Hidden Resources

What Now?

So you're ready to tackle the nonprofit market? Begin by deciding whether the sector in general and the particular prospects you have in mind are worth the effort to bring them on board as customers. "Decide upfront whether the piece of business that you'll ultimately get is worth the trouble," DeRocker echoes.

Once you've decided to go for the business, have the patience to work through the process. "Generally speaking, the decisions are slower in coming from a not-for-profit," says Paulson. "But don't be discouraged because it takes longer for a decision to be made."

"It's never as simple as `Hey, you need a service; I have it; let's go do it,' " adds Talisman. In many nonprofits, purchasing is done by a committee, or staff recommendations must be approved by a board. Talisman advises listening carefully, then requesting clarification when you see a contradiction--all before you present your proposal.

You may also find yourself functioning as a coach. "Oftentimes, [clients say] `We want A and B.' I come in and say `You need A, B is going to have to wait, and I suggest we do C in order to get to B.' It's not just about listening; it's about coaching, because I'm the professional," Talisman says.

While knowing your customer is always a critical part of the sales process, in the case of nonprofits, you must understand not only their mission and how they operate but also how they're funded. Demonstrating your knowledge by tailoring your marketing message to the goals of the organization will set you apart from other prospective suppliers and increase your value.

Paulson says letters from salespeople offering products and services that will increase profits or decrease taxes are thrown away. "They don't know my business, and I don't want to waste my time with them," he says. "If they've got something to sell me that will help me reduce my expenses and accomplish our mission to the community, and it's clear from the beginning they understand what that is, I'll listen to them."

Finding out about nonprofits is much easier than researching privately held companies because government regulations make much of what you want to know easily accessible. Start by asking for an annual report, then do an Internet search for additional information.

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hidden Resources.

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