local media insider

Want to increase digital sales? Change the conversation


One of the most common complaints I hear from digital ad directors is that local sales representatives don’t ask clients the right questions.

Golfing with your client is no longer enough to seal an advertising deal. Advertisers have a real need to figure out how to reach people via the internet and are looking for expertise.  That means sales representatives' questions to be more complex and detailed - even with clients they may have had for years. In short, they need to change the conversation.

So what, really, are the right questions? And how do we motivate sales representatives to ask them? 

In my search for the ultimate digital needs analysis, I've talked to advertising directors around the country. There is no clear agreement about the perfect set of questions. So the questionnaire published here is a work in progress. Please add your feedback, and we'll continue to improve upon it.

First a warning: It's probably different that the one you are currently using. It’s long. It's detailed.

It’s meant to be “filled in."

Two experiences convinced me to go with a long form, written document.

First, I used it myself selling digital campaigns and found it extremely helpful, even if used as a guide and filled in later. When clients have multiple products and services - say a golf club with a lunch crowd at its restaurant and a side, catering business – a long form can aid memory and focus critical thinking.

Not only did moving through a careful analysis change the conversation, gain trust – and ultimately seal the deal – but also it forced me to cover the territory and clarify expectations.

Isn’t this what every ad director wants their reps to do in the field?

Second, talking with broadcast consultant Tim Burke about his sales strategy confirmed the value of this approach. Burke is hired by broadcast companies for one reason: To go on calls and bring back big incremental dollars. His average take-down is $40,000 to $75,000 per client. He uses a long form, written document. Yes, business owners not only don't mind all the questions, they open up and start participating.

This is not just digital training wheels, it’s a powerful technique to close longer - and therefore larger - campaigns.

Look at the latest research: A soon to be released study on sales force insights by ItzBelden for the American Press Institute (to get on the list for a copy please send me an email at alisacromer@gmail.com) shows the average number of sales calls received by a typical local business at 21 per week, but managers only see one sales representative per week.

What to do in that one visit makes all the difference. Why not spend 15 minutes more finding out all the methods the advertiser is actually using to gain customers on the internet and via email? What they are willing to invest to gain, say, ten new customers? 

The same study shows that more than 50% of newspaper advertisers have confidence that their sales representatives can advise them on digital strategies.  But are they?

A great needs analysis is one of the most difficult elements to train. It is not really just a list of questions but a conversation.

The sales representative should be looking for the company's best audience and a message that will motivate the audience to take an action. Not just what will motivate an advertiser to buy. Additionally the sales representative needs  to be able to quickly obtain agreement from the advertiser on what "campaign success" will be, and have ideas about how those campaigns might work. You can find the Ultimate Needs Analysis here. 

Meanwhile, as sales representatives are changing the conversations with clients, you can change the conversation in the office.

Instead of asking “what success did you have in the field today,"  ask client-oriented questions:

What were the advertiser’s top three  objectives? Quick, off the top of your head. What is their internet strategy? What do you think will motivate their audience to take an action? If you ask these questions regularily, your team will begin to understand what is expected. 

Think about sharing customer challenges and how top campaigns are working - instead of just deals made  - at sales meetings.
You will have to sell this approach, but who is better at sales than you? Do the math with your sales reps on annual revenue per client that gets a measurable return and continues to buy, versus the one that sees advertising as a kind of neccesary voodoo and buys accordingly.

To a large degree, you control the conversation, whether informally in the office, at individual meetings and at group meetings. These are opportunities you have to reshape the internal culture.

A few shout-outs this week: Thanks to John Krivosheyff, Corporate Director of Sales Development and Training at the Journal Register and John Triplett, ad director at KPHO for sharing their thinking on needs analysis. Kudos to Erica Fetterolf, a first year account executive who uses her extensive Facebook base to prospect for leads and shared a trick or two with us. And congratulations to Jason Naidu of Black Press and Zachary Payer and Mike Albin of Evening Post Publishing on launching local business directories that look like home runs.


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