Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Do advertisers believe that
your publication works for them?

By John C. Peterson
The Peterson Group

Call it an epiphany or consider me a very slow learner, but I have finally gotten to the common denominator of every sales objection ever uttered in newspaper advertising.

They can tell you they don't have any money, or they have all the business they need, or they're happy with their cable or radio buy, but the truth of it is, they don't believe.

They don't believe your business proposition, they don't believe your marketing materials, and they don't believe your sales reps. Plain and simple they don't believe that advertising in your paper works.

Sometimes companies get exactly what they deserve.

Look at what you're doing. Are you just peddling ads or are you clearly demonstrating your commitment to successful advertising and making a strong case for how your publication will be good for business? Are you schlepping around week to week, or are reps doing the right things for your company and the accounts they serve? There's a big difference.

Do prospects and accounts feel comfortable and confident about your publication and the rep? Do you quantify the value of your readership; differentiate your paper from the competition? Do you give them a good or compelling reason to advertise? Do you show them how your publication would be good for their business and help them prosper? Are you offering third party evidence and research to make your case? Are you offering accounts things that are good for them?

It may be just another sales call for the rep, but it is a big decision for the account, so proceed with that in mind. The business has issues and concerns and we need to make them comfortable before we ask for the order. You need to create value-and you need to make it clear and logical.

Consider a three call approach for new qualified prospects. The first visit is a drop by to make a quick tour of the store and introduce yourself to the owner or manager, the person who makes the advertising decisions. The conversation is quick because you are an unannounced visitor and they are presumably busy. You ask: "What would be a good time for me to stop by and learn more about your business?" The operative expression is learn more about your business. Emphasis on their business.

You haven't mentioned selling them anything; you just want to learn more about THEIR business. Few people will decline because you are asking for a convenient time to talk about them. With this approach you accomplish several things. First of you have an appointment at a time that should be good for them, and their agreement is a possible indication of interest. You've probably also distinguished yourself from the majority of ad reps who think every merchant just waits for them to appear in their store as if by magic.

But even more importantly you're not a stranger on the next appointment.

Before that second call you do your homework. Where are they advertising now, have they advertised in your paper before and how did that go? Are there any ads in the archives? Check out the Yellow Pages and Google to see how the business fits in the order of things and what they might say about themselves and what the competition is saying. Visit their website if they have one and check out the competitions' as well.

Call two is all about the customer. On call two the rep goes back to develop an account profile and conduct a needs analysis. You're not there to sell anything; you just want to learn about the business and its needs. It's a 15-20 minute meeting and you cover things like:
• Brief history of the business.
• How they view the business, how is it different from others like it?
• Who are their customers and where do they come from, what are the most popular items, average transaction values?
• Is present customer activity meeting all their expectations, is there any part of the business they would like to change or develop?
• What is the owner's vision for the business, short and long-term?

You also explore their past advertising experiences. What's worked and what hasn't worked? You want to plant some seeds about good advertising practices for your next visit and begin to manage their expectations about advertising. Don't sell, be subtle and conversational.

Email me at for a sample form use in the interview.Or call to see how this program can be implemented at your company.)

You accomplish a few things with this approach. You'll likely impress them by showing a genuine interest in understanding their business and its needs and you probably distinguished yourselves from most other reps who call on them. You've taken the time to listen and that means something to someone who's going to be asked to spend a lot of money. We always expect a doctor to diagnose before they prescribe, so why should this be any different? One size does not fit all.

Call three is game time. You've created a proposal based on your findings in call two, plus other research from business development tools such as (I don't get a nickel from these folks, not even a beer at a conference. But if you haven't seen it, take a look. It's the most powerful selling device I've ever seen. When you can report things like consumer spending by zip code, and percentage of store sales by month, you've got perspective.).

Proposal, like in written? I can hear the sighs as I type this. I know, you say, there's no time for this crap...

Absolutely put it in writing and give it a cover sheet. My suggestion is to offer programs at two or three spending levels. Good, better and best. You're giving them options instead of an ultimatum. This approach offers choices and averts an outright rejection, giving you more to discuss if they do have issues about money.

Put everything in writing because it offers a permanent document and that beats hoping they remember five percent of what you said, and it protects you in case the prospect really does have a spouse or partner to discuss it with. It's also impressive and flattering to the business that you took the time to do the work.

A neatly typed page or two or several PowerPoint slides is fine. Include copies of research you've accumulated. Just staple it if you're cheap and lazy. A cover sheet with their logo makes it personal and it's a compliment to the business. An inexpensive plastic folder will knock their socks off.

In the third call your conversation and the proposal largely reflect what you learned in call two. For example the power equipment shop owner told you he wanted to expand his repair business and create a strong presence in two towns where he had few customers. You remind him of that in your conversation and show him an ad schedule that matches consumer spending patterns. If you're a multi-zone publication the ad schedule may be weighted to the towns he wants. If you're smart you've included a few spec ads strongly positioning him in the marketplace. That's real flattering.

This is where you start talking up your publication and company. The prospect has identified needs, now you show them how your product gets them where they need to go. Your company is the solution, so prove it to them with circulation maps, audits and testimonials. Combine this with independent research supporting size and frequency and you've made a very strong case. Most reasonable people tend to respond to logical things that are good for them.

By the way we're not selling ads here. We're selling programs, campaigns, and strategic plans. We're investing time in a commitment to advertise. This is about what they're going to advertise week by week, not if they will advertise.

Advertising is a commodity and an intangible one at that. It comes with no money-back guarantees or warranty, so it is imperative-critical even, that the ad rep does everything in his or her power to make the buyer comfortable and confident in the process and do everything possible to make sure it works for the account.

But it takes effort and most reps will say they don't have time to do this. I've got a one word response for that and the hint is you'll find lots of it in cow barns.

We're not talking hours and hours of work. The first few might take an hour or two, start to finish, including the interview. Once you done a couple it will be much less.

Too much time? Ask yourself this: Is the opportunity of a smart call a better bet than the almost-certain wasted time devoted to 6-10 cold calls? I know the answer because I've seen the money.

Smart managers make it a weekly requirement for each rep to pursue a different category (or two) and share the research amongst the staff. It's a good idea to use a similar approach to conduct an annual audit of existing accounts.

I'm convinced the process works and generates new revenue. But some managers and publishers I've discussed this with just shake their heads and say, "This is too much work, and the reps will never do it."

It's clear who's running that company.

In organizations like that, sales reps will continue doing what they're doing and publishers will keep getting what they're getting.

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