"My salespeople have an automatic advantage," said the CEO of the behavioral ad network. "My salespeople talk to advertisers and agencies about the client's customers and how to reach them. That is an advantage because their own needs are precisely what clients and prospects want to talk about." This is a stark contrast to media properties who open the conversation talking about their own audience, which the buyers don't directly care -- about.
As I sat in the audience of yet another Internet conference, idly checking emails, surfing the WiFi connection, paying half-attention to see if there was something I needed to know, this was like a bolt from the wild blue. It reinforced what I have been telling my customers for years: we must reconfigure how we train salespeople to sell.
The most successful media companies today are training their salespeople to be solution sellers. Selling solutions, rather than "ads" or "space" or "time" is the most advanced form of salesmanship. It goes beyond important winning traits like persistence, persuasiveness, being likable, and being responsive, and it asks the salesperson to understand the client's need and to configure a solution to fill that need. Indeed, the best solution selling organizations provide their salespeople with resources to help their clients - brands and agencies -- better understand their own customers. This approach has the effect of adding value in the sales process. It makes the salesperson a desired part of the advertising purchase decision process, because he brings information or understanding that would otherwise be missing.
When the salesperson is wanted in the sales proces for his experience, for his understanding of the clients needs, or for the valuable information he can offer -- not for the Yankees tickets he can offer -- the media represented by the salesperson wins.
ESPN is a great example. Have you ever wondered how they can just keep gobbling up the programming around the sports world? How can they afford to pay higher and higher rights fees for more and more of the premium programming? Simple, they are better at selling sponsorship solutions to their advertisers -- importantly, at higher prices than others. They are not ripping off their customers, they are providing better solutions, based on better knowledge. Some years ago, ESPN invested in a comprehensive survey of the entire population of sports fans to understand them better; who they are demographically, psychographically, and what level of interest different groups exhibit. By becoming experts on all sports fans for marketers, ESPN became the go-to resource when marketers were looking to change and improve their spending and results.
Imagine this hypothetical conversation: Instead of "Hey Ford, would you like to buy a campaign on 'Monday Night Football,' its audience has superior demographics," the conversation goes more like this: "Hey Ford, our research says that ¾ of your potential customers are sports fans. Would you like us to show you more about the different segments of sports fans and which ones are most likely to become new Ford customers?" The first approach gets a salesperson into the office of the buyer, who asks for a price and then asks to lower it. The second approach gets the salesperson into a senior executive's office, who asks, "Are we spending enough against sports fans?" And then she asks, "Would you give me a proposal for a complete sports fan multimedia program?"
No Secret Handshake
If you are in sales management and wondering how to improve your salespeople's solution-selling skills, the first thing to do is look at your sales presentation. Is it like a bad blind date: starting off about yourself (your media) and going on about how great you (your media) are, and finally fearing you've talked too much, asking your date (the customer) "What do you think about me?" Or is the first half of the presentation about the client's market, the client's competitive situation and the client's needs? That is the conversation the client wants to have.
ESPN has been, as they say, killing it. Home run after home run is jumping off, because they see the ball better than others. They are not selling TV or Radio or Print, they are selling solutions across all platforms, including, of course, digital. You, too, can be selling solutions, and it starts with the first conversation with the prospect. If it's about their market and their customers, you just might level the playing field with the behavioral networks.