5 Important Media Sales Lessons From 1200 Business Owners

The great thing about sales is that there are lessons every day. Sometimes they’re new ones, and sometimes they’re painful reminders of lessons we’ve forgotten.

sales lessons from skeptical businesspeople

photo by Kurhan/dpc

In the past six years as a consultant and sales trainer, I’ve met with about 1200 business owners and managers all over the United States.

Because I’m not “the salesman” anymore, businesspeople are now willing to tell me exactly how they feel about the television, radio, digital, print, outdoor, and transit salespeople who call on them every day… and sometimes how they feel about me!

Here are five things I’ve learned from 1200 business owners:

1. They don’t like it when you haven’t done your homework. This lesson was driven home in 2011 when an HVAC dealer chewed me out, in front of an AE and her sales manager, because I hadn’t looked the store up online before the meeting. “You could’ve found out the answers to your last three questions by looking at our website. Why should I waste my time with you when you couldn’t be bothered to do a little basic research?”

I haven’t made that mistake since, and I now emphasize it in my training. If you haven’t spent some time with their website before your first meeting with them, there isn’t going to be a second meeting.

Read “How I Began My Sales Career” Stories — and Tell Yours — Here!

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There’s more to pre-call research than just the business’ website. I’ve written an e-book on how to prepare for a sales call in 15 minutes or less. You should download it and read it.

2. They don’t expect perfection, but they expect you to make things right. Customers understand that things can go wrong, and they are willing to give you some slack — but only if you pro-actively take responsibility. This means notifying the client immediately when something goes wrong, and quickly offering a well-thought-out solution. The best way, by far, to deliver bad news is in person. The second best way is the telephone.

The worst way to deliver bad news? Email.

3. They will answer your questions… but it’s up to you to ask. In any given week I will ask 20 different business owners how much they spend on advertising and exactly where they spend it. On average, 16 will give me the information without any resistance, and another two will do so after some prompting. There are always going to be a couple of soreheads. The same goes for things like gross sales, average transaction, closing percentage, and margin.

Sometimes they have to look the information up — I’ve seen people leave the room and come back with big notebooks filled with spreadsheets. But they’ll do it if you ask. Here’s a powerful 3-question method for getting at the advertising budget.


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4. Rankers do not belong in a presentation to a direct client. Rankers breed cynicism — many clients have seen dozens of rankers from the dozens of salespeople who have been in before you (see Lesson #1 above), and they have figured out that the seller’s radio or TV station is always Number One on the list.

Rankers also create the risk that the conversation will turn toward a property that’s not yours. Even if you’re at the top of the list, the client may love a show on Station #3… and the ranker will remind the customer that he meant to call the rep from that station back. Leave the rankers in your desk for agency pitches.

5.  A hard close might get you a signature… but it can kill a relationship.

I learned this first as a salesperson for the New York Mets when the owner of a sanitation company scrawled “Cancelled” across his luxury suite contract, sent it to me by registered mail, and refused to take my calls.

I learned it again as a radio seller when, under pressure from my boss to hit my “Indy Race” sponsorship package quota, I leaned hard on the local manager of a wireless company. He signed the contract, ran the ads, paid the bill, and never talked to me again.

A couple of years ago a television sales manager told me I wasn’t closing hard enough. I agreed to let her “show me how it’s done”. For two days she browbeat each customer at the end of my presentations. Several were visibly offended, but four of them signed in the room. The following week two of them canceled the deals. One of them told the AE, “I just signed so you’d let me leave.”

Should you ask for the order, probe for objections, and address concerns? Absolutely.

But think about how you’ve felt when an aggressive salesperson tried to pressure you into a decision you weren’t ready to make.

A decision made by a client who is ready to decide is much more likely to stick… and so is the relationship.

Question: What’s the most important sales lesson you’ve learned from your customers? You can leave a comment by clicking here.



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