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How to Succeed at Association Sales: The First Step

By Savannah Phillips • May 30, 2019

How does an association start and build a sales department?

This question is a big one to answer, but making the decision to build a sales department in your association – either on your own or by outsourcing to a company like Naylor – has the potential to pay off in big ways. Although it is hard work, the reward of a higher earning potential for your association is worth it.

Cris Frankel is the director of sales at Naylor Association Solutions. He has an extensive background in hiring, training and developing sales teams, marketing teams, call centers and customer service departments. When making the huge decision to start building a sales department, Frankel suggests considering four questions that he often asks himself regarding dilemmas both in business and in life:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What’s missing?
  4. What’s next?

Regardless of the situation-specific answers to those questions, Frankel knows that the way they’re addressed must consider three things employees want most: to be respected, to have security for themselves and their families, and to be passionate about what they do, he said.

“I believe in leading and not managing,” Frankel said.  “As the sales director, I want to be that leader that gives them [sales team] hope for the future.”

Once you establish yourself as a leader who is going to believe in and respect your sales team, it’s time to hire the right people for that team. This starts with selling the vision to your prospective salespeople, Frankel said.

Your potential sales employees have to understand that salespeople have great earning potential and unlimited opportunities to build a career path when they join your association. Additionally, associations shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to “sell the crusade,” Frankel said, meaning that because associations help people in so many ways, this appeal to altruism can be an even greater incentive to sell prospective salespeople on joining your organization. Working in association sales doesn’t mean simply earning a paycheck for yourself, but it also means that you are contributing to the life-changing work associations do every day.

“When somebody is involved in something bigger than themselves, it’s very motivating,” Frankel said.

Frankel looks for “winners,” who all have a few common traits, when hiring salespeople. These ideal salespeople will have a strong work ethic, a competitive mindset, a constant motivation to win, and a burning desire to achieve greatness in everything they do, he said.

“I’d rather hire for attitude and train for skills,” Frankel said. “If you have the right attitude on a sales team, it’s infectious.”

Once you spot a salesperson with the right attitude, and you’re ready to extend an offer to him or her to join your team, treat the recruiting process like the sales process. Hiring with urgency is key. Even just reducing the hiring process steps from  four steps to two steps can allow new team members to come on board quicker to avoid them considering offers from competitors.

The next step in building a successful sales department is establishing a winning environment with a positive culture.

“When they wake up in the morning,” Frankel said, “they’ve got to want to be here.”

Part of the motivation for wanting to show up for work and thrive in their new position is knowing that they are going to be compensated at the right market rate. If employees aren’t being paid fairly, they won’t give you the full effort that is needed from every single sales person to build a successful department.  An attractive compensation plan is one that is simple, rewarding, and obtainable (but still challenging), Frankel said.

What else? Your salespeople should know that they have the potential to move all the way up the career ladder. According to Frankel, 50 percent of CEOs in the United States today started in sales. This opportunity to move up in your association’s leadership structure, whether someone has the goal of becoming a CEO or not, can also motivate your salespeople to work hard to succeed. When a sales person works to not only meet, but also exceed his or her goals, a promotion to a higher-earning, more prestigious title is a strong possibility.

Once you’ve hired the right sales team, you’re ready to build them into a winning team.

About The Author

Savannah Phillips is a marketing intern with Naylor Association Solutions.