> Partnership Evolution
> Attracting Support
At some point after the first two stages of your public relations cycle, you will start to receive phone calls, e-mails, and other inquiries about your partnership’s efforts. In the marketing world, these are call leads. In the business world, these leads are the raw material for sales. In the nonprofit world, these leads result in contributions, sponsorships and volunteers. And once leads start coming in, you know that your efforts in creating awareness and building preference are succeeding. Now people want to know how they can help. They want to be part of what you are doing. They want to acquire what you offer and buy into your efforts in some way, because they like the results you’re getting. You have, in fact, changed their behavior by changing their thinking. They want to align themselves with you because of the success of your actions.
As these leads come in, you need to:
- Qualify them (do the leads seem promising?).
- Follow up on them.
- Make a proposal to qualified leads.
Once you start getting leads, you need to qualify them. Not every lead is equal. That is, could the lead be a volunteer, a partner, a donor or an event sponsor? Given what you are trying to achieve in your outcomes, what can each lead contribute? Is that potential contribution worth the effort to follow up personally?
After you’ve separated the good leads from the less-promising ones, gather all the information you can on the good leads and simply thank the others for contacting you (you never know when you might run into them again). Put all leads in a database, because even if they don’t immediately pan out they may later. Remember, it’s important to classify each lead so that you can assign the proper level of resources to follow up on it.
Following Up Qualified Leads
(Use the tool Managing Qualified Leads to track follow-up.) Based on your partnership’s outcomes and current needs, contact each qualified lead. A contact might include:
- a phone call;
- a short, informal meeting;
- a full presentation; and
- an extended strategy for building relations with major players.
The type of contact depends on the importance of the lead to the work of your partnership. The point is to schedule something, using the least amount of resources to validate the lead’s value to your partnership. Keep in mind that after you make a relatively simple contact, such as by telephone, you may find that you need to reassign resources to pursue the lead or, conversely, make that person less of a priority.
You also need to determine who in your partnership is best qualified to follow up on each category of lead. For example, leads regarding volunteers may be assigned to a staff member or an older adult volunteer. But for approaches made to potential sponsors or contributors, you want partnership leaders to personally meet them at their location.
To prepare to follow up on important leads, you will want to know the following:
- Are there “gatekeepers” inside the organization you need to know about? (Gatekeepers are individuals who “protect” a high-level executive’s time. Receptionists or secretaries are often gatekeepers and can help you stay connected to an important lead.)
- What is the level of authority of the people you are contacting? (Do they make the types of decisions you need by themselves, or are they recommenders or influencers who have access to decision-making members of the organization?)
- Who else in their organization should you be aware of who might be potential leads?
In your initial contact with key prospective leads, continue using the tools and techniques you used to build your partnership. For example:
- You need to recognize and leverage a lead’s unique capabilities for mutual benefit.
- You have to determine a lead’s potential level of involvement. And as things evolve, you may need to adjust it.
- You must address self-interests and understand how to use them to build a trusting relationship.
- You need to demonstrate how your partnership provides unique benefits. Your successes demonstrate your value, both to the community and to the self-interests of the lead.
Your goal, of course, is to find out as much as you can before your first meeting so you know how best to proceed. Basically, you need to listen.
Making a Proposal to Qualified Leads
If you find that a lead is worth pursing, then you need to “close the deal.” This means arranging a meeting (or several) where you first learn about them and their interests and then provide more information about your partnership, what you need and how you can benefit the person’s organization as it supports your work. In large organizations, this might mean that you have to give a presentation several times—to recommenders and influencers—as you work your way to the primary decision-maker. But at some point you need to write a brief proposal that explains what you are offering, what you want from the lead, and how it is mutually beneficial.
Every good salesperson knows that she has to close the deal. When you feel the time is right, don’t hesitate to do this. Either you close, you get a “firm maybe,” or you don’t get the sale. In any case, you need to know where you stand so you don’t waste time on non-productive efforts.
If you do get a “no,” remember a “no” is usually not forever. Stay in touch with this lead, but use minimal effort. This might mean an occasional phone call to provide an update, or simply putting the lead on the distribution list for any materials you’re using to create awareness and preference. When the time is right, try to make the sale again.