What’s Wrong With Media Sales and Right About Selling the New Gap
Sales is one of the world’s highest paying professions, and media sales (or knowledge/information sales) is among the most lucrative in the field. But, as with all sales, the economy of the last five years has weeded out those with weak skills and a sub par work ethic. The best still do very well, but it has become an industry where most just get by and a few make the lion’s share of commissions.
However, the top performers in our business are aware of a number of factors that prevent many from earning the type of money they did prior to the financial crisis and have taken steps to ensure their approach and sales process reflects these new dynamics.
3 Factors Which Define the “New Normal”
- Buyers are becoming ever more risk averse (pre crisis, the market was flush with liquidity and clients were looking for reasons to buy, now they look to avoid risk).
- While the sheer number of media offerings continues to grow, global marketing spend has decreased significantly, leaving more information/content providers battling it out for less available budget.
- To compete, media as a product is becoming more comprehensive. Many companies in the space now view themselves as knowledge/information providers and offer portfolio type solutions inclusive of events, print and digital publications, online news sites, market intelligence, social media, lead gen, e-mail marketing, etc.
In an environment such as this, the majority of spend allocation flows to a small fraction of media providers that couple the most versatile product with the best trained and most agile (and competitive) of sales forces.
The rest fight for an ever-shrinking pie of ex-budget funds.
However, the single biggest differentiator between the haves and have-nots in media sales is not the product, but the approach. This is good news for sales people, it means they have the ability to alter their circumstances for the better, regardless of the grip other departments have on creating and developing product.
Of course, the most dynamic companies look to include their sales force at the tip of the spear in probing and listening to the market’s demand for viable media solutions, but irrespective of where the salesman stands within his organization, if he engages his customers in the right way, he can join that small fraction of dealmakers who are doing just as well, if not better than they did prior to the economic downturn.
In order to understand how the elite salesperson continues to succeed and thrive in today’s marketplace, it’s important that we first take a closer look at how the majority of media/information based salespeople approach the business of selling.
(Product) Pushing the Prospect Around
98% of media/information salespeople sell using a method known as “pitching product”, or push marketing. It’s a technique where the salesman pushes the features, functions and benefits of a particular product, and why the salesman believes it to be of value.
The typical product pitch sounds something like: ”The beauty of what I’m selling is only outshined by the magnitude of what it will do for you – which is exactly why you must buy it…now!”
However, when you push, you inevitably get resistance, prospects push back. This leaves the salesman with two possible options: confront or convince.
Steamrolling the Prospect
Talking “at” or down to the customer to let them know who’s in charge, or to “clue them in” on why they should consider themselves lucky to have received your call or bludgeoning them with rebuttals to objections that are borne only out of a ham-fisted, shove-it-down-their-throat approach, is a recipe for how to lose friends and alienate people.
Confrontational selling is a lose-lose proposition
It’s Now or Never
Pitching product (in order to be successful) relies on emotionally charged stories fuelled by intense urgency and ginned up enthusiasm all in hope of triggering an impulse buy, of convincing the prospect to make an impromptu purchase,.
If the deal does not close on the first call (and the vast majority do not), the magic moment passes and the sale moves to a second stage (typically involving additional members of the decision making unit and deeper scrutiny of the proposition). A process this particular approach was never designed to withstand.
As the sales cycle lengthens, and the excitement generated during the initial conversation fades, without a genuine need uncovered or addressed, the chances for a deal diminish greatly. And, for those product pitched deals that do make it through the multi-decision maker gauntlet, what are the results?
As the push style of selling highlights functions, features and benefits, and as the functions, features and benefits of most media/information products (advertising, event sponsorship, e-marketing, etc.) are all “relatively” similar, the only unique differentiator between one product and another becomes cost, which is why most advertising/sponsorship salespeople get caught up competing primarily on price, discounting as part and parcel of their sales process and selling at ever lower and lower rates.
Hold on, I’m not a (Product) Pushy Salesman!
As customers become far more sophisticated (and fastidious) in their approach to choosing suppliers, a number of media/information salespeople have abandoned the transactional style of pitch based selling and adopted some of the principles of those that sell larger ticket offerings rooted in longer sales cycles. Many salespeople in the space now consider themselves to be practitioners of a “consultative” method of sales known as solution selling.
Instead of pitching a particular product, when selling solutions, the salesman seeks to assess a prospect’s problems and needs via a question-based approach before attempting to sell an appropriate solution (product or service).
However, for many in our space, “solution selling,” is really just pitch-based selling in disguise, the push method of sales dressed up in fancier clothes to better navigate the initial trepidation of prospects who have grown impatient and resistant to those cold callers who so often launch into hawking product within a few seconds of introducing themselves.
Those that pitch product like to believe they are solution selling because they are engaging in a dialogue about their prospect’s “needs,” but what “needs” are actually being uncovered? Well, what types of questions are typically being asked?
Two types of queries are usually asked in this faux solution sales cum product push environment: audience centric questions and/or product centric questions.
Audience Centric Questions are designed to qualify the prospect’s target market, examples include…
What regions do you focus on?
What type of businesses/consumers do you target?
What type of decision makers do you look to engage with?
Audience centric questions often lead to product centric questions as the salesman naturally looks to build on his newfound knowledge of the customer’s target market by seeking to learn how they identify and communicate with their audience.
Product Centric Questions are intended uncover and identify the prospect’s use of similar or competing media product. Some typical product based questions include…
How do you go about generating leads?
How are you currently marketing your product?
What publications/websites do you currently advertise in?
Do you sponsor events, conferences or exhibitions?
Product centric questions are then followed by results driven questions, as the salesman looks to query the outcome or performance of the customer’s current activities.
What types of results are you experiencing?
Product and audience centric questions often only end up confirming that the prospect either makes use of similar solutions or targets a market the salesman can help with. At best these questions uncover dissatisfaction with results.
These types of questions are obvious and far from compelling, the prospect is typically underwhelmed. Nothing mission critical is discussed and no need/problem unearthed so urgent that it demands a timely solution.
Product and audience centric questions are designed to provide nothing more than a distraction to get past the gate and push product, as both lead to either “we can deliver/help you engage your target market” and/or “we can deliver better product/results than our competition” based pitches.
Selling the Sizzle
So how does a product pitchman make the sale? By selling what he has, and although he has no solution, what he does have is a story, and the best product push sales people sell the sizzle, the steak, and the plate it was served up on.
Unfortunately, with this type of approach, the thrill exists only in the white-hot enthusiasm generated during a “heat of the moment” style call, and if the rate quoted is not low enough to avoid further approval, the chances of an impulse purchase are less than zero. As, once the phone call ends and the spell the fast talking salesman has cast wears off, the prospect is left with nothing more than a half-baked proposal that must hold up to the skepticism of one or more risk-averse decision makers who will wonder: “do we really need this product?” and “do we need it at this price?”
When the sizzle fizzles out, the steak goes cold!
Reframe the conversation
No company wants to part with budget, particularly budget holders and their minions, especially when they are so good at spending it prior to the point at which you have contacted them. It is a rare cold call indeed when a salesman stumbles upon a prospect who says, “the timing of your call couldn’t have been any more perfect, I have a ton of budget to spend, what have you got!”
The number one excuse for holding up a deal when pitching product (or even when solution selling) overwhelmingly has to do with budget. Of course this can be abated with a skillfully positioned approach (especially when engaged in the right type of solution led conversation), for if a customer really wants what you have they will find the money, but for the most part decision makers and especially decision fakers (you know who I’m talking about, the messengers, those we like to refer to as influencers) or even worse, i2i’s (influencers to the influencers) just love to claim budget as the reason for not moving forward with a sale.
For those caught up pitching product, the reality of being forever faced with the budgetary woes/excuses of their prospects leads to a never-ending war of attrition, as the “numbers game” is all that can be counted on to thwart the endless claim that customer budgets have evaporated. And when product pushers do hit the lottery on a sale, it is a frictionless, highly discounted rate that moves the deal over the line. If you are pushing low cost/low value product then playing the odds as your best bet to success is a hazard of the job.
If, however, we want to change the odds in our favor, then we must actively seek to reframe the conversation. As almost all sales calls will lead to a second stage, we need a sales methodology that has impact and holds influence over the process beyond the initial enthusiasm of the first call. To do so we must engage in a different sort of discussion from those who merely pitch product. We must steer the conversation away from one that ends up in an assessment of product vs. price (an inevitability when push selling) and instead look to have a conversation that leaves the customer contemplating the magnitude of the problem he needs fixed, the financial gain in doing so and the minimal investment necessary to see such a return on investment.
The conversation we want to construct has the prospect moving on from the first call un-preoccupied by the trivialities of product vs. price, and rather has them engaged in the possibility of a cure to what ails them, we want our prospects contemplating the severe cost of problems, the business altering value of opportunity should plight be overcome, and the fact that a solution is within reach.
And, while decision making units love to hold on to budget, what no decision maker in any organization wants to own is a problem, especially one that is getting in the way of hitting revenue targets. Executives that do not come up with plans to overcome challenges or take action to solve problems do not tend to last very long.
Root Cause Selling
What product and audience centric questions (as well as the salesman who deals in them) fail to take into account is why the product (or the audience for that matter) is needed by the prospect in the first place.
Why would a prospect ever want to advertise in a magazine, on a website or sponsor an event?
When asked this question, many sales people respond by saying that their clients invest in advertising or sponsorship because they want brand awareness, increased exposure, thought leadership, opportunities to network, build relationships, educate the market, make the business case for their solution, generate leads, etc.
As sound as these objectives are, they are not the core reason why customers buy advertising space or sponsor events. They are merely routes (among many routes) to achieve the customer’s one true need…
The reason clients purchase advertising, sponsor events or do any form of marketing is because they want to…
Sell more product!
The need to sell (more) product is the fundamental need all media opportunities address.
Advertising and event sponsorship are powerful solutions that help clients overcome the challenge of selling their products and services more effectively, efficiently…and more often.
And customers will pay handsomely for solutions that help them sell more product.
If you want to sell a media/information/knowledge solution, one that will gain more than just the fleeting “first call” interest of your prospects, you must uncover, understand and address the problems and challenges they face in attempting to sell their products and services.
Uncovering, understanding and addressing the issues faced by prospects in bringing their offering to market, winning their next big contract or in simply selling more product, and only then offering the appropriate solution to help them do so, is how the top 2% of media/knowledge/information sales people go about the business of selling.
When done in this way, the approach resonates, and it roots out/brings to the fore issues that the client cannot afford to live with…
Leading to the purchase of solutions that clients cannot afford to live without!
The Best of the Best
The top 2% of dealmakers that sell advertising and sponsorship in this manner are noted for their ability to close business at higher value rates than their product-pitching colleagues.
However, a very small fraction of these top performers, the best of the best within our business, understand and make use of a far more evolved and dynamic version of this approach, a process that not even the majority of this highly effective and prosperous 2% is aware of. These are the million dollar producers, dealmakers that regularly generate between $1,000,000 – $5,000,000 a year in sales.
These elite sales people do something only the world’s best consultancies do when closing multi-million dollar deals…
Those at the very top of their game in media/knowledge/information sales practice a sales methodology known as Gap Selling. However, it is a very different version of the technique known to most, one that is powerfully unique from what has been taught up till now
Gap Selling, as originally conceived (and as studied today when learning how to sell “consultatively”), attempts to exploit the “gap” that exists between a customer’s current situation and where that prospect would ideally like to be.
The New Gap Selling methodology is just as simple in concept, yet far more sophisticated in its approach (and effective in its results) because it adds real value to the process.
How does it work?
Unlocking Your Value
We have already established that, in order to sell an advertising/marketing/sponsorship/lead-gen solution, we must uncover, understand and address the challenges faced by our prospects in attempting to sell their products and services.
But, how can we truly expect to help our prospects overcome the issues they face in selling more efficiently, effectively, and more often, unless we also understand the challenges faced by those our prospects look to sell their products and services to…
If you can identify the needs of your prospect’s customers (and potential customers), and communicate those needs (and the challenges faced in meeting those needs) to your prospect, then you are adding real, unique and extremely compelling value to the (sales) equation.
But, how do you deliver this type of highly valuable intelligence to the process?
How do you come to know, understand (let alone be able to communicate) the (commercially solvable) issues and challenges faced by your prospect’s customers?
Well, who is your prospect’s customer in relation to what it is we do in media, marketing and event production?
Your prospect’s customer is your publication or website’s readership, they are your event’s speakers and delegates, they are the target of your market research.
You not only have the access necessary to uncover this priceless data, but those that hold the key to this critical information are a proprietary (and captive) audience of your firm and its product!
Uncovering the New Gap
Selling the New Gap is sublime in that, when you identify the disparity that exists between your prospect’s need to sell product, and his customer’s challenge in finding an appropriate solution, and communicate your understanding of the dilemma faced by both sides, you have exposed are far larger opening than the one which exists in getting your customer from point a to point b and in doing so perfectly positioned to bridge this new “gap” with your solution, bringing powerful value to both parties.
Cultivating a Dialogue
So how do you develop/have this type of solution-led conversation?
How do you add real value by becoming a source of actionable intelligence for your prospects (and clients) and offer credible insight that helps them understand their own customers better?
And, how do you ask effective questions that ensure you uncover issues and challenges that your product can actually solve?
Furthermore, how do you do all this without devolving into push style selling once the prospect is ready for a solution?
How do you sell by not selling, convincing or pushing, but by simply giving your prospects what they will quite naturally request once you have engaged in the right type of dialogue and have asked the right types of questions?
And, finally, how do you do this in an efficient, effective and persuasive manner? How do you package your dialogue and questions in a nimble and agile, yet meaningful and compelling way?
Contact Lawrence Rosenberg