Your tool kit is complete. You have your marketing/outreach plan, a brand for the project, a website to share what's happening with your project, a database to record who you spoke with, duct tape to ensure you listen completely, tennis shoes to help you connect in person, and a partner in the media to broadcast the stories you collect. Now what? It's time to sell.
Sell, Sell, Sell....
Did you know as a public involvement facilitator your job is really to sell?
Stop for a moment. Think about your best experience being sold something you love. My husband, Al, loves to buy cars... an expensive hobby. Al enjoys the marketing and sales process. He is captivated by the commercials and advertisements, and soaks in the consumer report assessments. For Al, opening his car door when arriving on a car lot is the beginning of what will inevitably be a wonderful experience. What he enjoys most is engaging in a conversation about the value of the car he is interested in, and occasionally a really good salesperson will convince him the car he thought he was walking in to buy isn't the right match. Al appreciates the process and understands he may walk away with a new perspective, and likely a new car.
I, on the other hand, despise being sold a car. I see the experience as necessary but certainly not enjoyable. When I mentioned the word sales in the same sentence as public involvement your mind probably first leapt to a bad sales experience. But sales doesn't need to elicit a negative connotation. We live in a world where we are constantly being sold. And a salesperson is, generally, someone who is passionate about a product or a service. They believe in the value the product or service offers.
Now, let's be honest. Isn't the basic goal behind all public outreach...marketing and sales? The goal is to convince the public to participate in and support an important transportation study, or agree to sell right of way for a roundabout nearby, or support a park being built in a neighborhood. I would like to shift the paradigm for traditional public outreach by suggesting if you use classic sales tactics as the foundation of your public involvement approach you will accomplish your project goals. After all, if your public facilitation team isn't passionate about the project don't you think it will show?
- Sales Principle #1: Know your client [i.e. stakeholder]. Research your stakeholders as much as possible prior to reaching out to them. Ask open ended questions to understand their position.
- Sales Principle #2: Only Be You. Don't try to be someone you are not. You must be genuine to create trust and to build relationships.
- Sales Principle #3: Don't Forget Your Purpose. You are there to help solve a problem.
- Sales Principle #4: Answer Questions Clearly. If you don't know the answer don't try to sidestep the question. Do not try to make up an answer. Honesty is the most important element in public involvement to build trust. Make sure you understand the question, seek clarification and always follow up.
- Sales Principle #5: Follow Up. If you say it, do it. Remember when you make commitments, you are making commitments on behalf of a City, a County, a State...not just you as an individual. Most stakeholders are skeptical that anything they say will actually impact a project. Make them believers by following through on the commitments you make.
Sales exists in everything we do, so we should make use of these principles to realize success in working with the public to achieve consensus and collaboration. All of us will benefit by helping our community to understand that infrastructure investment is a winning formula for ensuring our communities thrive.