Selling to Volunteer Agencies

Selling to Volunteer Organizations. Thomas Phelps

When most people think of a volunteer-based agency or organization, they either think of volunteer fire departments or another emergency services type establishment. Often times, these volunteer organizations or "departments" are 100% staffed and managed by volunteers who have full-time jobs in other industries.

Regardless of whether you are selling to a volunteer agency or to a Fortune 500 Global Corporation, every customer and prospect you work with will have business needs, concerns and problems that need to be solved.

And when a purchase needs to be made for a volunteer organization, a sales professional should expect several things.

You Will Be Selling to a Group

Most volunteer agencies rely on groups of member volunteers to be part of committees. These committees are then charged with the responsibility to solve a particular problem. And since sales reps are professional problem solvers, you will play an important role in helping the agency's committee solve whatever issue the committee was formed to solve.

Selling to a group always presents challenges and selling to a group of volunteers has its unique set of challenges that you must prepare for.

  1. Scheduling Group Meetings - Since the members of the committee are volunteers, any time they spend at the agency will be during their discretionary time. That means trying to get the entire committee together will take some work. 
  2. Committee Members will Have Varying Degrees of Expertise - And varying degrees of expertise can mean a true expert down to someone who has absolutely no knowledge of your product or service. You will need to have the skills to answer intelligent questions and to be able to explain your product or service in simple, easy to understand terms. Having to sell to a committee with a wide range of knowledge of your industry may be the biggest challenge you will face.

    Time Frames May Stretch Out a Long Time

    While certainly not unique to volunteer agencies, decision-making often takes a long time. Whether delayed by the committee members struggling to get together to compare notes and decide on a solution or any other number of reasons, sales cycles with volunteer agencies are known to be slow and long.

    The worst thing you as a sales professional can do when faced with a long sales cycle is to rush a decision. Remember that while people like to buy things, no one likes to be sold things. Understanding that, if you try to shorten the sales cycle by putting pressure on the decision makers of the volunteer organization, you should fully expect to either cause additional delays or to lose the sale completely.

    Tight Budgets Will Kill Your Gross Profit

    Volunteer agencies around the country are struggling with both recruiting new members and getting sufficient funding. Unless you decide to join the agency and thereby help the agency with their members' challenges, the only of these two struggles you will have an effect on is their budget. Be prepared to use aggressive pricing, plenty of available promotions and low gross profit deals. This does not mean that you shouldn't be afraid to walk away from a deal if you or your company will lose money by entering into an agreement with the volunteer agency.

    Product Training Will Be a Challenge

    If what you sell requires training, expect to have some challenges when training your volunteer customers. Again, any time they spend in training will be their free time.

    This means that it will be hard to arrange training time, difficult to retain their attention and very hard to set up follow up or additional training sessions.

    Be patient with your volunteers and do the best job with training as you can. However, make sure that your patience does not cause you to sacrifice providing exceptional customer service to your other customers and prospects!