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Ad Sales Seminars vs. Coaching

Posted on Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Part II -- The why and how of ad sales coaching.

By William Dunkerley

Actively coaching members of your ad sales team can lead to: improved performance and increased sales. I've found that there is only one category of salesperson that doesn't benefit from coaching: individuals who don't have the aptitude for reasonable productivity in ad sales work. Otherwise, coaching is almost a sure bet for improving performance and sales.

There are two principal areas that coaching can address successfully. The first is in helping salespeople to deal with the amount of rejection that comes with the job. The second is in sharpening sales techniques and strategies.


Any salesperson who is involved in real selling experiences a lot of rejection. If a person is just servicing existing accounts at a publication that is the leader in its field, then rejection may not be a big deal. But if a salesperson is out clawing for new accounts and has to prove your publication's mettle issue after issue, then rejection is part of the job.

I've seen some very undesirable patterns evolve when salespeople don't deal well with rejection. One is that they avoid cold calls. A person who is distressed by rejection will often tend to avoid cold calls. A person with that temperament will gravitate toward spending time with sure-thing accounts and let the list of new prospects languish. Over time, that will have a devastating effect on your advertising sales.

Another dysfunctional effect of mishandled rejection is what I call "buying into the resistance." Here's what I mean. There are several clichéd forms of resistance that prospective buyers often use to get out of an unconvincing sales presentation. They include claims that "your circulation is too small," "your rates are too high," "your publication is not interesting," and so on. A rejection-averse salesperson can, over time, come to believe those rejection lines rather than handle the resistance effectively, turn things around, and close the sale. That can lead to salespeople coming to you and explaining that sales are low because circulation is too small, or whatever. But the underlying problem is that the salesperson is failing to use persuasive sales techniques out of fear of experiencing further rejection.

In coaching rejection victims, there are techniques that usually prove efficacious. The first is to engage in empathetic listening. Let the salesperson unburden himself of his emotional reaction to the rejection. Then transition to dealing with the dysfunctional reaction to the rejection. If he is avoiding cold calls, set up a plan for how much prospecting needs to be done. Be sure your expectations are clear regarding how much cold calling must be done. Actively monitor how the plan is implemented and whether the requisite number of cold calls is being made.

For salespeople who are buying into resistance clichés, you must also offer countervailing evidence and actively bolster the person's confidence in the value of advertising in your publication. This should be an ongoing effort, not just a one-shot event.

Salesperson Effectiveness

Coaching to improve sales technique and strategies has some additional considerations. The first is observation. If you are going to coach someone to improve her sales performance, you've got to be able to observe what she's doing right and wrong. Asking the salesperson to describe her sales presentations and the prospects' reactions isn't good enough. What you'll get is a version of what's really happening, filtered through the salesperson's perspective. Most of the time, this gives you a distorted picture.

What to do? If you are dealing with in-person sales presentations, go along on the call. Play a subservient role in the presentation. Perhaps you can be the one to hand the prospect charts, tables, and other supporting materials. Or you can be the notetaker.

One drawback to this approach is that the presence of an observer always has the potential of changing the circumstances that are observed. That may result in your seeing a different picture from what is happening when you are not there. The fact that you have supervisory responsibility over the salesperson only amplifies that effect. For that reason, it is often helpful to use a professional coach, trainer, or evaluator as the observer.

In the case of telephone or teleconference presentations, it is possible to avert that drawback. You can observe without making your presence known to the prospect. But the salesperson is still going to know that you're there, so the observer's influence is not completely removed. One way of dealing with that is if you can conduct your observation based on a recording of the sales presentation. That allows you to review it at a later time. In that way, the salesperson will not be as conscious of the fact that he is being observed. If you will be recording sales presentations, be sure that you do it so in compliance with state and local laws for recording telephone conversations. Often, the knowledge of one party that a conversation is being recorded will suffice. But check your governing laws.

What's next? What do you do once a sales presentation has been observed? How can you use the observation to provide feedback that will improve sales performance? We'll cover that in a future issue.

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

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