Salespeople: Stop Looking For Trouble

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(Paul Weyland) Selling — and this is my definition — is simply the modification of the behavior of another person, without that person’s necessarily knowing that his or her behavior is being modified, in order to arrive at a mutually beneficial conclusion. Would you go along with that? In other words, it’s practicing psychology without a license. And when media is what you’re selling, if you’re good at it and you’re involved with creative, now you’re practicing psychology without a license on a massive scale!

So, if you’re into this for a living, why would you unintentionally drop bombs into your presentations that make it seriously more difficult for you to arrive at that mutually beneficial conclusion?

Understand that I have hardly ever met a local direct decisionmaker who is an expert at creative, much less an expert at media buying. You’re supposed to be the expert, guiding the client toward better advertising campaign ideas, as well as guiding her toward a sufficient schedule so that the commercial can reach the people who need to see or hear it the most.

But instead, here’s what salespeople, even some with decades of experience, will say when it’s time to talk about the creative. “OK, what do you want to say in the commercial?” Honk!

Nooooooo! Again, the local direct decisionmaker is most likely not an expert at creative. Look, they have the same lifetime of experience watching television and listening to the radio that we have. So they think commercials are supposed to sound and look like commercials. When you ask them what they want to say, out will pop the same old tired and meaningless and mediocre ad-speak cliché words and phrases they’ve heard all their lives.

“We’re family-owned and -operated, sons Ed and Rick both work here [yeah, we want to know where those little criminals are every minute of the day], we’re all A.S.S.- certified [whatever that means], blah, blah, blah.”

We dutifully write all of that crap down, take it back to the station, mix in some of our own favorite clichés, and then give that to production. The production person takes that information and generates another CrapMaster commercial that looks or sounds just like everyone else’s spot.

In the meantime, we don’t use any of the successful talking points the client uses day in and day out to make sales on the showroom floor, on the lot, on the phone, in the client’s office. No. Those jewels are absolutely absent from the copy. Nor does the spot convey the client’s moral obligation to do the right thing for his customers. In other words, it’s doomed to work marginally at best, and at worst to cause failure, despair, hard feelings, and cancellations.

The commercial turns out to be all about the client and not about identifying and solving everyday consumer problems. We have to control the creative, and we need to make that creative all about the consumer, not about the client.

You know, value almost always trumps price. People don’t like being “sold,” but they don’t mind being informed. So let’s say you know something extremely valuable that the client does not know. Say, how to make commercials that really work for the client and make his cash register ring, without the client’s having to sacrifice his gross margin of profit. And let’s say that your plan is so good that the advertiser is now absolutely convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that your plan for his success is better than his. To the point that he’s ready to hand you the keys and say, “You drive.” And then you screw it up with this question.

“Well, what’s your budget for this?” Honk!

Nooooooo! You don’t ask them what their budget is, because they’re skeptical and they’ll low-ball you almost every single time. Provided you’ve already done some homework, you do an ROI analysis based on their average sale and gross margin of profit, and you tell them how much it’s going to cost. Go high. Take what you’d normally ask for a month, and ask for that much a week. You can always come down when negotiating, but after that it’s really hard to go up.

I tell local direct decisionmakers what it would cost to own their product or service category (even if they can’t afford that right now), because they have a right to know how much the Cadillac Plan could cost. Now they can aspire to get to that point someday. You should set the bar by telling the client how much this great idea will cost. You raise the standard. But don’t blow it again by saying:

“OK, we’ll run this for next month.” Honk!

Nooooooo! Always sell long-term. I tell clients, “I’m here to help you set up a five-year marketing and advertising plan. What we’ll do is break this down into annual increments so we can measure progress.”

If the idea is good enough, the client will nod, because it looks like someone who knows what they’re doing is on board. Heck, let’s be honest. Most of these clients don’t have a five-month plan. Many don’t even have a five-week plan. That’s why they jump around from medium to medium to eventually nothing at all.

9 COMMENTS

  1. @Bob M, I think there is an elegant way to build confidence with the client by communicating “I want to be part of your growth” without holding him upside and shaking him for every cent. Good business owners I work with appreciate someone who has a long vision and will be a partner. That doesn’t mean asking them to sign in blood on the first meeting, and I don’t think Paul’s advice is anything other than sharing that you care about the client’s growth this month and 60 months from now. I think grabbing whatever money is on the table without thinking about the future is what really ruins credibility. (And the phrase is “in other words…”)

  2. They say “the smartest person you know, thinks just like you” I must admit that even though Paul is a competitor of mine, I usually agree with most of his concepts.
    In terms of thinking he’s “money-grabbing” or “over-the-top aggressive” I can tell you I know of no campaigns that failed because they spent too much, but I’ve seen many advertisers fail, and blame radio, because they’ve under-spent.
    In terms of being branded “a freak” because you ask the client to think long term, those businesses, and those sales people, who only think of this month’s or this quarters results, seldom get to last long term.
    Keep up the good work, Paul

  3. I am qualified to speak to the messaging portion of Paul’s piece.
    So far as radio’s creative is concerned, this has been an incredibly weak link for decades.
    Most writers, I suspect, figure they have actually had all those bases covered – for years. Some decent results get them a pass to say, “I’m good. I’ve got this one.”
    Even as they have been able to get away with a 60 year-old model of advertising copy, originally intended for print (Ogilvie, Abbott, Bernbach et al), audiences could be influenced to a much greater degree.
    As hardly anyone cares to entertain the alternatives, Paul has, still, dragged that stinky, rotting carcass back into the sunlight. This, even as one understands that one ought not to fart in polite company.
    Good on ‘im.

  4. I have read a number of Paul’s writings including his books and don’t necessarily agree with all of your observations. Unless This column was edited for space, Paul normally does a wonderful breakdown of gross profit margins,average sale and the ROI showing how many customers your station needs to deliver through the customer’s doors to pay for the weekly investment. But then I can’t speak for both Radio Ink and whether this column had that information. I also don’t know Paul but I think it’s unfair for you to peg him as a “consultant” looking for his next gig! Read a little more about Paul’s writings and watch some of his videos. The man knows his stuff.

  5. This column is dangerously fraught with some advice that if used, will immediately blow your credibility to the client. Tell any smart business person that you are there for a “5 year plan” and they will immediately consider you as a freak. …And Weyland says “go high and ask for what you normally would ask for in a month”– another words, ask for 4x the money- anyway, do that, and when the client realizes how over-the-top aggressive you were…you will look like the typical “money grabbing salesperson”… you will have lost all credibility and you will longer be perceived as a ptofesskonal marketer. …Granted, the consultants on Radio Ink are writing what they know the station owners want to see, to get more consultant jobs, but going so far as to give advice that would damage a salesperson’s credibility is not good.

    • @Bob M, I think there is an elegant way to build confidence with the client by communicating “I want to be part of your growth” without holding him upside and shaking him for every cent. Good business owners I work with appreciate someone who has a long vision and will be a partner. That doesn’t mean asking them to sign in blood on the first meeting, and I don’t think Paul’s advice is anything other than sharing that you care about the client’s growth this month and 60 months from now. I think grabbing whatever money is on the table without thinking about the future is what really ruins credibility. (And the phrase is “in other words…”)

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