What enthusiastic consent has to do with sales and marketingDec 30, 2023
Enthusiastic consent is a model of sexual consent that’s being adopted or considered in many legal jurisdictions. It requires both (or more) parties to enthusiastically consent to sexual interaction. In other words, silence or other stress and trauma responses like freezing or fawning, can’t be taken as implied consent. The person has to demonstrate their willingness to proceed with sexual activity.
This new model of consent has arisen due to the tireless work of feminists advocating to bring a victim’s perspective to the foreground in legal proceedings. (If you’re wondering why this was necessary in the first place, check out the almost 7,000 testimonies — at the time of writing — on this website and note just how many of them involve women and girls being sexually assaulted when they were drunk or otherwise incapable of consenting. Before you think it; alcohol is not the problem here — I’ve been drunk many times and have never accidentally raped someone — it’s that boys and men have been conditioned not to look for consent. But rather, to assume it.)
The more I reflect on the concept of enthusiastic consent, and on how to bring more feminist principles into business, the more I think about applying this to marketing.
At its best, marketing is about clear communication and connection. At worst, it’s manipulative and predatory. (The similarities to sexual interaction are all there for anyone willing to look.)
Consent in marketing isn’t always enthusiastic. Often people are guilted into making a purchase. To pay more than they’re able to afford. Or they’re encouraged to disregard their own priorities in order to comply with someone else’s timeline. They’re told that if they don’t take action now, or get a loan or max out their credit card to pay for a program that costs more than a car, it’s a sign that they’re sabotaging themselves.
Hmmm…. Sabotaging is at play, for sure, and its name is Gaslight.
One of the great legacies of the third wave of feminism is the concept of intersectionality. What we’ve learned since Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in 1989, is that systems intersect and inform each other.
So it is with patriarchy and capitalism. One result of this intersection is a form of coercive control in the sales and marketing process that’s deeply unhealthy and abusive.
But what if we changed the model of consent in business? (Particularly for higher priced programs where people are putting a lot on the line when they make an investment.)
WHAT MIGHT CHANGE IN SALES AND MARKETING PROCESSES IF WE WERE ALL GUIDED BY THE NOTION OF ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT?
I’m not talking about creating a legal requirement, just a general guideline around best practices. Particularly in coaching and personal development spaces.
How might your sales conversations shift if you created the space to ensure your potential customer is consenting enthusiastically?
I think a lot of women are uncomfortable with sales and marketing — and therefore, struggle with visibility issues — not due to a lack of confidence, but because of a personal discomfort with adopting patriarchal practices in the way they build their businesses. They see the coercive, gaslighty behaviour and just aren’t willing to go there.
I think women might be much more visible as business owners if they could engage in sales and marketing practices that feel natural to them. Not icky. Not pushy. Not manipulative.
Here’s one way I’ve incorporated the idea of enthusiastic consent into my own sales process; in the last year or so, I adopted a practice of moving successful applicants to our signature program Women Speaking Up into a What’sApp or Voxer space to chat about the program. In that space they get to ask all the questions they have, are able to ponder my responses in their own time, and are not pushed into a face to face meeting to make a decision within the 45 minutes allocated for a sales call.
Before I send them any registration links to make a payment, I confirm, sometimes more than once if the conversation requires it, that they’re comfortable to proceed.
In other words, the sales phase slows down to ensure the foundations of a good relationship are being formed, and that the communication between the parties is clear. (I call it the ‘slow build and entirely consensual’ approach to sales and am very aware that this is anathema to the standard sales philosophy which is informed by a ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ style of working.)
In the slow build and entirely consensual approach, there’s a longer period of natural connection and relationship building, potential students are better prepared and when they do say yes, they’re ready to go when they move into the program. (If you’re a coach, therapist or mentor of any sort, it seems to me that this would be the only foundation on which you’d want to start a relationship with your clients.)
Another positive side benefit, is that it leads to fewer people purchasing and then not taking action (an industry phenomenon that’s just as disappointing to the person who created the program as it is to the person who just wasted their money).
The key to this working well is that as the person selling, you have to be operating from a place of deep knowing that your program and your business is 100% better off if the people who are working with you are fully in.
NB: I’m speaking specifically here about the sales process around higher ticket items. I personally don’t think this kind of engagement is feasible for low-ticket purchases and/or might well fall into the trap of excessive handholding and problematic boundary creation. Therefore, in relation to lower ticket offerings, I work to ensure enthusiastic consent by being really clear about who the course is for and who it’s not for. I include opt-outs in the first few emails of a sales sequence. I make sure there are clear FAQs on the sales page, am as transparent as possible about what to expect when people decide to buy, and I encourage people to email me if they have further questions. When I do receive emails, I provide comprehensive responses and encourage further questions to ensure that the person is comfortable and confident about making the decision that’s right for them.
At the School of Visibility®, we work primarily with women and non-binary people. Here’s what I know about the lives of women in particular; they are constantly being pushed and pulled in a million different directions. They are imposed upon a lot of the time. Everyone wants a piece of them. Pushing yourself into their space or engaging in coercion of any kind — even subtly — can be incredibly triggering, if not downright harmful. If, instead of adding to those burdens, you give them a little bit of time and space, and give them a safe space to ask questions and clarify outstanding issues in their own minds, they will reach a decision fairly quickly.
It really is a lot like sex.