‘We Are All In The Selling Business’ A Keynote by Race Bannon

by Race Bannon on April 12, 2013

I delivered this speech on April 12, 2013 as the opening keynote address at Kink LINCS, a leadership and community-building symposium held in Seattle, Washington for those who are part of the leather, BDSM, kink, fetish, poly, swing and other sex-positive communities.

Good evening. Welcome to the beautiful city of Seattle, and to the great weekend the Kink LINCS folks have in store for us.

I would like to thank all of the organizers of Kink LINCS for asking me to be here this weekend…all of the volunteers who have offered their time and effort to make this event happen…all of the sponsors who have underwritten some of this event’s costs…and most importantly, thanks to everyone in attendance, all of you, for believing that our kink and relationship alternatives scene needs inspired, informed and skilled people to help keep us all moving forward in positive ways.

I’d like to say up front that no matter who or what I appear to take to task in this speech, or what institutions or sacred cows I appear to skewer, please know that I do not think our efforts are all going to hell in a hand basket. I do not think we work among incompetents or bad people. Quite the contrary. I see a very bright future for people who align with the identities and practices embodied in this conference. I think most people who work in these areas, and that includes all of you, are doing a fantastic job. I’d just like to see it all much improved, and I think we can do that.

And when I do appear in this speech to admonish or correct, please know that I’m admonishing and correcting myself at the same time because when I point out an area of needed improvement I’m likely just as guilty of everything I might mention as others might be.

By the way, the organizers of this conference have told me this speech is being video recorded. I will also put the text of my speech on my bannon.com blog within hours of delivering it and link to the video whenever it is available.

When you go to the website for this event, you see that Kink LINCS is a leadership and community-building symposium for those who are part of the leather, BDSM, kink, fetish, poly, swing and other sex-positive communities. (Damn, we’re really becoming a big tent movement, aren’t we?) The weekend is for those of you who are interested in developing their leadership, teamwork, communication, and/or involvement in their specific community.

So, in a nutshell, this weekend is about leadership and community-building. On its face, I think many of us believe we know what these two endeavors are all about. But I’d like to reframe that perspective a bit here today.

Although much of what I have to say might resonate mostly with the leather, BDSM and kink crowd in the audience, I think it applies to all of us working within the communities this conference embraces.

Over the course of the next few minutes I would like to do a few things.

First, I’d like to put forth the notion that we’re not all primarily in the leadership and community-building business, but actually in another business that we give very little thought to usually.

Second, based on this observation and others, I’d like to offer some of my thoughts regarding some possible areas of improvement.

Finally, I’d like to propose something rather bold that I hope those in this room will seriously consider.

As part of preparing for this speech today I thought for a while about what it is we in this room do. When I did, I determined that we’re all essentially engaged in some aspect of the following: participating in clubs, groups and organizations; educational efforts; producing and organizing events; and advocacy work. What I have to say here today applies to all of these pursuits.

Those of us here today encompass the more organized and socially active sectors of our scene’s do gooders and we hear all the time about “leather leadership,” “community leadership,” or “community-building.”

But what if our primary focus shouldn’t really be leadership and the related community-building, at least not initially, but actually something else more fundamental? What if there is something else that is even more essential in describing what it is we do or hope to do that leadership and community-building barely allude to. I contend that something else is…selling…sales. We’re all in the selling business. We are all salespeople. Every single person in this room is in the selling business. Another way to say this is that we’re all in the business of moving people in some way.

When I realized this myself it was an epiphany moment for me. I have bandied about terms like leather leadership and community-building for much of my adult life. I think most of us in this room have. And don’t get me wrong. These are still important things we do. But I think reframing leadership and community-building as essentially selling propositions makes a lot of sense.

My epiphany regarding this began as I was reading Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human, which I highly recommend every person in this room read. And while my epiphany took place as I was reading that book, it hit like a thunderbolt upon my brain at that moment because what I was reading resonated so strongly and synced so perfectly with what I myself have experienced in the professional, nonprofit and community work that I do.

In his book Pink contends that while officially only 1 in 9 Americans is in a selling job, really the other 8 in 9 are also. For those not engaged in selling an actual product or service, he describes the other type of selling as “non-sales selling.” And except for those among you who have businesses selling products and services that cater to our kind (probably a small subset of you here today), the rest of you are essentially engaged in non-sales selling. In fact, I contend it’s what we should all be focused on the most.

A precursor to actually selling what it is you want to sell is something else…marketing. As I see it, marketing is simply making sure people know about something. It’s awareness of that something. You can’t convince people to buy something unless they know about it first.

Only once people are aware of something can you then hope to get them to buy it, know it or believe it. And only once they are aware of it and have bought it can you then begin to lead around it.

Unfortunately, I think we often have this marketing, sales and leadership progression out of order. We seem to too often encourage the leadership aspect with only cursory afterthought given to marketing and sales. We talk a lot about the nuts and bolts aspects of doing what we do with little thought to selling it once we’ve done it. I think we need to correct that approach to be more effective at what we do.

So, why do I feel this way? And assuming my contention is true (because I could be full of shit), what are we to do with that revelation? I plan to use some of Pink’s insights, most of it arrived at because of actual research, to position for you here today why I think us all adopting a salesperson mindset can only benefit what it is we do.

Now, while I do think we often put the marketing, sales and leadership progression in the wrong order, there’s a precursor to marketing (well, it’s actually part of marketing itself) that I think we tend to do very badly, and that’s market research. Before you can market to people you have to know who they are and, very importantly, what it is they really want – not what you think they want, but what they truly do want.

I don’t think we do this very often. For example, for the vast majority of events I attend, I can only recall a few times where I or anyone attending was actually asked if what I got was what I wanted or expected. And for those few times I have been asked, I have consistently sensed that no or little action was taken on any of the attendee or participant input.

As for other examples, and yes I am admittedly cherry picking here…

I’ve heard for many years a large segment of leatherfolk say they really don’t care all that much about contests and feel there are perhaps too many of them, or they’d like to see their format and structure mixed up a bit, yet the number of contests continues to proliferate and their format rarely changes.

I’ve heard for years that many people would rather see fewer classroom style educational sessions at conferences and elsewhere in favor of more socializing and play opportunities. Yet it appears these events continue to add more of these classroom sessions, while the organized socializing and play opportunities don’t seem to increase much at all.

And when it comes to education, I’ve seen little evidence that the increasingly louder voices that want alternative, non-classroom ways to share and learn BDSM, kink and other information, are being heard.

I’ve heard for years that many people would rather see fewer fundraisers and when those fundraisers do take place to see more money raised directly for us and our causes. I’ve seen such input taken to heart only somewhat.

I could go on with a long list of things that a large chunk of our peers (and by that I mean those we say we’re trying to serve) say that seem to be summarily ignored. It seems to me that at the very beginning of the marketing cycle it’s incumbent upon the creators of events, projects and other efforts to ask their constituency what it is they actually want, and then, most importantly, actually act on that input.

For the collective of people represented in this room (and I don’t mean all of here today specifically), those who work at leading and organizing, I unfortunately see a dearth of innovation and creativity. Far too often what I see is a template of mediocrity adhered to rather rigidly. Want to throw a big event? Choose contest or conference. Want to impart some knowledge? Sit people down in a classroom. Want to form a group of like-minded people? Form a club, draft bylaws, and let the club drama begin.

Why should our scene continue to parrot these older models for so many of our events and other efforts? I’m not saying that these are all bad things to do, but can’t we think of more options to meet the needs of participants in other more innovative ways? What we need more of is innovators. People with enough courage to buck the pervasive system and do it their own way. Pink refers to this type of person as having an entrepreneurial mindset and he contends that such a mindset is vital to those who want to sell effectively. I agree.

Why do we continue to regurgitate over and over the same types of BDSM and kink classes that really aren’t serving the sexuality needs of many of those attending. They’ve far too often become performances more than actual teaching sessions. Can’t we apply more modern learning theories and approaches for those times we seek to educate our kind? Educating is moving people, selling people, on ideas and even buy-ins on things like the best ways to do things.

Can’t we think of something besides contests that far too often serve as the default event type the leather and greater community sees as a representation of what we do? Do we really want so many of these events, many of them de-sexed to the point they barely resemble anything that supposedly tries to bring together sexuality rebels and mavericks. If I hear one more time that a titleholder has been told not to have sex in their title vest I’m going to scream. Have we really gone that far astray from who we are?

Now I’m not saying (and please hear me, loud and clear) that many of the conferences, contests, education events and other things we do should not exist, even in their current form. Or that they are all done wrong. Some of them are just fine as is. I just think we’re all better than continually replicating things that a large chunk of our scene simply has zero interest in or would like to see done much differently sometimes. If our mission, as so many of us repeatedly state, is to best serve the needs of all of our own kind, I fear we’re falling short far too often.

So why is this all happening? What I think many of us do far too often, and if I get honest I mean myself too, is focus our efforts on an audience we tend to interact with the most, and that’s the highly engaged, highly networked, highly motivated, and often somewhat homogenous subset of the scene that we all see over and over at the various events and happenings. But what we neglect to realize, or bother to acknowledge, is that we are not the bulk of the audience we claim we’re trying to serve. So we continually replicate and hone very specific models of what it is we do because we see that this tiny subset does often like conferences as they are, contests as they are, classroom sessions as they are, and so on.

It’s like attending a tennis match, surveying those there, and coming to the conclusion that everyone must like tennis, so that’s what we’ll continue to provide people – tennis matches. No, not everyone likes tennis, and not everyone we claim to serve likes everything we’re offering them.

We must realize that those of us in this room do not embody the norm of who we represent. For each of us here today who passionately and actively do the work to represent and help others, there are thousands upon thousands who live kinky, polyamorous or otherwise alternative lives, but who won’t likely feel a particular affinity for what it is we offer them.

If we’re trying to grow our umbrella tent to include as many of our own kind as possible, maybe we need a rethink of much of what we do. And if we’re not trying to grow our umbrella tent, if we want to keep it a more exclusive or rarefied body of people, that’s fine too. It really is. But let’s get honest about that and not pretend we’re seeking to bring larger numbers and a wider cross-section of people into our fold.

When you ask people what they want from us, it’s really just four simple things. They want to play, have great sex, and partner as they see fit. They want to have opportunities to socialize and meet people. They want enough knowledge to do these things, but not so much that they’re deluged with information or techniques they’ll never use. And they want the rights and freedoms to do those three previous things without fear of reprisal. That’s it. That’s all they want from us. That’s all they want us to help them do.

Back to selling. In Pink’s book he points out a seismic shift taking place in the landscape of selling, including non-sales selling. He points out that we now live in a world of information at our fingertips. This was not always the case. Once upon a time, pre-internet and pre-hyperconnectivity, the keepers of certain information and knowledge were often a fairly proprietary bunch. Much of that information was closely held. Today, that same information is available for anyone with a modicum of curiosity and the most basic of browser searching and networking skills.

We have reached a world of what Pink refers to as information parity. As he puts it, we have gone from a society of Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) to Caveat Venditor (seller beware). This turns on its head the traditional notions of how we sell things, even intangible things like messaging and advocacy that account for much of what we in this room do.

So how does this new Caveat Venditor, seller beware, reality translate to the missions of those in this room? It touches upon everything that we do. Everything.

Most newcomers to our scene don’t come to us any longer as blank slates upon which we offer up information and wisdom never before read, heard or seen. Most likely that person has already read and viewed and discussed many of those issues online or elsewhere.

The selling dynamic for what we do has changed. Now the buyers of what we have to sell come to us often with as much or nearly as much information as we have.

Our job, in my opinion, is not to focus so much on the imparting of knowledge and skill, although we can still do some of that, but rather to provide newcomers, as well as seasoned participants the environment in which to play, have sex, socialize, meet others, support each other, and simultaneously foster the freedoms they need to do those things. Our primary job is no longer education – it’s facilitation. Our primary job is no longer to offer up rigid traditions, protocols and rules, but rather to facilitate how each person can best express the uniquely kinky or nontraditional in themselves. Our job is no longer to decide what we think the greater majority of kink and relationship adventurers want and need, but rather to spend much of our time finding out what they really do want and need and do our best to provide or facilitate that.

If we don’t do these things, the messaging, events, information and everything else we do will land increasing with a thud on people’s perceptions of what of value we have to offer them.

So, once we know what people want, after carrying out our version of market research, how do we go about selling them what we have of value to offer? Here are but a few suggestions, but I really do encourage everyone here to not only read Pink’s book, but to generally come up to speed on modern selling approaches.

Joe Girard, a world-famous car salesman, offered the world of selling what he calls his “Girard’s Rule of 250.” It’s a pretty well known contemporary concept in the world of selling these days. This rule states that each of us has 250 people in our lives that we know pretty well. Well enough to consider inviting them to certain special events such as a wedding, funeral, large party, and so on. Or in our case, a play party, bondage class or contest.

If you connect and sell to one of your own network of 250 people, they are then likely to sell the same to their 250, some of whom will likely sell to their 250, and so on.

Girard’s Rule is founded upon the same power that social media has today. Post something on your Facebook wall to your 250 friends (I know most of you likely have more than that) and many of them share it with their friends, who share it with their friends, and the viral power of the messaging and information dissemination is quite vast.

In the new seller beware reality of today, information and messaging is much more trusted if it’s received from someone we already trust, and our personal and extended networks are where that trust now most resides. Not necessarily with leaders such as ourselves.

This also means clubs, groups, organizations, events and active individuals wanting to get their information and messaging out need to be more strategic. Engaging fully with just 25 people who have robust social networks in which they’ll share is far more effective than blanketing your email list of 10,000 with the same information and messaging or randomly handing out a bunch of cards or fliers. Of course you could do both, but since our time and resources are often highly constrained, I recommend we all put much more effort into our social media campaigns than our past traditional outreach efforts. Every leader among us should become well versed in social media platforms and strategies and how they are becoming the default messaging and selling tools of our time.

Those of us in this room doing the work we do ignore the power of social media at our own peril. It is the main mechanism by which information and messaging goes viral today. Anyone trying to do and sell social, play, educational or advocacy work in the various worlds you all run in without a robust, strategic and very active social media presence is basically just spitting into the wind. Your efforts may have far less impact and you all work far too hard to have that be the case.

In the old selling landscape of buyer beware, the keepers of the information and messaging held the cards. It was much easier for them to be circumspect and withholding back then. No longer. Today, in the new seller beware world, the low road of misleading or carefully controlled messaging is now harder to pass than the high road of honesty, directness and transparency.

As an example, not that long ago a certain author was taken to task over what many perceived to be historical fabrications in a book catering to the BDSM set. I’m sure many of you in this room are aware of how that all went down. If that same book had been published a decade or even five years earlier, I doubt such a furor would have occurred. But today, perceived falsehoods or misrepresentations can be challenged immediately on blogs and social media platforms at digital speed.

So make sure you’re honest and transparent with what you do because it’s inevitable someone will challenge you or your organization if you are not. You simply can’t, in this day and age, market and sell, and then eventually lead around something, unless you adopt an honest and transparent approach. At least not if you plan to be trusted and taken seriously for the long term.

Another realization in the world of sales is that the old ABC sales adage, Always Be Closing, perhaps the most famous of traditional sales wisdom, no longer applies. Based on a rich trove of social science research, Pink offers his own new ABC adage. I can’t go into every aspect of these and all of the other things that Pink puts forth as new notions for selling effectively. You’ll have to read the book for those details. But I’ll address some of what applies to us all here today.

One thing that stood out for me is what current research shows regarding the level of power people have and how that translates into effective selling. If we think of the powerful in our network it would typically be leaders of clubs and organizations, event producers, and titleholders, among others.

When researchers studied people’s levels of power compared to their ability to align their perspectives with others, they found something that should give us all pause. Those with the most power are less likely, and perhaps less able, to attune themselves to someone else’s point of view. As one researcher concluded, “power leads an individual to anchor too heavily on their own vantage point, insufficiently adjusting to others’ perspectives.”

Is this why we see so little shift in responding to what I’m hearing people would like to see from our leaders? From us, and that includes me? Is it that our leaders too often discount any input, complaints and alternative viewpoints because as the ones holding the most power they always assume what they want is what their constituency wants? I’m not sure, but this seems to resonate with me based on what I’ve seen. And frankly, I myself have had to undergo some self-examination to determine if I do this too, and I think I do. It’s made me try to broaden my perspective more. And that’s not easy for me to do as I’ve realized that in spite of my supposed progressive view of our scene, I too am mired in far more entrenched viewpoints than is useful. Today I’m much more likely to reach out and ask a wide cross section of people what it is they really want or how they might see things differently than I do.

Another thing that sales research has shown is that there’s no evidence that extraverts are best at selling. Now, while it’s true that introverts don’t sell quite as well as extraverts, the difference is actually actually quite small. However, those who fall more in the middle between extrovert and introvert, a type that Pink calls ambiverts, outsell all others by a significant amount.

So don’t always assume your most outgoing, extroverted people are going to be best at selling what you have to sell. That means that those who are likely to run for a title or those who are the outward facing representatives of a club, group or organization, and those types of out front people, might not always be the best people to sell your message, event or idea.

The good news is that when you plot types of people along an extraverts to introverts chart, it pretty much turns out to be the natural bell curve we’ll all seen before. This means there is an abundance of people in the middle who fall into the ambivert category. There should be no lack of people who can most effectively sell.

Another set of sales research shows that positivity is a big factor in how people move others, in other words sell best. Whether they’re selling an idea or a product.

In one study, a pitch delivered in a positive, friendly way by speaking with a friendly tone, smiling often, nodding in agreement, and being cordial and inviting ended up selling twice as much as when the same exact pitch was delivered by a negative person.

Now think about some of the drama folks and negative people that creep into our clubs, organizations, Board of Directors, event teams, and social discourse.

Based on this, I’d suggest people who lead ensure that their teams are comprised of positive people if they want to be effective. If you sense a negative person has infiltrated your midst, and I know it sounds harsh, but you need to figure out how to get them off your team if you want to be effective at selling what it is you have of value to sell.

Another area of contemporary sales research revolves around the concept of clarity, which time won’t allow me to go into in depth. But one research result has a lot to do with how effective what all of us do is.

We need to provide those we’re trying to move, or sell, what Pink refers to as an off-ramp – the action we want them to take and how.

When you are asking someone to attend a class, contribute to a fundraiser, buy tickets to an event or contest, or whatever you’re trying to sell, including a very specific request, not vague generalities, accompanied by a clear way to get it done, ends up moving people best. Even those typically least likely to buy what you are selling end up buying at three times the rate of those who might typically be considered most likely to buy, but who were not given a clear path of action. Three times!

So, for example, don’t assume that a poster or flier for your event with just a pretty picture, event name, date and location is going to do much to actually get bodies to your event. Give them some action steps to take to ensure they do show up. Try to capture names and email addresses so you can prompt people with direct invitations on which they can take action. Send out a Facebook invitation and, more importantly (since we all know many of us get far too many Facebook invitations), follow up with regular notifications and action steps to keep them engaged. Passive advertising does little anymore to get people to do what it is you want them to do.

In short, clarity on how to think or do without clarity on how to act can leave your prospects umoved and not buying what it is you have to sell.

I could continue to recount a lot of contemporary research about how best to sell, which I think we all need to do better, but I’d be here for another three hours. Suffice to say that I strongly encourage everyone in this room, and everyone who does the work we do, to reframe your primary objective to be one of selling. The actual organizing part is, I believe, quite a bit easier, or at least easier to plan, than the selling part. Most of us here know how to organize and lead pretty well I think. Where I think we all fall short, myself included, is selling our messaging effectively by continually embracing creative and innovative ways to do so.

So, with all that said, I’d like to end this speech by proposing something rather bold for your consideration. It’s something that ties directly in to marketing, the first stage of the marketing, selling and leading progression that I’m suggesting is the optimal way to do what we do.

Those of you sitting in this room are rightfully some of the most important leaders and movers and shakers within the network of people in which we work. So please consider taking this back to your own people to discuss and perhaps we can get a national dialogue going.

To the best of my knowledge, our kind has never had a single, unified, national event or cause around which to rally. If you look at other sectors of our population such as people of color, LGBT folk, women and others, you can identify national events or causes around which that entire body of people can rally. We’ve never had such a thing. At least I can’t recall any. I think perhaps it’s time we do.

I would like to propose a National Kink Coming Out Day – a day on which every kinky person, to whatever extent they are able and comfortable, can come out, be seen, and be known as kinky…to be seen and known as being proud of being kinky. And yes, I already know what’s going on in your head.

In a scene that often shrinks from their daily identities and instead creates scene personas and names, is this realistic?

In a scene that often does things that average Americans will not understand, is this realistic?

My answer is yes, I think it is. I guarantee you that when the LGBT community launched its first National Coming Out Day, many many LGBT people did not come out. They weren’t ready. Their situations were such that they decided their comfort threshold was too high to cross. But you have to start somewhere. On that first day thousands of people did come out and it began a revolution in the LGBT movement. Every LGBT leader I know says that all of the progress they’ve made can be directly tied to the coming out movement. And they had to start with that first Coming Out Day.

When a kinky person comes out, that could take many forms and be handled many ways.

For example, I would pick a Saturday as the day because I think most people will feel far more comfortable coming out in non-work settings and most people work Monday through Friday.

On such a day, every kinky adult American who is able would be encouraged to come out as kinky. But how each person does that will vary.

Some will simply wear a handcuffs lapel pin and see if that spawns discussions during which they can gently come out and explain who they are and what they do.

Some will decide to wear their leather, gear or other fetish garb, to whatever extent they are comfortable, in the hopes it will clearly identify them as kinky and encourage dialogue with those with whom they interact.

Some will put a graphic on their Facebook page, much as was recently done during the same-sex marriage arguments taking place in the Supreme Court, declaring they are proudly kinky, and that can create social media discussions between the kinky and non-kinky.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what a National Kink Coming Out Day will look and be like. What I do know is that we can claim that we do outreach and education into the broader population about who and what we are, but if we all do so from within closets those efforts will not ultimately be very effective.

And such a Coming Out Day is not just about selling our normalcy to the broader population. It’s also, and perhaps more importantly, about fostering a national environment in which the newcomers to kink and relationship alternatives feel more comfortable and safer in coming out themselves, or even for them to take that first baby step and walk across the threshold of your club, organization or event doorstep for the first time.

Thank you for listening to me. Again, please know that anytime in this speech during which I’ve pointed out a shortcoming, I do so because I see that shortcoming in myself as well. We’re all in this together, and we all need to keep improving what we do.

4 thoughts on “‘We Are All In The Selling Business’ A Keynote by Race Bannon

  1. Oh my goodness! A Kink Coming Out Day?? YES!! I’d also love to see a Poly coming out day! What a great idea!!! I’d love to organize around that!

  2. “Is this why we see so little shift in responding to what I’m hearing people would like to see from our leaders? From us, and that includes me? Is it that our leaders too often discount any input, complaints and alternative viewpoints because as the ones holding the most power they always assume what they want is what their constituency wants? I’m not sure, but this seems to resonate with me based on what I’ve seen. And frankly, I myself have had to undergo some self-examination to determine if I do this too, and I think I do. It’s made me try to broaden my perspective more. And that’s not easy for me to do as I’ve realized that in spite of my supposed progressive view of our scene, I too am mired in far more entrenched viewpoints than is useful. Today I’m much more likely to reach out and ask a wide cross section of people what it is they really want or how they might see things differently than I do.”

    This has been my experience as someone new to the Kink community. Despite my own education and experience, because I have not been entrenched in the scene for years, I have been lectured to, patronized, looked down on, and generally made to feel powerless. This treatment has extended beyond Munch conversations and into private play parties where these community leaders were present. Rather than letting the newbies explore, discuss, and set the space themselves, we were immediately placed in a submissive, secondary role. In our own homes, and at our own party. Not cool.

  3. He said, ” When you ask people what they want from us, it’s really just four simple things. They want to play, have great sex, and partner as they see fit. They want to have opportunities to socialize and meet people. They want enough knowledge to do these things, but not so much that they’re deluged with information or techniques they’ll never use. And they want the rights and freedoms to do those three previous things without fear of reprisal. That’s it. That’s all they want from us. That’s all they want us to help them do.”

    As a newbie into the kink community who will most likely end up in an organizing role, having this succinct outline of four group wants will make my life a lot easier. I probably would have figured them out eventually (and of course each group will have their own unique twist on these goals), but it’s a handy guideline and I appreciate it.

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