What’s Wrong With B2B Media Sales and Right About Selling the (New) Gap
Sales is one of the world’s highest paying professions, and media 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 media companies battling it out for less available budget.
- To compete, media product is becoming more comprehensive. Many companies now offer portfolio type solutions inclusive of print, digital, online, social media, lead gen, e-mail marketing and event sponsorship. )
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 the individual (sales) contributor, 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 organisation, if he engages the market in the right way, he can join that small fraction of dealmakers who are doing just as well, if not better than they did pre-crisis.
In order to understand how the elite salesperson continues to succeed and thrive in today’s economy, it’s important that we first take a closer look at how the majority of media salespeople approach the business of B2B selling.
(Product) Pushing the Prospect Around
98% of media salespeople sell using a method known as “pushing product.” It’s a technique where the salesman pitches the features, functions and benefits of his product, and why THE SALESMAN BELIEVES it to be of value.
The typical product-push 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, whenever 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 prospect 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
As no real need is ever addressed, pitching (pushing) product (in order to be successful) relies on emotionally charged stories fuelled by massive urgency and ginned up enthusiasm, all in hopes of triggering an impulse buy, an impromptu purchase. If the deal doesn’t 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 push pitched deals that do make it through the multi-decision maker gauntlet, what are the results?
As the product-push style of selling “pushes” features, functions and benefits, and as the features, functions and benefits of most media products (ad space, e-marketing, event sponsorship, etc.) are all “relatively” similar, the only unique differentiator between one product and another becomes price, which is why most advertising/sponsorship salespeople get caught up competing primarily on cost, 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!
The interesting thing is that if you polled the majority of media salespeople they would tell you that they don’t push product, that they take quite a different approach to selling. Many of them would swear on a stack of bibles that rather than pitch product, that they “solution sell,” that they take a “consultative approach” to doing business with their clients.
How is that possible and where does this misconception stem from?
Let’s take a look at what differentiates “product push” from solution selling…
Core Elements of the Product Push Approach to Sales
- Pitch based approach
- Heavy promotion of the features, functions and benefits that THE SALESMAN BELIEVES has value
- Emotionally driven and urgent style which seeks to generate an “impulse purchase”
Core Elements of Solution-Led Selling
- Question based approach
- Seeks to uncover prospect needs/challenges
- Matches product to what the PROSPECT CONSIDERS VALUABLE in a solution
The key differentiator between these two techniques is that solution selling is a question (or dialogue) based approach while product push is a pitch based approach.
Those that push product assume they are solution selling because they believe they are engaging in a dialogue about their prospect’s “needs.”
But what “needs” are actually being uncovered?
Well, what type of questions are being asked?
Two types of questions (if any) are typically asked in a product push environment: product centric questions and/or audience centric questions.
Product Centric Questions (queries around the use of similar/competing media solutions)
- What type of magazines/websites do you currently advertise in?
- Do you sponsor events, conferences, exhibitions?
- How are you currently marketing your product?
- What type of results are you experiencing?
Audience Centric Questions (queries related to better understanding the prospect’s target market)
- What regions do you focus on?
- What type of buyers do you engage with?
- How are you reaching them currently?
- What type of results are you experiencing?
Product and audience centric questions merely confirm that the prospect either makes use of competing solutions or targets the salesman’s end-users (audience/delegates). 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 problem unearthed so urgent that it demands a timely solution.
Product and audience centric questions are designed to provide nothing more than a convenient opening to push product, as both lead to either “we can deliver your audience” or “we can deliver better results” type approaches.
Selling the Sizzle
So how does a product push salesman 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 salesmen sell the sizzle, the steak, and the plate it was served on.
Unfortunately the thrill exists only in the white-hot enthusiasm generated during a “heat of the moment” style call, and if the rate quoted isn’t low enough to avoid additional approval, the chances of an impulse purchase taking place are less than zero.
Of course, 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?” and “do we need it at this price?”
When the sizzle fizzles out, the steak goes cold!
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 salespeople respond by saying that their clients invest in advertising or sponsorship because they want brand awareness, increased exposure, thought leadership, lead generation, opportunities to network, build relationships, educate the market, make the business case for their solution, etc. etc., etc..
As reasonable as these objectives are, they are ABSOLUTELY NOT why clients buy advertising space or sponsor events. They are merely SOLUTIONS (among many solutions) to the client’s one true need…
The reason clients advertise and/or sponsor events 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 clients will pay handsomely for solutions that will help them sell more product. duct.
If you want to sell a solution, one that will gain more than just the fleeting “first call” interest of your prospects, you must uncover, understand and then 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 prescribing the appropriate (advertising/sponsorship) solution to help them do so, is how the top 2% of media salespeople go about the business of B2B 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 large ticket/high value rates.
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 salespeople 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 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, via a method known as SPIN (to this day a very potent technique), the “gap” that exists between a prospect’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?
Unlock Your Value
We have already established that, in order to sell an advertising/sponsorship 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…THEIR CUSTOMERS!
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 B2B media and event production?
Your prospect’s customer is your publication or website’s readership, they are your event’s speakers and delegates.
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! on?
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, then you are perfectly positioned to bridge this “gap” with your solution and bring powerful value to both parties. of questions?
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 prospect-centric issues and challenges that your product can actually solve?
Furthermore, how do you do all this without devolving into a product push style pitch 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