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How to Implement a New Ad Sales Approach?

Posted on Thursday, November 30, 2017 at 12:26 PM

A reader's question: How can I get resistant ad salespeople to adopt more sophisticated sales techniques?

By William Dunkerley

Q. I'm having trouble implementing the recommendations in your articles titled "The Market-Savvy Salesperson." [See Part I and Part II.] It comes down to two problematic salespeople. One readily embraced the ideas and began following your suggestions. He had been one of the poorer performers on the sales team, and he believed a new approach would help him pull up his sales. But now he complains he's not seeing any gains from this. He's discouraged and beginning to doubt the merits of the new approach. I've tried to tell him it may just take more time. But his commitment to the program is waning. The other salesperson, on the other hand, just turned up his nose at the idea of changing his sales technique. He's taken a stab at the new approach but blames that for a dip in his sales. We badly need to pull up our overall sales. What's the best way to handle these two sales reps?

A. I'm glad to see your recognition that sales improvement will come only through a process of change. But making substantial business changes almost never comes easy. Writing in The Prince, Machiavelli put it this way: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." So congratulations on your initiative.

While difficult, change is nonetheless vital to success. Twentieth-century physicist William Pollard explained, "To change is difficult. Not to change is fatal." Adding to that concept is an admonition from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: "If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."

So you have two very different problems with your two problematic salespersons. The first, let's call him or her Rep 1, feels a need to explore change because his or her sales results are inadequate. The second, Rep 2, seems to be more comfortable with how things are and is reluctant to venture into an unknown area.

Regarding Rep 1

The thrust of my cited articles is for ad salespeople to develop expertise in the markets that your advertisers and potential advertisers are selling to. That would allow your staff to show them targeted, practical, and insightful ways your publication can be of help. That should provide a clear boost in the rep's effectiveness over simply using traditional sales techniques.

That said, becoming a market-savvy whiz is not the whole picture. There is a prerequisite. The whiz also needs to be proficient in basic sales methodology. Since Rep 1 already had a record of weak sales, I suspect he or she may need some help there. The sales process is fairly straightforward:

1. Qualify the prospect.

2. Probe to discover the prospect's needs and objectives.

3. Pitch advertising in your publication as a means for the advertiser's company to achieve its goals.

4. Close.

5. Handle resistance.

6. Close.

It might just be worth your time to coach and mentor Rep 1 to develop better skills in using these steps.

Regarding Rep 2

This salesperson is exhibiting a very common and natural reaction to a request to change his or her work routine.

Typically people resist change because they fear loss. Things like loss of job . . . income . . . status . . . future opportunities . . . perks . . . reputation . . . influence . . . responsibility . . . autonomy . . . relationships . . . familiar routines . . . security.

It is always helpful to show leadership by instilling a shared vision of what needs to be changed. That will help to moderate an automatically apprehensive response. Make sure the problem is clear before you start advocating a solution. Enlist the help of your people in rounding out your vision and planning the detailed path to your goals. Allow them to feel a sense of ownership of the plan for a new approach to ad sales.

Even that, however, is often not enough. I've trained a lot of salespeople in adopting new and more productive sales techniques, and I see a stereotypical pattern that many go through before achieving success.

Recently I came across a diagrammatic expression of this pattern that was created by European change management expert Torben Rick. Here it is:

Classical psychological reactions to change.

This diagram captures exactly what I've been observing for years. Here's how it plays out: The salesperson will resist change and persist in the belief that his or her existing approach is best. So the person makes a token attempt to change. Instead of sales rising, they actually go downhill. It isn't until the salesperson hits bottom that he or she will truly embrace the new sales regimen and start to gain proficiency in using it. That's good news.

The downside is that the process can sometimes take as long as three months before success is achieved. But it's worth it. The improvement in sales productivity can be remarkable and well worth the investment of time and effort to make it happen.

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

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