageous (and not too risky) or (and sometimes this is more important) making them feel guilty. This applies whether you’re selling to individuals or global CEOs. A woman who embodies this kind of empathetic persuasion is Michelle Obama (even when she’s in fierce mode).
Occasionally – very occasionally – we can be prone to thinking “Build it and they will come”. Here’s the issue. ‘They’ have to see it first and then ‘they’ have to understand it. Remember you’re communicating something new; a new idea, a new service, a new product. And there’s so much information out there that you need to cut through, you aren’t always going to have the budget that carries your message through the clutter, so you have to be smart about the efforts you put in prior to sales to get people to understand where you’re coming from and what you’re selling.
One of the things you can do to help yourself to sell an idea or a product or a service that is rooted in change, is to get all your persuasive ducks in a row before you begin. Or at least have a plan to put them in place gradually. I think of them as the backing singers or choir that make the job of selling so much easier because you’ve made everything crystal clear and then all you have to do – is ask.
Here are some of the actions an Activist Entrepreneur can take that help them clear those barriers to sales.
1.Build a strong (personal) brand that is visible and credible
Given that my job is building changemaker brands, this is stating the obvious but it still has to be said. You need to do everything you can to build a strong reputation. There are dozens of posts on this site that talk about how to build a personal brand so I’m not going to get lengthy here. You have to be clear what you stand for, what your values are, what your purpose and mission is. And then you’ve got a whole collection of things you can chose from; speaking, writing a book, blogs, securing a column online, whitepapers, media relations, becoming a tv spokesperson. Most AE’s do this with ease once they’ve worked out what their unique template for communication is.
Don’t forget the backing singers! Testimonials are important from one or two bold clients that have taken the plunge, but the advisory team you are supported by is equally important. Bring influential non-execs, advisers and mentors onto your board that are respected in the industry you are trying to change. If they support what you’re trying to do, they may very well waive their fees to support you in the early years. Laurence Kemball Cook of Pavegen Systems showed great mastery at bringing highly influential and well-connected people onto his advisory team in the early years of his clean tech startup.
2. Make sure there is clarity around your product or service
You’ve probably done a lot of work around your message. Have you got the same clarity around the product or service you sell? Is it easy for people to see on your website what they can buy from you? Your message will deliver the emotional engagement that you need with potential customers, but there is still value in making sure the features and benefits of your product are clear – especially when you are asking a prospective customer to be a pioneer.
What does it cost? How long is the commitment? How many other people are involved? How do you deliver the service or product? What’s it called?
This is particularly important for anyone selling services – you may need to brand your product as well as your business. Thinking through your whole brand architecture is important; it helps with the clarity of your message.
3. Look for pioneer customers who are ‘ready to act’
You’re creating positive change. You’re asking your customers to buy a product or service that helps them change. So it makes sense when you start out to focus on prospective clients who are ‘ready to act’ – companies and people with a pioneering culture. Take some time to carefully identify who they are.
Think like a charity: let me give you an example. A charity like the RSPCA communicates with people who already love and care about animals in its fund-raising campaigns – the equivalent of customers – who provide the donations that keep the organisation going. It talks to people who don’t care about animals in its educational outreach programmes which are paid for by fundraising.
So look for companies that are more likely to be open-minded, experimental, and future-thinking. Or alternatively, look for companies whose own reputation is currently being challenged – they are likely to be looking for ways to change or at the very least – improve their reputation.
4. Never underestimate the power of proof
That might be social proof but it’s just as likely to research and statistics. Keep an eye out for Universities, companies and individuals who might be researching your area of change. See if you can participate in the research in any way. Consider creating or commissioning your own research into the potential impact of the change you want to encourage, or the issues that sit alongside your area of focus.
Make sure you share the work of other people with similar mindsets, worldview and attitudes. Leave behind, if you can, the notion of competition – because every achievement or advancement forward is going to help your own mission. Be generous in promoting other people’s work, books, interviews, products if they support your own destination and mission.
5. Be bold with your call to action
Make sure you take every opportunity to offer your services. Be bold. At the end of every blogpost, every talk, every meeting – make sure you clearly state how many ways you can help the company you’re engaging with, and what the benefits of those services are. If you’ve been invited to give a talk, always check with your host our of politeness that you can mention your services. When you craft your transformational talk, make sure it showcases the kind of transformation you can make. A subtle demonstration of the value of your insight can be as powerful.
6. Build a changemaker business on a recognisable model
This might sound like heresy to the most committed Activist Entrepreneur! But it’s particularly pertinent for people who sell services that create change rather than products. I know many people who have built successful businesses that are ‘recognisable’ in form to the naked eye but are also effective as agents of change. It reduces the subconscious ‘risk’ associated with buying something new.
Sustainable Brands is a successful business that fosters new thinking and change through promoting and showcasing the most forward thinking leaders in sustainability to the world. An industry conference and a media platform are recognisable products that are familiar and easier to buy into, but still operates as a highly effective agent of change.
Refresh Agency run by the wonderful Sandja Brugmann is a highly successful PR agency that specialises in working with global brands that are a force for good. From this base she has also built a successful organisation that trains conscious leaders of the future – The Passion Institute – which is not only creating conscious leaders, but also creating a dialogue around feminine leadership.
These businesses start from a recognisable model that happens to contain a change agenda – it ‘softens’ the purchasing journey. An established business gives you a stable reputation and customer base to build from. Many of the most successful changemaker brands are launched by people who have just stepped away from a corporate role and can start with a ready and waiting customer base. It’s all in the planning.
7. Encourage and Persuade – Don’t Punish
I’ve said it before – changemakers can be a little scary. It’s not intentional. They’re passionate people who feel the urgency to help create positive change before they breathe their last. Occasionally our communications style can be overly aggressive to someone hearing our ideas for the first time – and worse it can make them feel guilty. Many original activist brands grew successfully by calling people out or making them feel guilty: Greenpeace’s tactics on the 20th century come to mind. But here’s the thing. People don’t want to feel bad about themselves, they don’t want to feel guilty. That form of activism (despite what you might think after witnessing the rise of Donald Trump) doesn’t creative positive change – it just fosters negative division. The very thing we want to avoid.
So we have to learn how to communicate and persuade positively; to recognise progress and encourage people to be courageous and embrace change. Never miss an opportunity to give positive reinforcement to clients or prospective clients who take the plunge. Always promote and raise up those who do (with their permission of course if it’s a client).
I hope that’s helpful to anyone who is a change maker that’s struggling with sales. If however you think you need a little help with any aspect of these points – particularly your brand or clarity around your products – you might want to book yourself an Creative Thinking StarBurst (90 minutes of high-octane thinking) or Creative Thinking Strategy day with me. See what I did there?