Tuesday, December 06, 2011

How do you tell an account that possibly
their business (not the ad) is the problem?

By John C. Peterson
The Peterson Group

“The ads aren’t working…”

How many times have you heard that and inside you want to scream any number of responses such as:
·        “These are the dumb ads you insisted we run, Girrrrr.”
·        “The ad is fine, you and your store are the problem.”
·        “Did your parents have any kids with common sense?”

We know you can’t be that direct, you need to be nice. But, if you’re about to lose a customer and gain a critic, then maybe some tactful honesty and candid are in order.

My advice is don’t wait for that conversation, be proactive. You know what a bad ad is and you know a store with problems when you see one. You might have a chance of talking them into a new ad, but it’s real tricky to tell them the store has problems. It can be a dilemma, because even the best of ads will not fix a terrible store and a different ad bring in more people sooner to decide the store is not for them.

Bottom line, if they’re going to drop out of the paper, what do you have to lose? Just be constructive, careful and polite.

One option is to put on your best Peter Falk face and ask questions, like this:

  • “Have people ever commented about the parking to you?” (That’s a nice way of saying people don’t like to circle the block or wade through the puddles in your muddy parking lot.)
  • "People ever tell you they have trouble finding the store?” (Interpret that to be the prelude to a discussion about their lousy location or deficient signage.)

As consumers our needs are pretty basic and the relationship is simple. One side has the goods and services and the other the money. As consumers we’re looking for a hassle-free and easy transaction, and the easier and the more pleasant the experience, the greater chance of success for both sides.

Unfortunately, many of the basics get lost along the way. Few store owners can be truly objective about their business and become be stubborn, defensive and aloof. Many of these people have limited business knowledge and few have a clue about marketing. They’ve converted a hobby or an interest into a business and many of them look at the store through their eyes, not the consumer’s. Unless you’ve otherwise gained their confidence, they are the experts and you’re the ad peddler.

You can help your cause by educating accounts about best advertising practices through flyers, house ads and even seminars to business groups. The best insurance, however, is to manage customer expectations when you make the sale to be sure they’re not expecting too much. Your credibility is limited when you’re about to get the boot.

If you believe in your paper and the ads you’ve created, look the owner straight in the eye and ask why they think the ads aren’t working and the basis for that opinion. Don’t let this be an emotional response from the account; make an effort to quantify the situation by probing the business. Ask them about store traffic, not just sales. Was it higher or lower than last month? Do they have accurate records comparing store traffic versus actual sales, year over year, year to date? How many people came into the store, how many actually bought something and what’s the average transaction value? A smart business owner will even keep a journal even noting the weather, or other events that might have influenced business, including a better deal from the competition. 

If store traffic is significant and sales are not, it doesn’t mean the ad didn’t work. Your job is to create response; their job is to make the sale. But be careful with that because some store owners don’t take responsibility easily.

My bet is the majority of business owners will be unable to provide much of this information. You bringing that up may not make any difference, but at least you’re doing your best to get perspective and you’re exhausting all options to be nice about it. 

As a publisher I always struggled being candid with store owners because I didn’t want to make then angry and lose their business. But after hearing them bad-mouth our papers, I developed a very different attitude. Their arrogance and ignorance was hurting the paper and the opportunities for other businesses because people were being told the paper doesn’t work.

After slipping on ice from un-shoveled sidewalks, making return trips to stores that don’t keep the hours they post, waiting for untrained clerks to stop eating lunch or get off their cellphones,  I know it’s not all just about the ads not working. 

When all else fails try to make the business see and confront the issues. It’s not for the weak of heart and it has its risks, but if you’re going to the gallows you might as well push for a fair trial and give them something to think about.

In seminars I put on for business groups that are sponsored by client newspapers I distribute a self-assessment checklist that asks businesses to evaluate themselves in six critical areas and whether they consider themselves strong, adequate or if there’s room to improve.  I suggest that store owners distribute a copy to each employee and then have a meeting to discuss the results. Done with candor, it forces the owners to discuss things that might not normally be aired. 

It’s a great way to tell someone their store is filthy without getting punched. 

(If you’d like a complimentary copy of this checklist email me: john@johncpeterson.com. If you have a decent working relationship with the store owner you can do it yourself. If the owner gets testy, blame it on the consultant.)

Sam Walton said it best:
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company
from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”

And that comment applies to newspapers as well as their customers...

If you’d like more information about sponsoring a seminar for your business community go to johncpeterson.com and click on the tab, “Educate your customers.”
(If you’d like a complimentary copy of this checklist email me: john@johncpeterson.com. If you have a decent working relationship with the store owner you can do it yourself. If the owner gets testy, blame it on the consultant.)