Structured Sales For Success

Last week I stopped in Chicago to speak to a conference of local-media publishers.  If you too have traveled through the United hub in O’Hare recently, you have also seen advertising for a hotel chain printed on the handrails of the moving walkway and escalators.  It’s just one more example of the targeted media that is assaulting your market.  The “escalator media” sales team  -- or its moral equivalent in your market --  is calling on your advertising customers,  distracting them from buying from you.  This brought back to mind the ads on subway turnstiles and dry-cleaners’ plastic hanger covers,  or in the bottom of the bins for putting your things through airline security. Escalator media is just one more of the “latest and greatest” of advertising in the analog world.

At the time I was on my way home from New York, where I moderated a panel on QR codes, the latest and greatest print-to-mobile advertising attention getter.

All these new media opportunities are simply reminders for me – and now for you -- of the competitive landscape we operate within.  Our digital advertising prospects and customers at clients and agencies have so many possible choices of where and how to communicate with their market that they need and value guidance more than ever.  Your customers have been hearing about social media and online video -- and yes, social video. They have been hearing about location-based targeting and audience targeting (through networks rather than through media).  They’ve been hearing about behaviorial targeting and new rich-media formats.  And my new favorite, they’ve been told about the new way to get people to read and remember ads: replacing “Captha Codes” with ads that customers must read and then type in the tag line to validate sign-ins for various registration processes.

So many alternatives, so little time.  Yes, this is another commercial for investing in the sales skills and knowledge for your sales team.   

The Harvard Business Review blog recently published an interesting perspective based on research from the Sales Executive Council on how salespeople most successfully approach the sales of complex goods and services.  It underscores the value of the so-called “structured sales” approach first taught to Ziff Davis sellers, including me, back in the day of Ziff’s owning Flying, Boating, Skiing and Backpacker (my title).  Yes, for you newbies, before Ziff Davis owned computer media, it ruled the world of specialized consumer magazines. 

Structured sales started with the expectation that salespeople knew something important about their advertisers’ (and prospects’) business.  Salespeople could show that they knew a prospect’s business by starting the meeting with share-of-market statistics and discussing research on how customers made purchase decisions.  A well-trained salesperson could then make suggestions about how the prospect could make investments in his or her media to influence purchase decisions and grow business.

Yes, we were trained to ask questions, too, but the questions were not designed to find out what the customer wanted (which we might not be selling). As Steve Jobs has said, customers don’t know what they want; it’s our job to show them something great.  That is what they’ll want. 

The HBR Blog authors cited research from the Sales Executive Council that measured the most important factor in getting prospects to buy and then buy again.  As I have written before here, sales success is built on bringing value to the conversation, including these four key drivers:

  •  “Rep offers unique, valuable perspectives on the market.”
  • “Rep helps me navigate alternatives.”
  • “Rep helps me avoid potential landmines.”
  • “Rep educates me on new issues.”

Are you giving your salespeople the training and the resources to be helpful on these key parameters that make buyers loyal and buy from your company?

This research-based data reinforces what we already know about successful digital advertising sales.  Advertisers do evaluate price/value, but because it is difficult to evaluate the value (while easy to know the price) buyers generally see more value from the sellers who know the most and communicate in the most relevant way about the buyers’ market and what actions they need to gain sales.

Many digital media companies have been successful with advertising sales by focusing on price. With the advent of remnant-based advertising networks, and the giant inventory available from social media, this has been a strategy to grow fast.   

But for many media companies sales success involved gaining market share vs. their competition.  For them sales effectiveness starts with superior sales skills and ends with ability to renew client relationships and grow their “spend.”   For most of you readers, investing in your sales teams will drive more sales and more profits.

Clients and agencies tell us all the time they want our expertise.  While they issue narrowly crafted RFPs, they also ask us for our best “unique, original big idea.”  What agencies really mean is, they need and value more and better perspective on what will make a difference for their client.  That starts with research, and with salespeople trained well enough to think about how to move the needle for clients.

While you budget for next year, set aside funds to invest in market knowledge to support your sales staff with information that will help them structure their sales success.

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