How to Turn Sales Opportunity Into Defiance

“I keep trying to tell him how dumb his radio buy is, and he just won’t listen.”

insulting a client chhoice won't make you a sale

Photo by pathdoc

So said a television account executive as we prepared for a sales call with a window retailer. The owner was a long-time radio user, and my job was to convince him to start using TV and digital. The AE had been calling on him for more than a year.

“I’ve shown him all the research from TVB — people just don’t listen to the radio anymore, and he really needs to move over to television.”

“What does he tell you?” I asked.

“He gets defensive, and he tells me his radio’s working fine.”

Whatever medium we work in — television, radio, newspaper, outdoor, digital, — we see “research.” Some of it is independently done, but much of what we see is produced by our industry association. It can be helpful, but it’s designed in part to convince our customers that our medium works better than the other guys.

Television has TVB, the Television Bureau of Advertising. TVB has studies to show advertisers that TV works better than radio.

The radio industry has RAB — the Radio Advertising Bureau. RAB has charts and graphs to show advertisers that radio works better than TV.

When you’re new to the business, and all you see is your own industry’s research, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve got the only medium, or the only station within that medium, that works. From there, you can leap to the conclusion that anyone who uses the other guys is either misinformed or stupid.

But as Gregg Easterbrook once put it, “Torture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything.” Advertisers who have seen charts and graphs from competing media reps are inclined to believe none of them.

Trying to use those numbers to convince a prospect that the decision he’s made is a bad one is unlikely to have the desired effect. Even if you’re right, you’re wrong.

Anthony Iannarino, author of The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, puts it this way:

The weakest choice available when trying to create a compelling reason for your dream client to consider leaving their existing supplier (or partner, as the case may be) is to directly attack your competitor. This approach creates resistance, and you cause your prospective client to defend their existing supplier—and their choice.”

A much better approach is to carefully ask a question to see if there might be any doubt in the prospect’s mind already. The question I like to use for an advertiser who’s been using a competitor for a long time is this:

“Is [name of medium] working as well for you as it did five years ago?”

You can then tailor your approach to the answer.

I asked the window retailer that question. He thought about it for a few seconds, and then told me that his radio was still getting results, but there’d been a bit of a drop-off in the past couple of years.

I then asked him which of the four radio stations he was using worked best, and he told me that he thought that two were producing good results and two were not.
I advised him to stay with the two that were working and drop the other two. We came back with a plan to use that money on a television/digital strategy, and he agreed to do it.

Some prospects will insist that their advertising is working just as well as ever. No chart or graph will convince them otherwise, and they’re not going to cancel something they believe is making money for them. It can be very difficult to convince them to change.

But it’s not impossible — sometimes you can persuade them that using your products can open additional doors for them.

In formal PowerPoint presentations, I set aside a slide that commends them for their success. In big red letters, I say this:

You’re doing really well already without me.

Here’s how to make a strong campaign even stronger.  

From there, I detail a strategy that either adjusts their messaging slightly, or demonstrate that we can put that message in front of desirable consumers who aren’t seeing it now.

Does this work every time? No. There are plenty of times the client decides not to take action.

But it works much better than a direct attack, which will only alienate the client. Respecting your customer’s decision leaves the door open to further conversations… and business when they’re ready.


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