Advertising, as you probably already know, is simply one element of your overall marketing plan. But what an important element it is. It’s how most business owners expose their business opportunity to the masses, even if those “masses” are in their own backyards. Traditional media companies such as newspapers, radio and TV stations, magazines and outdoor billboard/signage firms hire sales people to sell their products to the business owners in their territory. They are hired and trained to sell their product. Let me repeat that for emphasis. They are hired and trained to sell their product. That means therefore, that they are NOT hired and trained to sell your product or service. They are NOT trained as marketers. They are NOT skilled copy writers. They make their money selling:30 and:60 second increments of time; space in column inches and outdoor exposure in blocks of weeks. That is what they get paid for. Sell the time and space, and get paid. End of story. Poor media salespeople have very skinny kids.
Despite these facts, I regularly see business owners turning their marketing and advertising responsibilities over to these uneducated, uninterested and altogether unsympathetic commission focused sellers. I can say these things because I’ve spent decades as one of those reps. I started out, as do most reps, with the Yellow Pages being told to “go out there kid and make your fortune”. I know what it’s like for my family to be totally dependent on my ability to convince someone to buy my stuff. And I’m really, really good at it.
Over the decades, I’ve learned that media sales reps can only be truly successful long-term if they personally take control of their education and development. The goal is to become a sustaining resource for their customers and/or clients. Again, the training programs most media outlets offer their sales people (if they offer one at all) are unbelievably bad. According to a recently published Harvard Business Review article, only 10% of the population can be considered “learning centred”. We’re the ones that seek out education by means of classes, lectures, CDs, DVDs, books, magazines and so forth. Logically, the remaining 90% of the population needs to be prodded, cajoled and externally motivated to learn something new on a consistent basis. That’s what sales managers are for.
I’ll say it again, business owners must stop handing their marketing and advertising responsibilities over to their media sales reps and start becoming accountable for the results themselves. I know that as a small business owner, time is tight. You’re overworked and often lack resources. You wake up early in the morning and go to bed late each night exhausted. But it doesn’t matter. Business owners must educate themselves with respects to marketing effectiveness and advertising strategies if they expect to generate the kind of profits required to “live the good life”.
Here are 10 questions you can ask your media sales rep to determine if they have made the transition from a sales amateur order taker, to a “sustaining resource” – someone you can count on for accurate and valuable advice to help grow your business in the years to come.
1. What marketing books have you read in the past 90 days?
Doesn’t it make sense that a well read media sales rep could be a real advantage for you? The local Chapters or Amazon book store is overflowing with excellent books on the subjects of advertising, media and marketing. Your sales rep needs to stay on top of the best-seller business charts. They need to know what is hot, what is working and what strategies have fallen by the wayside.
2. How do you keep yourself up to date with the changes taking place in the world of marketing?
This question will help you to understand how proactive your media sales rep really is. Encourage them to share magazine articles with you. What seminars or conferences have they attended? What do they know about the changes taking place in your industry? How are other businesses in other locations solving the challenges and problems you face with your business in your small town?
3. What are the top 10 marketing books I should have in my library?
I know, more reading. But it’s important. Ask your rep to provide a list of some of the best books on marketing and advertising for your personal library. Ask them to submit a brief book report and take the time to review it with them. You should have books on copy writing, direct response marketing, internet marketing, basic sales strategy, ad layout, marketing theory and alternative marketing strategies you can implement in your market.
4. What type of ongoing marketing educational material will you provide so I can continuously improve my skills?
Put the onus on your rep to provide you with educational material to expand your horizons. What is being done in other, totally unrelated industries that you can adapt to your own? What ideas can you beg, borrow or steal to make your marketing and advertising more effective? Asking the question also forces your sales rep to begin procuring information they can share with you. It forces them to become more aware of the world outside their office walls and encourages them to expand their own horizons.
5. What information will you provide for my staff to improve their sales skills?
Every small business owner needs help teaching and training their staff to become more effective sales people and better communicators. Media organizations have an inexhaustible supply of information available to them from supporting associations that you need to tap into. Ask your rep to collect articles, course material and industry-specific resources to help you with your staff training issues. Bring your media rep in-house and ask them to prepare a lunch time training session for your staff on selling best practices. If they won’t or can’t do it themselves, ask them to help source someone from the business community who would be willing to do it.
6. What is the name of your personal website?
Not the media outlet site. I’m talking about your sales reps personal website. Having a content rich website for their own customers and clients is the sign of a forward thinking, customer focused sales rep. It provides valuable information that you as a business owner can access according to your timetable. Much of the information your rep has collected can be made available on this site so the next time it’s 3:00 am and you can’t sleep, you can go to the site, download an article or two and educate yourself at your own pace.
7. What guarantees are you willing to make?
Ouch, this one hurts. If there’s one question a sales rep NEVER wants to hear it’s, “What guarantees will you make?” Here’s one guarantee you need to hear. “Your ad will run as promised and if for any reason we screw it up, you won’t have to call us…we’ll make it right!” Understand this. The sales rep cannot guarantee results. The best copy writer, the best photographer, layout designers, producers…they can’t guarantee results either. But you can certainly stack the odds in your favour. There are countless examples of advertisers who have successfully gone before you. I’ve found that many business owners don’t know the purpose of the ad they’re purchasing. They don’t articulate what the ad is supposed to do. And so they spend the money, fail to get a response – because they don’t know what to look for – and come back saying, “That ad you sold me didn’t work.”
Read my lips. Advertising ALWAYS works. It always does what it’s supposed to. And that is…It delivers your message. End of story. It is NOT the media that doesn’t work…it’s your ad! (Don’t believe me? Try this. Call your newspaper sales rep and ask them to insert a one line advertisement ANYWHERE in next weeks’ paper offering to pay $100,000.00 cold, hard cash to anyone who sees the ad and brings it into the store. Go ahead, try it…I dare you. You’ll find that newspaper you say “never works”, will work indeed!) Carve out the time to educate yourself how to write headlines that instantly grab the interest of your prospect and compel them to take action. Your body copy should flow in such a manner that it leads your engaged listener, viewer, or reader to a predetermined action. What exactly is it that you want your prospect to do? Find you online? Fill out a form or ballot? Drop by the store? Dial a phone number? Request a free report? Visit your website? Those are the types of specific, planned outcomes you can aim for.
8. Historically, how successful have other businesses in my category been when advertising with your media?
If absolutely no one in your business category has ever had any success generating a specific result or outcome using the salespersons’ recommended media, what makes you think you’ll fare differently? I’m not saying you can’t, I’m just saying “give me some data to support your proposal!” At the very least, the question will encourage your sales rep to do some research on your behalf. Ask your rep to find similar advertisers in other towns, maybe even in other countries that have had success. Radio stations and newspapers often have access to sales reps in different markets. Request their customers’ phone number or email address and begin a conversation with them. Agree to share your findings, your personal experiences – successes and failures – and in the process grow your own business network.
9. Please take a look at my last 3 ads (or scripts) and tell me how they rank on headline, body copy and call to action. What would you change?
This is a test. It’s another way of finding out if your media sales representative has ever taken the time to educate themselves on the finer points of marketing and advertising. Plenty of resources are available that will teach you how to evaluate the strength of your offerings’ headline, copy and call to action. I know of some copy writers who will write 20, 50 or 100 headlines before they even begin to write the body copy of the offer. How many headlines have you written, evaluated, discarded and adopted? You want your sales representative to help you, but you don’t want them making the final decision for you! This is your company, your product or service and no one knows more about it than you. I’m stunned when a client says, “I’m too busy to write an ad today. You do it and I’ll read it over before it goes to print (or air).” What do I know about styling hair, repairing a transmission, making cheesecake or neutering your pet? Squat is what.
Imagine you and I are in your jewellery store talking about an upcoming marketing campaign and a well dressed lady steps in and approaches you, obviously wanting some information. What business owner in their right mind would ask their media sales rep to handle the customer? “You talk to her, I’m too busy to sell a diamond today”. And yet that same business owner regularly asks their media sales rep to speak on their behalf to hundreds if not thousands of existing and potential customers.
10. How often will you be in contact with me during the next 12 months?
You have a right to establish your contact schedule with your media rep. It doesn’t always have to be a face to face visit. It could be an occasional lunch meeting, a weekly email update, a monthly ezine or sales call, but it should be planned with a definite outcome in mind. If a rep ever says, “What have you got for me today?” you should send them packing; call their sales manager and demand a new customer focused sales representative to care for your precious account. There you have it.
10 Questions You Must Ask Your Advertising Sales Rep To Boost Response and Save Big Money.
By now, you’ve probably come to realize that this isn’t easy. This is going to take time. You can’t implement everything at once, but you should be able to ask your sales rep a couple of questions during future meetings together and expect them to act upon their answers. The success of any marketing or advertising campaign you choose to put in place is 100% your responsibility. As with every professional service provider you engage, you should expect your media sales rep to take you seriously and provide you with the best advice and assistance possible to boost response and save big money!