What’s Stopping You?


(By James Bahm) My daughter is at that age where loose teeth and visits from the Tooth Fairy are becoming more common. Every time she has a loose tooth – usually one that’s barely hanging there – we say it’s time to pull it, she shakes her shoulders and says, “But, I’m scared!”

I looked at her recently, and said, “Sweetheart, anticipation of something is worse than the actual experience.” It’s like looking at a roller coaster with its loops and corkscrews and vortices.

That scary feeling tends to intensify as you’re going up that first hill, listening to the clinks, trying to count them, but you lose count as you climb higher and approach that first drop when your stomach retreats into your throat and you shoot down and around and upside down… only to come to rest about 90 seconds later. You look at your parents and scream, “OH MY GOSH, THAT WAS AMAZING!!! I WANNA GO AGAIN!”

Why are so many professional salespeople so dog-gone scared of contacting prospects?  When I started in this business, I used to think of these “Decision Makers” as these tough-as-nails Grizzly-Adams-types who’d be sitting at their desk cleaning their hunting rifle, eating a bear, and ready to shoot the next seller who dares enter their domain on a cold call.

Rest assured, after thousands of cold calls, I’ve only ever come across one decision maker who was cleaning a gun and that’s because he owned a chain of outdoor sports stores, and they were cleaning the ones in a display case.

The reality is the unknown decision makers are like you and me: human. They are responsible for many facets of a business, including what you’re there to talk about. Yes, there are those individuals who are not the best of people; however, I’d say these are definitely the exception, not the norm. Most of them, on the other hand, want to know how you can help their company – just maybe not at the precise time you showed up out of the blue.

They want to know a few things:

  1. Do you have something of VALUE for them?
  2. Do you know what you’re talking about?
  3. Are you any different than the other Bobs, Carols, Teds, and Alices who stop by every other day?

Let’s look at each in turn.

Have Something of Value

Only your customers can determine value. Remember that. You are in the business of marketing and advertising (these are not the same thing), so what you need to say better be about this. Here’s what I mean:

When I was with Xerox we would have a different vertical blitz each month and the next one focused on churches, schools, and non-profits who qualified for pricing under the Xerox National Account Contract under the Catholic Purchasing Services.  Xerox sent out flyers for us to use, and I reached out to a friend at corporate via email and asked them to please change the bullet points because nothing in the flyer was valuable to the decision-makers who’d see it.

They listed a handful of bullet points touting the DPI (dots per inch) of this particular class of multi-function printers – the ColorQube – along with the print speeds, the resolution, and whatnot.  In other words, everything they thought was valuable was nothing the decision-makers cared about. They were hesitant to change them for the entire team of field agents; however, they changed it for me, and over that month I sold four units.

The purpose of that example is two-fold. What those in the business often think of as being valuable to the customer doesn’t matter nearly as much to the customer as it does to them. This means that what you think is valuable about your cluster doesn’t matter to your prospects, and what your prospects think is valuable to their customers is most likely not.

If you are prospecting attorneys, I’d take a week and focus on different segments each day for a week: divorce, personal injury, malpractice, wills/estates, and criminal. Then, the week before, look at marketing trends in these fields. I did some research on divorce law, and I might use this VBR (Valid Business Reason) for some of the attorneys I contact:

According to iLawyerMarketing.com, Despite the rise in mobile phone usage, a new iLawyerMarketing study shows that the majority of attorney research is done on desktops.  And several studies show that using on-air and digital marketing simultaneously increases the efficacy of both…

Yes, your prospect will likely already know these; however, that statement has nothing to do with KRAP, its listeners, or any digital platforms.  It was all about their industry.  If you use that – or some variation thereof – to 25 divorce attorneys, you might get two or three CNA appointments.  I’d call that a good day.  And when you lead with that, do you know what you also show?

You Know What You’re Talking About

Researching your prospect’s industry is one way you know your industry.  I’ve had several decision-makers I spoke with who told me they were familiar with whatever data point I shared, and they added a few more that I hadn’t considered, and it started a conversation.

Another way to show you know what you’re talking about: never mention anything about your station(s) until your second or third meeting with the decision maker. I’ve had several who asked me about my stations in the CNA, and each time I replied to the effect of: “My stations don’t matter. I know when you called, you said you liked KRAP, but just because you like the music we play doesn’t mean that station is the right one for you.”

“Once I have more information, I might learn that KLMN is the better fit even though it has fewer listeners. None of my stations matter if we are not a good fit for your company. To determine that, I need to ask you a few more questions.”

Don’t take the bait. As much as you want to talk about ABC promotion, don’t. Because then, you’re no different than Bob, Carol, Ted, or Alice.

If you have any fear or apprehension of calling that prospect, or setting that meeting, or just having a conversation with someone, realize that the feeling in your gut, and the scenarios playing over in your mind are much worse than what will occur.

The only apprehension you should feel is being like everyone else who’s tried to sign that prospect and failed.

Bottom Line: If you want to be different, show your prospects how different you can be. 

James Bahm has more than 30 years of experience in broadcasting, sales and marketing, and recruiting and hiring. He is the author of Don’t Yuck My Yum – a Professional Development and Sales & Marketing book.  Reach him via email. Read James’ Radio Ink archives here.


  1. A Grizzly Adams-type media buyer here: the 6% of my sales reps (seriously, 3 out of 50 I work regularly with) who know what they’re talking about — both my clients’ business, and their own media outlet — garner about 90% of my attention. It doesn’t take a lot of time nor effort to properly pitch…I know because I also spent 6 years in sales.

    Excellent column!


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