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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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Planned Giving And Conceptual Selling
Kay Simpson

November, 2004

One of the best books I have read about planned giving wasn't written about planned giving at all.

A couple of years ago, I attended a roundtable discussion for planned giving professionals. The facilitator, Mike Patterson, recommended a book that has been used as a training manual for fundraising by several non-profit groups. Everyone was surprised when he told us the name of the book was "Conceptual Selling,"

"Selling?" I thought. "Isn't that directly opposed to the idea that we are supposed to help our planned giving prospects find a way to satisfy their charitable giving intent while offering a solution to their tax or estate problems?"

Once I started reading the book, however, I found that Mike was right - it contains information that is perfectly adaptable to planned giving.

First, I had to get over my preconceived idea of what this book might be about. "Conceptual Selling" does not mean selling, or pushing, the concept of my charitable organization's mission on the poor, unsuspecting prospect by talking fast and closing the deal. (Actually, I already knew it couldn't be about that, or Mike would not have recommended it.)

Selling, in the context of this book, means "the ability to communicate effectively with individual customers, to establish a meaningful dialogue." And dialogue simply means "two people talking together."

The book explains that the most effective sales calls (or planned giving calls) are not "show and tell" sessions, but "back-and-forth conversations between people who are trying to arrive at the same point together."

Where does this type of good selling begin? In the head of the customer (or planned giving prospect). The customer has some kind of an idea about what would solve his problem or fulfill his need, and that is the "concept." A salesperson quoted in the book said, "When I started to sell with an understanding of the customer's concept, it was like I was suddenly selling with blinders off. I couldn't believe I hadn't been doing this my entire life."

There are two adages that are key to Conceptual Selling. The first is:

"No one buys a product per se. What is bought is what the customer thinks the product or service will do for him or her."

The second is:

"Companies (or organizations) don't have concepts. Individuals do."

Far from advocating a fast-talking, one-way approach to prospect calls, this book advocates a "listening-intensive approach." By listening more and talking less, the planned giving professional can more easily identify the prospect's needs.

In the words of the authors, "you should listen, actively and deliberately, to what your customers or prospects are telling you before you try to 'sell' them."

So, even if you are new to planned giving, go out there and initiate a dialogue with your prospect. You don't need to have all the answers - either about your organization or about planned gifts. All you need to do is ask a question, and then listen to what your prospect says. Repeat this process a few times during the meeting, and you will have made your first prospect call. If you need to go back to your office and look up some answers, great! That will give you a reason to set your next meeting with the prospect.

To illustrate the importance of listening, the authors used a stopwatch to measure the conversational pauses in typical sales situations. Here is what they found:

  • In many encounters, salespeople asked five or more questions every minute.After asking a question, sellers waited only one second or less before asking another question, answering the question themselves, or making some other comment.
  • After receiving a reply, they waited less than one second before commenting and moving to another point.

On the other hand, conceptual selling is based on communication. In good communication, the planned giving professional asks one question at a time and then waits for the answer.

Don't be afraid of the silence that occurs while you are waiting for the prospect to answer. The authors call this the Golden Silence. It gives both you and your prospect time to think. This is how it works:

  • Ask your prospect a question, then pause for approximately three or four seconds.After your prospect is finished with his reply, pause for another three or four seconds. If the prospect provides additional information during that pause, so much the better. If not, at the end of the four seconds, you can comment on the response and go on to another question.
  • If the prospect does not reply after four seconds, you can make him feel at ease by saying, "My intention in asking that question was to… ," and then rephrase the question.

The common-sense ideas expressed in "Conceptual Selling" remind me of an old saying:

"There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. We should be listening twice as often as we are talking."

This is especially true in planned giving.

Note: If you would like to read "Conceptual Selling," look for the original edition by Robert Bruce Miller and Stephen E. Heiman, published in 1989. It is out of print, but you can order it online or look for it in a used book store or a library. The updated version, called "The New Conceptual Selling," was published in 1999. It contains basic information from the original, but elaborates more on the sales training workshops offered by Miller Heiman Inc.

Kay Simpson is Planned Giving Officer for The Nature Conservancy of Texas, which is headquartered in San Antonio. She currently serves on the boards of the San Antonio Regional Council of the National Committee on Planned Giving and the Association for Women in Communications. She also is on the public relations committee for Leave a Legacy, and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and San Antonio 100. You can write Kay at or call her at (210) 224-8774, ext. 215.


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