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Selling Hard-to-Sell Advertisers

Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 9:31 AM

The upswing from the recession presents challenging problems in ad sales. Here's a surefire strategy for overcoming resistance.

By William Dunkerley

Although the ad market has been rebounding, some publishers are having trouble getting a share of the bounce-back. Many advertisers report that their budgets are still tight. Other advertisers are using part of their budgets to explore social media and other digital options. And at the same time, I hear from advertisers who say that their most productive advertising is still traditional display space.

I spoke with one experienced publisher who approached a company representative exhibiting at a trade show. The prospective advertiser was resistant to his overtures. She told him, "The market is tight. We know who our prospects are. They know us. Why should we put money into advertising?"

Let's analyze that resistance and explore some ways of dealing with it. The first thing that struck me was the irony of this company rep denigrating advertising when she herself was engaging in advertising at a trade show. Isn't that advertising, too?

Our first step in handling this resistance is to decide whether the objection the representative raised was something she really believed, or if it was just a polite brush-off. It's hard to tell from just that one snippet of conversation. But the fact that the rep is exhibiting tends to belie her claim that she sees no value in advertising.

Nonetheless, let's take her at her word for the sake of discussion. She is expressing two ideas that are likely fallacious. The first is that she knows who all the prospects are. The most obvious way to counter that claim is to say, "Well, do you know about…" and proceed to disclose a market development or new situation that this company rep may not be aware of. Short of concrete info, another approach would be to outline your publication's ongoing research into new market players and your efforts to make readers of them.

The second fallacy is the "they know us" quip. Knowledge of a company or a product, of course, does not mean that the prospect will become a buyer. An active element of persuasion or enticement is usually needed. That's where advertising can come in. Often, presenting some case examples can be a way to overcome the "they know us" objection. For instance: "Company A once believed that they were well known and didn't need to advertise. But then they tried advertising and saw their sales increase. You can benefit from advertising in the same way as Company A."

After using these resistance handlers, it would then be time to go for a close again.

However, that close may not get you far if the rep's remarks really were just a brush-off, or "false resistance." This means that the prospect doesn't really mean what he or she is saying, but simply wants to terminate your sales pitch in a graceful way. In that case, a completely different strategy would be necessary to handle her resistance.

So, how do you handle false resistance? First, know how not to handle it. Don't answer it directly. Typical expressions of false resistance include, "we have no money to advertise," or "we don't need to advertise." It would be pointless to dispute whether or not a prospect has the money. And while it might be possible to argue for the need to advertise, it would be futile to do that if you are dealing with false resistance. That's because the need isn't the real issue here.

What is the real issue? The prospect is not yet convinced that your magazine can be helpful, so re-probing becomes necessary. You met with false resistance because you hadn't shown the prospect how his or her company would benefit from advertising in your magazine. And before you can articulate those benefits, you must first know what that company's marketing needs are. You need to re-probe and figure out what the company wants to accomplish. Once you know that, you can explain to your prospect how his or her company can achieve those goals by advertising in your magazine.

If you can do that convincingly, you'll get your order.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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