Coffee for Closers

Many Jewish organizations and professionals think selling, outside of fundraising, is taboo.

By Adam Grossman

“Put that coffee down! Coffee is for closers only.” A mantra made famous by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, the one-liner shaped the idea that sellers are pariahs, who would do whatever it takes including aggressive, dishonest and unethical tactics to gain the all mighty dollar. Yet, this Hollywood archetype, personified in Wall Street, Boiler Room and The Wolf on Wall Street, distorts the image of sales professionals and the importance of the selling process in business and nonprofits.

Many Jewish organizations and professionals think selling, outside of fundraising, is taboo. Confusing the sales process with building and marketing programs, many concentrate on building programs with the assumption that if built, marketed in e-newsletters, promoted on social media, and added on flyer boards, then, of course, people will come. Yet, we know this does not work. In fact, it accomplishes the exact opposite. It engages the same people over and over again, and in turn, more and more people have become disenfranchised. More than simply encouraging someone to buy a widget or service, selling is about creating transformational relationships, long-term connections and consensus building.

With this as the framework, the University of Florida (UF) Hillel shifted its entire approach to a sales and marketing model, so that we can maximize Jewish engagement, Israel advocacy, and leadership for disconnected college students. To do this, we had to internalize that the majority of Jewish college students (70% in some statistics) come from interfaith families and most do not connect with Jewish legacy organizations in a meaningful way. Furthermore, we needed to better understand our target market: college students. We found that their needs included unique experiences, doing good, career advancement and emotional well-being.

To accomplish this, we isolated the services and products that would inspire disengaged Jews to become involved. We determined, with the guidance and support of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston’s IACT Campus Initiative, that Birthright provided the greatest market advantage. It is no secret that if an individual goes to Israel, even those most disengaged with Judaism previously, are much more likely to participate in Jewish experiences afterward. Using this as a catalyst to engagement, we created relevant offerings post-Birthright, which focused on student interests. Since changing our model, we have seen a 400% increase in unique engagement and a 72% increase in Birthright participation from our beginnings four years ago. How did we do this? By focusing on the sales process of prospecting, closing, and account management.

Prospecting: Since Birthright offers the greatest opportunity to inspire unaffiliated Jews to do something Jewish, prospecting for UF Hillel centers upon finding as many people as possible to go on Birthright. Our assumption is that to encourage one student go on Birthright, we need to meet at least 50 prospects. Thus, to ensure 200 Birthright participants, we need at least 10,000 names. To do this, we had to shift the paradigm. One example of this is tabling, which many Hillels do daily. A good day of tabling for 4 hours yields 10 potential prospects. The rate of return on tabling is 2.5 students per hour.

10 prospects / 4 hours = 2.5 students per hour

Rather than doing this, we bring 10 students from different campus groups into UF Hillel for 30 minutes. We then ask them to download ShareSomeFriends in order to share their peers’ contact information. At an average of 10 prospects per student in 30 minutes, we receive 100 prospects.

100 prospects / .5 hours = 200 prospects per hour

This is a 7,900% increase in engagement with a reduction of 700% in time. With this and other prospecting strategies, UF Hillel has connected with 9,000 individuals on campus with 50% to 100% less staff on site, and there are still two months to go until the end of the academic year.

Closing: The goal in closing is to maximize the number of prospects that convert into Birthright participants. After collecting the information, we assess leads as cold, warm and hot. Typically, 50% of all initial leads are classified as cold. Yet, this does not preclude these individuals, which are many, from partaking in our account management options. After qualifying leads, the single most important thing we do is reaching out personally to people. Closing happens when we make calls and send texts to give students the ability to ask questions and us the opportunity to overcome objections. This process resulted in 310 unique individuals to go on a UF Hillel Birthright experience in the 2017/2018 year. Over a four-year period, this provides minimally a 1,200 Birthright alumni pool to engage with campus.

Account Management: In account management, our role is to ensure that alumni do not revert back to being disconnected. To do this, it is imperative to provide connection points of interest, which focuses on the audience’s “wants,” as well as not bombard alums, especially the formerly disengaged, with programs they were not interested in previously. While we still host weekly Shabbat and hold major holiday celebrations, UF Hillel has created specific niches focused on unique experiences, doing good, career advancement and emotional well-being. This has led to the formation of Career Up Now, The Selling Factory, UF to Israel, and The M Project (coming soon). Moreover, instead of competing with other campus organizations, like Chabad, TAMID, Gators for Israel, Jewish Student Union, and others, to create similar experiences, we work collaboratively to facilitate students to the spaces that most interests them. This cooperation has led to massive expansion of engagement across campus and at UF Hillel alone we have connected with 1,614 unique individuals 3+ times and 925 students 6+ times.

Coffee is not just for closers. Yet, it is essential for our organizations to move from program makers to sales professionals, especially as Amazon, Netflix, and AirBnB have shifted the way constituencies understand “brick-and-mortar.” As we seek to be relevant in today’s market place, we must adapt to these changes. Moving forward, our role, as Jewish legacy organizations, is to reclaim selling as a meaningful and essential aspect of our culture, so that we can continue to thrive.

Rabbi Adam Grossman, who is a Slingshot Guide Award recipient and member of Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders network, is the CEO of the University of Florida Hillel, co-founder of The Selling Factory and co-founder of Career Up.