"I don't want to be a used car salesman." This is the response I most often hear when I ask forming cohousing groups to describe their feelings around using sales techniques in their membership recruitment.
And I get it. We tend to stereotype sales people as sleazy movie car salesman: they pounce aggressively and they don't listen. They leave us feeling coerced. We picture the guy on the left.
But this salesman only exists in the movies, and we aren't peddling snake oil. In cohousing, we have a 'product' that helps people live better lives in very real ways. Brian Tracy, an author of more than 70 self-development books, reminds us that sales, at its best, is about helping people. When we misunderstand the sales process, or worse, reject it, we miss critical opportunities to improve our membership recruitment. And in cohousing, the best sales and spokesperson for your community is:
Approach Each Customer With The Idea Of Helping Him Or Her To Solve A Problem Or Achieve A Goal, Not Of Selling A Product Or Service. - Brian Tracy
After a career leading sales and marketing teams in the Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) world, I've thought a lot about ways to embrace basic sales techniques to better grow cohousing. While there are countless books and trainings on honing sales skills, there are three basic principles to always keep in mind, regardless of your sales experience:
1) Listen More, Talk Less
This seems obvious but I'm always surprised at how often we break this rule when we are passionate about something, myself included. Slow down and take the time to truly listen to a prospective member. I recently ran a workshop for Village Hearth Cohousing in North Carolina on how to use active listening and questions as a tool for member recruitment. My friend Tami, a member of this community, wisely observed that "when we ask questions we pull someone to us, when we talk we push someone away."
Ask open-ended questions. What are they looking for in a community? What are their goals for the future? What are their concerns? What do they picture for themselves as they grow older?
2) Avoid Mismatching
Mismatching happens when the we assume we know what someone wants to hear. This can stop a sales process in its tracks. Let's say I'm personally really excited about the planned community garden. I gush about the herb section, the state-of-the-art compost system, and how many zucchinis I think I can grow next summer. But I haven't asked good questions and actually listened to this prospective member; unbeknownst to me, they hate working outside and the idea of maintaining a garden sounds awful. The prospective member is already thinking this may not be the right place for them.
So, ask! Your prospective member may not be excited about the garden, but it turns out they're very excited about cooking community meals and helping to manage the kitchen. Asking questions finds the common ground between your community and the prospective member.
3) Be a Guide Through the Sales Process
Just as we use maps to get from point A to point B, we guide someone to cohousing membership using the same principles. The destination and the path to get there must be clearly communicated. And just like visiting any new place, it's all a lot easier with a helpful, local guide. Being an effective salesperson means being this guide, and helping people to get to where they want to go.
By Elizabeth Magill, Mosaic Commons in Berlin, MA
What shall we discuss as we are forming our communities? Every forming community (I hope!) asks this question and communities that have already moved in give lots of different answers. Many of those answers are in the form of "I wish we'd resolved this" and "we decided x which was irrelevant and should have decided y which was important." All of those reflections are completely true, of course, but I don't think they get at the purpose for deciding things prior to move-in.
The purpose of discussing policies before move-in is to
resolve as much as you can about your values before getting so many
new members you can never agree on values.
So, for example, if you decide birds are more important that outdoor
cats and make a policy for no outdoor cats, people who sign-on later
in the process agree to that value rather than after move-in having a
battle between the birds and the cats.
If you decide no one is allowed to store guns on your property, police officers, active duty military, and gun collectors know that those are the values of this community and they need another strategy for storing their weapons.
If you believe in full nudity for children until puberty, the
community's clothing policy allows folk to know whether they want to
live there or not.
While developing Mosaic-Commons Cohousing in Berlin, MA, we had scent sensitive folk from the very beginning, and a number of folk with allergies, so there was no question that we would use all no-VOC paint. But more than that, when we got to deciding about a fireplace and I said I was allergic to the smoke, and to the wood, we'd already self-selected to be a community that would prioritized no wood burning due to allergies, rather than environmental benefit of wood over a gas fire. We take allergies seriously here because we early on said that was one of our values.
While I'm glad we discussed how to do things, because it identified important values, it turned out the decisions we made how things would work was mostly based in fantasy. Who knew you have to shovel a
path in the snow to the pump head? Not any of us until the water
couldn't get tested. And the rules about the dog run? We never built a
dog run. What are the critieria for an exception to the outdoor cat policy?
The values decisions, where we successfully made them, can be helpful
in letting those who are not yet members decide if they want to be in
So what topics should you discuss?
Dog leashes, Outdoor cats, Chickens, other Farm animals.
Work expectations, meal frequency, involvement in decision making
Nudity in public spaces, hot tubs, pools
Smoking area, where will it be? What, no one will have guests who smoke?
Community or individual garden plots?
Gun storage, gun privacy
Backyards, front yards, who owns? who mows? who shovels?
Numbers of parking spaces and cars per home. Will teens get cars? Will people who rent rooms get cars?
Quiet hours, do you want them? Mornings or nights?
How are you allowed to get rid of rats?
Note that you don't need to solve all of these, each of them points a
direction for the type of community you will be, and its the direction
you need, more than the details, so that you end up with members who share enough common values you can find consensus.
(Of course, you also have to make sure folk understand when they chose to move-in that those are the values they are agreeing to. That's a different challenge.)