How to Get Your Sellers to Manage Expectations

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I often say to my salespeople, “Nobody woke up this morning wanting to buy an ad schedule, but they did wake up this morning with problems in their business.” And that’s true. Every business across this country has problems, every single one of them; but an ad schedule won’t fix those problems.

Read that last sentence again. It’s painful, but it’s true.

Any business in America can pick up the phone and buy an ad schedule on radio, TV, print, cable, digital – you name it and they can buy it, right now, this very moment, no problem. However, buying an ad schedule won’t truly solve their problem. You and your ideas are what’s needed to solve the problem. Any ad schedule is merely a means to an end.

Problems in business are an everyday occurrence and are always changing, and the daily problems of a business bring with them the seeds of your opportunities. A few common everyday business problems that come to mind are:

  1. I need more customers
  2. I need a higher average sale transaction
  3. I need to increase my repeat business
  4. I need more qualified phone calls, Web hits, etc.

Of course, the list of business problems is varied and vast, but the above will do for this exercise.

All of the above problems have one unique factor, a “common denominator.” The common denominator is that all of the above problems are things that are counted, or measured, every day, every week, every month, and every quarter in every business. Every business counts things. Businesses know how much they sold yesterday, last week, last month, or last year because every business keeps a record of sales, calls, profits, losses, costs, margins, taxes, expenses, etc.

If I don’t have enough customers (I count them) I have the problem of needing more customers. Your ideas on how to bring me more customers is what I desire, you just happen to work for (fill in the blank).

Example: If a business tells me that they need more customers, it’s a pretty good bet that they know how many customers currently utilize their product or service in any given month, quarter, or year. When a business tells you that they need or want more customers, they have a number in mind, that’s a critical piece of math you need to know – how many customers do they have NOW? A business already knows how many customers they presently have (obviously it’s not enough) and that’s precisely why they want or need more customers. Their current customer base isn’t sufficient (problem) and the difference between their current customers, and the additional customers they ultimately need or want, is where your opportunity lies. Your ideas on how to bring them more customers is what makes you valuable to them, not your ad schedule.

I need to stop here for a moment and reinforce that one’s ability to think and solve problems is hard work. I personally think it’s fun – I like the challenge. Nevertheless, if you’re truly not the type of person to put in the effort to think and create, or even take risks, then stop reading now. Henry Ford was famously quoted as saying: “Thinking is difficult work, which is why so few of us engage in it.” He was right. However, if you love to think and create, the marketplace will pay you handsomely. Once you are able to help me and my business solve a problem, you become valuable to me. Did you catch that? YOU, because of your ideas, become valuable to me. Not your radio station, TV station, newspaper, or website – you!

To be able to assess a problem, or problems, requires a deliberate effort. A good needs analysis will flush this out, and if you know that your objective is to flush out problems during the initial discovery phase of a client visit, you’ll ask questions in such a way as to uncover those problems: the problems of not enough customers, not enough phone calls, not enough Web hits, etc. …all the things that a business keeps track of.

Just this week, I sat in our conference room with one of my AEs and his client, a dentist who has invested in a two-year mobile, digital, and broadcast advertising and marketing relationship with our stations here in Los Angeles. After the initial pleasantries, the dentist whipped out a graph detailing his January-July phone calls. He pointed to the graph and said, “This isn’t working, I think we need to cut back our advertising, our calls are down.”

BAM! There it was. Right there, right in front of us was what this dentist was counting – he was counting the weekly and monthly phone calls to his office as an indication of his ad campaign’s success and/or failure. Because the dentist had historically counted his calls for a number of years, the graph detailed precisely how many calls he was receiving prior to his relationship with us. The graph then showed an impressive jump in calls when his mobile, digital and broadcast schedule began to air; but then, between June and July, the graph indicated that calls had tapered off. It was because the calls had tapered off that the dentist concluded that his campaign “wasn’t working.” Have any of you ever heard those dreaded words from a client: “It’s not working”? Early in my career, I often wondered what the “it” was that the client was referring too when they said, “it’s” not working. In the case of the dentist, the “it” happened to be what he was counting, and the “it” was the number of phone calls he expected to receive from his campaign. (We went on to discover that this drop in calls had always been a seasonal trend – midsummer – in his business. Even though calls were down because of summer vacations, they were still higher than his previous summer.)

The mistake that my AE made here is that he didn’t ask the dentist, prior to the beginning of the campaign, what the dentist considered as “working” or success. Clearly, the dentist had a number in mind as to how many calls he expected the campaign to deliver and any number below that pre-conceived and never agreed upon number was deemed as “not working.”

The famous sales trainer, Jason Jennings, nailed this point when he said: “In the absence of mutually agreed upon expectations, the expectation of the person spending money will always be high.” What my AE should have done to manage expectations during his needs analysis is something like the following:

A.E.:  Doctor, what are you going to look at that will tell you that your campaign is on track and accomplishing your goal of more new patients?

Doctor: If I can get an increase in calls to my office I would consider that a success.

A.E. OK, so that I can manage your expectations, how many calls a month do you typically receive now?

Doctor: About 200 on average – give or take.

AE: How long did it take you to achieve 200 calls a month on average? (This question is a critical qualifier in managing expectations moving forward because it can be used as a common denominator to manage future expectations.)

Doctor: About two years.

AE: OK, so my quick math tells me that if you’re at about 200 calls a month currently, and it took you two years to reach this average, you’ve been averaging 6 to 7 calls per day each month, is that about right? (200 calls p/month average divided by a 30-day month = 6.6 calls per day.)

Doctor: Yes, that’s about right.

AE: OK, good. Since you’re new to our audience it will take a bit of time for your campaign to resonate with our listeners, just like it took you a bit of time to grow your business. Are you OK with looking at an initial 90-day target of  8-9 calls per day on average to start? That will put us on track to do upwards of about 240 calls per month in the first 90 days. (8 calls p/day x 30 days = 240)

Doctor: I’d like to have more, but that’s a good start.

A.E: We’ll eventually ramp up to more, but looking at a goal of 240+ each month for the first 90-days is reasonable given how long it took you to achieve your present call counts.

Doctor: That’s reasonable.

In the above example, knowing what a business counts is critical in managing expectations. It’s important to find a common denominator and use the increases in that metric as an indicator that your campaign is on track to produce the desired outcomes. Managing and agreeing on expectations, before any ad campaign runs, will insure that both you and your client are looking at the same measurement of success. You’ll sleep better at night and you’ll always know where you are and what you need to accomplish in the time frame given

Michael Botta is General Sales Manager – Salem Media Group, Los Angeles. He has been a sales trainer and manager for over 30 years of his broadcast sales career.

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