Why associations don’t like the “S” word

Why associations don't like the "S" word

A couple of weeks ago I asked my readers why associations seem to fear the word "sales." I received dozens of responses here and on LinkedIn (thanks to everyone who responded!). The reasons I heard seemed to fall into the following three categories:

  1. Associations are non-profits, and "sales" suggests profit. As one reader put it: "I think “sales” carries the assumption of “profit” which goes against the often altruistic missions of associations and non-profit organizations."

    From another: "Because our members ask: If you are not for profit, how can you sell things?"

  2. Bad experiences with salespeople. "Perhaps because we just love car salespeople so dang much. Lying McLiarpants." said one reader.

    Another wrote: "We’ve all dealt with a sales person in the past who we felt has been dishonest with us and ultimately left us with a negative feeling not only of the incident, but also the organization/product that was being sold."

  3. The focus should be on outcomes or solutions, not sales. One marketing director who confessed she doesn't even like the word marketing wrote: "I’d rather be enlightening, delighting, problem solving, educating, or connecting. Those are things where I am providing value to people, not extracting it."

    And from a member engagement director: "I find people are more likely to accept a meeting with me if I don’t call it sales. My job is helping members find the right ways to engage with our organization and connect with our community."

To be fair, several respondents said things like "We have sales people on our staff!" So clearly not every association fears the word! And another respondent noted that many more associations now have business development staff or departments.

I wholeheartedly endorse point #3 above, that we should be focused on solutions, not just sales. Indeed, it's not unusual for me to turn down a sale to a prospect because I don't think I can provide the kind of value they're seeking. And it's also why many sales titles have been changed to things like "Solutions Consultant."

But in the end, we're selling. And I think we should all acknowledge that!

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