Leadership Lesson: What Being A Good Salesman Has To Do With Israel Advocacy


Before transitioning to the non-profit world, I gained most of my work experienced in the private sector. One of the jobs I had was in the sales department of a start-up company. As a sales rep, I would go to trade shows where my goal was to sign up as many potential customers as possible. The person who signed up the most people would receive a monetary bonus. Motivated by the prospect of winning some extra cash, I crafted my "spiel," readied my business cards, and started talking to every passerby I could get my hands on. While I wasn't the worst sales rep at the trade shows, I also didn't hit it out of the park. I decided to ask my colleague, who had won the bonus, what his secret was. “It’s simple,” he said. “The key is to first understand what the customer’s needs are and then explain how your product actually meets their needs.”

His approach was a revelation for me. I was  giving my pitch in the hopes that it would be enticing enough for a customer to be interested. As a result, my record was very hit-or-miss. Had I taken the time to listen to what issues the customer was experiencing, it would have been much easier for me to demonstrate how our product could resolve their problems – and close the deal!

Bella at Israel on DemandWhile the connection may not be evident at first, sales actually has a lot to do with the way Israel advocacy is carried out on campus. Most often, Israel advocates plan an event and then seek out co-sponsorships from other student groups. That’s equivalent to my giving a pitch and hoping that someone would bite. However, there are two major shortcomings with this method:

  1. This approach rarely creates genuine partnership. Let’s face it – a logo on a flier is not necessarily reflective of true cooperation.
  2. Co-sponsorships do not help students understand why they should care about Israel. That’s why finding a co-sponsor is often hit-or-miss (just like my "spieling").

Israel advocates should take a page out of the sales handbook and learn how to make Israel relevant to other groups. One of the most effective ways to accomplish this is by taking the time to build relationships, ask questions, and learn what the group's interests and values are - just like my successful colleague did with his customers. That's why The David Project listed the first habit of our 10 Habits of Highly Effective Personal Advocacy as going on a listening campaign. Listening first and sharing second is the key to creating lasting and genuine  partnerships. For Israel advocates, what could be a sweeter deal than that?

Click here to learn how to start building meaningful relationships on your campus.