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Peter Wagner's 'Get Real' column: Use more SALT to sell more ads

By Peter W. Wagner

I've coined a number of maxims over the years to keep our Iowa Information sales team pointed down the road to success.

The most often repeated is "Have the courage of your convictions." Becoming a success selling anything -from clothing to real estate -is never easy. Selling an intangible is as difficult to measure as advertising can be exceptionally difficult. If the print salesperson doesn't truly believe in the reach of his publication, the ability of print advertising to deliver and their own selling skills, they'll fail. It would be better for them to find a career selling women's shoes.

Another often repeated maxim is "Never attempt to plow a field more than three times without breaking ground." Our various publications are located in Iowa farm country. To us this maxim simply means don't attempt to sell a new project or promotion more than three times without closing at least one sale. There are only a limited number of potential prospects for any idea or promotion.

If the salesperson doesn't close at least one of the first three presentations something is wrong. It could be the promotion is difficult for the client to comprehend. It might be the promotion is too expensive or stretched out over too many weeks.

Or, perhaps, the salesperson simply needs more specific information on how to close the package. Whatever the problem, it is best to meet again with management and fellow salespeople to rethink the presentation before working an entire market. It is nearly impossible to take a promotion or special section back to a prospect a second time. It's better to stop, get the presentation right, and then move forward. But how the sales process moves forward can greatly depend on how the salesperson approaches the prospect. Not just when making cold calls but every time a contact with any client is attempted. I call it the "Pouring on the SALT”.

SALT, or course, is an acronym for a four step process to more successful selling. The first letter, “S”, stands for "start a conversation". It's never wise to begin a sales presentation by jumping into a call with statements about the new promotion or even the publication. Instead, the smart sales professional attempts to create a relaxed, open with soft questions such as "How's everything with you?", "What's new?” and "Have you been enjoying the weather?" to start a conversation as well as learn the client's mood, state of mind and current interests.

Then comes the second letter, "A" which is a reminder to "ask serious questions". These are the sort of inquiries that help the salesperson better understand the immediate needs and plans of the customer. They might include "How's business?”, "Are you considering any additions or changes to your operation?" or "What has worked for you lately in generating new or improved business?"

The smart salesperson will approach each prospect with a prepared set of questions in mind, but not obviously evident, to move the sales process forward. That same salesperson will often carry a small notebook and make an effort to record the client's answers. You'll be surprised how impressed advertisers are of salespeople who appear to really be interested in them and their answers and ideas.

The third letter in SALT, the "L" is for "listen". (Reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph.) But there are more important reasons to listen than just impressing the client. Often good questions can lead to new knowledge or understanding that can result in an immediate or eventual sale.

"What," you say, "you want to build your entry level furniture sales? Why don't we include you into our quarterly bridal sections?

”Or a few weeks or months later you might respond with "Remember when you said you wanted to reach the over 60 market?” Well, I've got the promotion to do just that."

Listening is an investment the sales professional makes to assure more immediate and long term success. God gave us two ears and one mouth. The successful salesperson listens at least twice as much as he or she talks.

Finally, the fourth letter, "T", stands for "tell your story". That means, once you've set the mood, acquired knowledge of the needs of the advertiser and drilled deeper into his cares and dreams you have to be ready to share exactly how you can help.

That requires ready knowledge of the potential of your publication: The age and income demographics of your reader, the geographic region reached and the wants and needs of local buyers.

It is also helpful to understand the client's uniqueness in the market and the special packages or promotions that might expand that advertiser's customer base.

I also believe it’s important to be ready with ideas and copy suggestions for a possible ad. Remember, and here is another maxim, "Advertisers want to advertise! They just need help in deciding where, when and what."

Those four letters again, are:

  1. Start a conversation.
  2. Ask serious questions.
  3. Listen.
  4. Tell your story.

There are many more maxims we follow at Iowa Information. One is "Be ready to turn on a dime". That simply means it is wise to be ready to jump on any sales opportunity that comes along -the opening of a new business, the announcement of a community award or the closeout sale of a long established firm in a nearby town -even when you are up-to-your-eyeballs with another project. The opportunity to sell a quick page or even a special section often comes out of nowhere at the worst time, but it can pass as quickly as it appears.

Remember, "the sweetest fruit is at the top of the tree". Not every salesperson is willing to make the effort to find the means to reach that high. Let the others go after the low hanging fruit. Set your sights on the more difficult sales and you'll enjoy the largest gains and longest, most profitable relationships.


Want more Better Publishing/Sales ideas. Ask your press association to send you my monthly GET REAL column that’s sent exclusively to the association manager. Better yet, suggest they book my 100 Ideas for Fun and Profit or Seven Steps to Increased Ad Sales programs for a future convention or conference. My contact information is Creative House Print Media Consultants, or 712-348-3550 CELL.


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