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Change Your Ad Sales Job Titles

Posted on Sunday, August 27, 2017 at 11:59 PM

Will giving your ad salespeople a different title have any chance of boosting sales?

By William Dunkerley

Popular culture comes out strongly supporting the notion that names don't matter. They don't change the essence of what's behind the name.

Shakespeare famously wrote: "What's in a name? / That which we call a rose, / By any other name would smell as sweet."

When first running for president, then-Senator Barack Obama stirred commotion when, in criticizing the McCain-Palin team, he said, "You know, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

Palin apparently took the remark personally, and a big media flap ensued. Obama expanded his quip by adding, "You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called 'change.' It's still gonna stink after eight years."

So the wisdom from Shakespeare to Obama is that names don't matter.

A Word Is Still a Word

Poetry and politics aside, what bearing does this have on ad sales?

I read an article by noted creative strategist Pat Friesen titled "What's in a Name?" She argues that there's power in "giving a unique name to your marketing devices and more."

At first I was skeptical of her assertion. Perhaps I had been subconsciously influenced by the likes of Shakespeare and Obama. But Friesen went on to prove her point. She offered this anecdote:

"I became a true believer in the power of naming when I worked for a B2B ad agency. The agency won a big account, in part, by renaming the client's lead generation offer. For 20-plus years, this lab equipment manufacturer asked lab directors to respond to their space ads to receive 'free information.' These ads generated one or two leads whenever they ran. When we renovated the offer and gave it a new name -- the 'How to Select the Right Fume Hood Kit' -- the ad generated at least 250 qualified leads each time it ran."

Cavalcade of Titles

There are certainly differences between a "fume hood" and an ad salesperson. But we should take seriously the lesson Friesen offered. Names can indeed matter.

So what do you call your ad salespeople? Here's a list of job titles that I gleaned from several publications:

--Advertising representative
--Advertising manager
--Associate publisher
--Vice president, ad sales
--Advertising director
--Advertising consultant
--Strategy and business development specialist
--Business services manager
--Advertising account executive
--Ad sales consultant

Are these good and effective titles? Frankly, I don't know what results those salespeople are producing. It's hard to criticize what sales personnel are doing if they're achieving good sales. But I suspect that their productivity might be enhanced if we rethink those job titles.

The Flaws

What's wrong with the above assortment of titles? Many are "I" oriented, not "you" oriented. They say, in effect, "I'm here to sell you something." It is pretty well established that you-oriented sales is a better approach than one that is I oriented. People tend to be more interested in themselves than in you. One of the worst opening sales lines I ever hear is "I'd like to tell you about our publication." Approaching prospects on the basis of their interests is a better strategy.

The job titles list shows a couple of different attempts to use the title to better connect with a prospect.

One is the use of important-sounding titles. That technique is used well beyond the publishing field. I had a friend who, as an investment banker, dealt with companies in the oil tanker part of the shipbuilding business. He worked on big-number deals. His title was vice president. When I complimented him on achieving that position, he remarked, "Oh, we're all vice presidents. When we deal with a high-level client, he or she wants to think they're dealing with someone important."

So when you call your ad salespeople managers, directors, vice presidents, or executives, you are likely trying to accomplish something similar.

But there's a significant difference between the investment banking industry and magazine ad sales.

Usually when someone is a prospect for a loan or investment, he or she has already identified a need: to acquire funds. In ad sales, however, we are often dealing with prospects who are already satisfied with their ad placements. They're not searching for something. Trying to impress them with the importance of your salesperson isn't likely to get much traction.

Another technique seen in the list of titles is the use of the word "consultant" and "specialist." That's usually intended to address the "I"- versus "you"-oriented issue.

While someone called an ad rep might be perceived as a person just out to get your money, a consultant or specialist is presumably a person who has some advice of value to offer you. That's not a bad idea.

There are two problems with this approach, though. The first is that this technique has been used so much that many view it as a mere ploy. Indeed, it can be suspected of being "lipstick on a pig." The other problem is that consultants and specialists are experts who are usually sought out rather than pushed upon you. That in itself might also cause prospects to view the title as a ploy.

Try Something New?

Perhaps a fresher approach would be to call the ad rep a market analyst. So if your person is selling general consumer advertising, he would be a consumer market analyst. If you have a B2B publication in the automotive field, she would be an automotive market analyst.

The term "analyst" is the key here. Presumably, many advertisers will be interested in gaining greater insights into the market they are in. And an analyst would sound like an inviting source.

Of course, your advertising salespeople would have to be savvy enough about the market to live up to the title. But that's the topic for a subsequent article. We'll explore just how market-savvy your sales staff needs to be.

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

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