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The Market-Savvy Salesperson -- Part I

Posted on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 11:43 AM

Sales pitches backed by market expertise can be more productive than plain old sales banter.

By William Dunkerley

"How's the market?" When I ask advertising salespeople that question, most tell me about the ad market they're selling to. That's a natural answer. After all, for them the market is the advertisers and prospective advertisers they're selling to issue after issue. The salespeople tend to know that market pretty well.

There's another market, though, that is often neglected. It's the market their customers are selling to, i.e., the advertiser companies. I find that too many ad salespeople have only a superficial knowledge of that one.

What about your sales team? Do they fully appreciate what your advertisers are up against? Do they have sufficient insider insights to make compelling sales pitches that will outshine those of competing publications?

Preparing Staff for the Market Analyst Title

In the previous issue of STRAT, I floated the strategy of calling ad salespeople market analysts. Advertiser prospects will believe they have more to gain from talking to a "market analyst" than a plain old sales rep. The former has something of value to offer; the latter is just after the advertiser's money -- at least, some would think.

To capitalize on the "market analyst" strategy, of course, your staff will have to live up to that billing. They'll have to be experts in the marketplace your advertisers are selling to.

I've seen a number of examples of salespeople who don't measure up to that standard, not by a long shot. Here are a few stereotypical categories:

"Let's make a deal." This person tends to rely on discounts, special positions, inserts, etc., to make a sale. That's good to the extent it brings in ad revenue. But the approach often leaves the advertiser without a conviction about the functional value of advertising with you. And that leaves you open to competitors that can either make a better deal or demonstrate real value in advertising in their publications.

"I'm your pal." This variety of salesperson makes great headway by befriending the advertiser on a personal basis. They establish good person-to-person rapport and promote positive chemistry. What's the problem with that? There are two. As with the "let's make a deal" approach, it can leave the advertiser with no strong belief in the efficacy of advertising with you. And the other problem crops up when there's a personnel change, either on the advertiser's end or on yours. When the personal relationship goes away, so do the ad orders.

"Buy and I won't pester you." Believe it or not, this approach can actually work, too. I remember one publisher telling me a story about a hard-to-sell advertiser. His salesperson was extremely persistent in contacting and re-contacting the advertiser, usually with the same old sales pitch. Finally the advertiser called the publisher and said, "Look, you can have my advertising now, but just keep that salesperson guy away from me." Persistence is certainly a positive attribute for any salesperson to have. But racking up sales just by being a pest will not produce an enduring relationship.

There's far more to be gained if your sales team can materially help its prospects with market expertise. How can they acquire and maintain that expertise? Won't it be hard to be a step ahead of the advertiser in understanding his own market?

Surveying Your Advertisers to Boost Market Expertise

One way I've found to be successful is by conducting research that will produce information and insights no individual advertiser will have on its own.

Here's an example: Most areas of business experience some degree of seasonality. An advertiser is probably well acquainted with its own slow and peak periods, but the overall industry trends may be elusive.

You can acquire that data by surveying your advertisers. Ask them to tell you what percentage of their revenue comes in during each month. If you offer confidentiality to the advertisers, you'll find that a sufficient number will cooperate with this research, especially if you promise to share the aggregate results with them. Allow them to submit their data anonymously, and to let you know they've done so separately.

Putting the Data to Work in Your Sales Force

What use is this kind of seasonality data?

The value is that it tells the advertiser when it's best to step up ad placements and when it's okay to stick to the regular schedule.

It is pretty widely accepted that advertising in peak seasons, i.e., when consumers are active, is going to produce superior results. And if advertisers get better results from advertising with you, it should put you in line for more of their business.

Here's a hypothetical chart that shows the seasonality of the revenue received by companies that advertise in a particular field:

Sixteen-month seasonality of revenue.

You can see that there is a peak that straddles the first and second quarters. The trough comes around December. Note that the chart shows actual data plus a smoothed curve. Smoothing makes it easier to observe trends.

This kind of information will allow your sales staff to speak with greater authority. They can use it to seasonally up-sell existing advertisers. And the data can be instrumental in creating an imperative for new advertisers to come into your book.

There's more that can be done along these lines to position your ad salespeople as trusted market analysts with valuable information and advice. We'll pick up on that next time.

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

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