When it comes to selling advertising, two association publishers say that some of the best methods are the ones that have been around for years.
By Thad Plumley
Knowing exactly what works for sales professionals was the topic of a session at the Association Media & Publishing 2014 Annual Meeting May 19-21 in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Randy Nanna, publisher for Physics Today, a publication of the American Institute of Physics, and Diane Rusignola, associate publisher of Independent Agent magazine of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, brought two different backgrounds to their session titled "Content Trends vs. Tried and True: An Ad Sales Conversation."
Nanna has been with Physics Today for 15 years and in the sales field even longer. Rusignola was working on the editorial side of Independent Agent before she moved to sales slightly more than a year ago. However, as they led the session, one theme emerged and rang loud and clear: Tried-and-true methods that have worked for years can still get names on dotted lines.
"No" is OK. Seriously. Hearing a potential customer is taking a pass on your proposal can be tough for new sales people. But it's not the end. First, it doesn't mean forever; it simply means no for the issue being sold. Secondly, if you're the salesperson, you need answers. "No" means you can now focus on other clients. The longer you spend on a probable "no" is time not spent on a more promising lead.
Advertising agencies can be a nightmare. Let's just get it out there — whether you're young or old, working with advertising agencies is rarely fun. You will often go months without hearing from them, and then when you do, they probably needed an answer to their inquiry yesterday.
Don't get frustrated. That's the nature of the high-stress business that is ad agencies, and don't forget: They're often affiliated with some of your best-paying customers.
Be a consultant. If you're a salesperson approaching potential new customers, do not come out spewing prices and ad sizes. If you do, you probably won't have to wait too long to hear that "no." Rather, consult with your customer.
Set up a phone call and discuss your association. Strive to have 90 percent of what you say on that initial call not center on sales. Trust me; you'll get a response. And when you do, go into consultant mode on how you and the association can help the client reach their customers. Provide ideas on packages you think will work best for them.
The client will feel as if they have made a connection with the association. You'll feel appreciated, and it will serve you and the association well — often for years to come.
Sound like a publisher. When salespeople are finally discussing how they can put the client in front of their ideal audience, it's a must they sound like a publisher as much as a sales person. They have to know the product they're selling — the magazine. A salesperson who can't talk magazine publishing is not taking all of their ammo into battle.
Keep quiet at times. Don't fill every pause with salesmanese. Sure, you're going to have to talk like a publisher and salesperson — but at times, use the first rule for a sales meeting: Listen.
When you do talk, talk your magazine up. Show the client your competition, explain what your publication does better, and what that client's ad in your magazine would mean to you and the association.
Don't be afraid to let the client know how you feel. Nanna shared a phrase he often uses: "You are my most important customer right now." It's not a line. That customer in front of him is the only one who can sign an insertion order. Pretty important, huh?
So it all comes down to relationships. You need to listen like you're a consultant. You need to show how you think you can help. You need to share your ideas in a conversation.
This was true before the Great Recession, and it's true now.
Thad Plumley is director of information products for the National Ground Water Association, which has three member publications featuring advertising. This piece is an excerpt, so don't miss the full article by Plumley, which will be featured in an upcoming issue of Signature magazine. Association Media & Publishing thanks him for covering this Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.