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Ad Sales Seminars vs. Coaching

Posted on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 10:29 AM

Part I -- The ingredients of a beneficial seminar.

By William Dunkerley

I recently heard from a publisher seeking advice on how best to spend his ad sales training budget. He believes that his sales staff performance is okay, but he needs more. He wonders whether he should send his crew to a seminar or bring in a sales coach.

I recommended that he do both, because each serves a different purpose.

A sales seminar is almost always a good idea. The job of selling ad space is hard work. Salespeople have to deal with a lot of rejection and experience failures along with successes. Going to a seminar gives the salesperson a day away from all that -- and a chance to be exposed to some new ideas.

But will a one-shot seminar bring about a lasting boost in sales performance? Probably not.

One thing I've learned about teaching others how to sell advertising space: It's not simply a cognitive process. Sure, you can get a few good ideas from the ubiquitous sales seminars. But ideas alone usually won't boost sales results. Creating a significant improvement in sales requires a change in one's fundamental sales behavior. That's best done through an extended coaching process.

A mandatory prelude to successful coaching, however, is that the subjects being coached must be willing to change their sales behaviors. That requires a perspective that trying new approaches will indeed bring greater sales success. If a seminar can help its participants redefine their situations, it will achieve an important goal.

Creating an Epiphany

Once, I was called to Sofia, Bulgaria, to address a confab of the country's publishers and sales managers. I departed from the usual seminar format and decided to use psychodramatic techniques.

This was the picture at the session: A Bulgarian woman stood on a chair shouting "Maly tirazh! Maly tirazh!" meaning in English, "small circulation." Next to her, with his feet firmly on the floor, stood a burly countryman, his hands having pulled his trouser pockets inside out to gesture that he had no money. Before the two of them sat a rather perplexed-looking advertising director of a weekly publication. She just sat there looking momentarily speechless. The audience of thirty looked on in great interest.

If someone had just walked into the room, he might think these people were just losing it. Or maybe they were performing some peculiar ethnic ritual. Actually, it was neither. The ad director was "trying" to sell advertising space to the two others. They in turn were telling her why they wouldn't buy! One claimed the publication's circulation was too small. The other contended he had no money to advertise in the publication.

This playacting constituted a situational "sculpture" of real-life experiences in selling advertising space. The objective was to go beyond merely giving the participants information about selling advertising, to create an experiential learning adventure.

A Message in the Method

The methodology of psychodrama and situational sculpturing facilitates a change in perspective. It works on the emotional and intuitive dimensions of learning. It helps the participants to really internalize the material that's being presented to them.

How is this different from traditional sales training? Once, a colleague of mine observed a subordinate trying to use some new sales ideas. He turned to me and said, "Fred's got the words but not the music." And that's where the difference really is. Indeed, Fred had learned some successful selling ideas at a seminar. But he was still far from turning them into successful selling behaviors.

A Different Approach

The psychodramatic presentation is divided into a series of four modules. They are:

One -- The Warm-Up. My goals here are to familiarize the "players" with role-playing, to build an atmosphere of trust, to enhance spontaneity, and to create a sense of involvement for the audience.

Two -- The Action. Here a true-to-life, complex sales situation is sculpted using the physical position and demeanor of the actors as the clay. The roles? One advertising salesperson, two or more prospective customers. Instead of the typical nonstop dialogue of a traditional role-play, this psychodrama invokes the use of thematic messages. That's why the woman on the chair was repeating over and over again, "maly tirazh."

My role at this point is just to coach the actors. The psychodrama begins by illustrating a sales approach that is characteristic of an untrained seller. (Indeed, this invariably turns out to be exactly how the participants have been trying to muddle through their jobs back home.) Not surprisingly, the salesperson doesn't get the order.

Now, I engage in an exploration and interpretation of what happened with the actors and the audience. The salesperson and the prospective advertisers all describe how the experience felt to them. I explain the problems that were involved, and we all explore solutions. By now, everyone is working together to solve dilemmas and to devise strategies for achieving results. While my Bulgarian audience was thirty people, this approach works well for smaller groups, too.

Scene two then demonstrates the alternative approach: effective selling. And, voilà, the salesperson gets the order!

Three -- Group Sharing. We explore the ways in which the two scenes contrasted. Individuals react to what they experienced and relate it to their own experiences. They raise concerns about the relevance of the sales methods they just witnessed to their own situations.

Four -- Analysis and Planning. In this final module, I do a wrap-up of essential elements of successful selling. Participants are asked to write a brief implementation plan explaining how they expect to use what they've learned. Each then is asked to describe his or her plan to the group. Then, after the group shares some last reactions, the session concludes.

Participant Impressions?

At the end of the Sofia workshop, the once beleaguered advertising director came up to me and thanked me profusely for the workshop. She exclaimed that she would remember the lessons she had learned for the rest of her life!

She may very well remember those lessons. But will that bring about a boost in her sales performance? Chances are, the workshop experience alone won't do so. What's needed next is a program of sales coaching. I didn't have an opportunity to provide that for the Bulgarian group. But in a subsequent article, I'll review for you the ins and outs of sales coaching.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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