How To Work With Advertising Salespeople

by Tom Egelhoff

I've talked to thousands of small business owners over the past 35 years and they all have one thing in common. They hate salespeople. Ok, maybe "hate" is too strong a word but most consider salespeople an interruption to their work and few have a product or service that the owner really wants or needs.

The exception is the salesperson who has demonstrated over time that they provide a product or service to the business owner that is really worth while and profitable. Which brings us to advertising salespeople. If these folks are doing their job correctly the business owner should be going to see them and calling them on the phone instead of the other way around. Why?

If I came into your business on a regular basis and sold you $20.00 bills for a dollar each would you be glad to see me? Would you want to see me a lot? Would you spend a lot of one dollar bills if you knew you were going to get a $20.00 for each one? I would venture to guess your answer would be an enthusiastic YES.

Well, guess what? That's exactly what an advertising rep is supposed to do. Once again, advertising must be an investment. It must never be an expense. I know it sure feels like an expense when you write the check but if it's done correctly it should pay for itself and then some. How to make that happen with your sales rep is what we are going to talk about today.



Do Advertising Reps Have An Agenda?

Does your advertising rep fall into the category of scenario above. Are you getting a $20.00 return for each advertising dollar you spend? Some of you might say yes but I'll bet most of you have no idea what your ROI (Return On Investment) is for your advertising. The reason you probably don't know is because you don't know the questions to ask and the way to evaluate a media salesperson.

Do advertising sales reps have an agenda? Of course. They are salespeople who are expected to perform by selling a desired amount each month. They have a certain amount of space or time to sell and they are expected, by management, to sell that or they are unemployed. That's true of any salesperson in any field.

This isn't a bad thing it's simply a fact of life and when you are purchasing advertising you need to keep this fact in mind. The sales rep wants to sell you space or time but at the same time they know that if the advertising isn't successful you will not continue to do it. They have a month to sell their quota and at the end of the month they start from scratch again. But in most cases neither they or you put a plan in place to make sure the investment is really producing fruit in the form of profits.



What To Look For

Every profession has good and bad people in it. Some are there to make the sale and that's all; while others truly want to help your business and form a long term relationship that's profitable to both you and the rep. When you meat with your rep they are going to cover such things as rates, demographics, formats, size, color, location, promotion and incentive packages. While some of these are important there are some other areas to consider. Here's a list of a few things I want my ad rep to consider when dealing with me.

  • Is your current advertising producing a satisfactory level of gross sales? If not, it's time for a change--IF advertising is the reason. Again, you need to have a method in place to track the effects of advertising and I'll cover that in a minute.

  • Are you receiving consistent results from your advertising? Is your advertising producing the levels that you want over the long haul?

  • Can your business grow in the current marketplace? In many small towns increasing the amount spent on advertising may not pay off because the smaller population will not produce enough new customers to offset the cost of increasing the number or size of ads.

  • If the business can grow from advertising is there a way to set a measurable objective for the advertising? You should never spend any money on any form of advertising unless you have some way to track the results.

  • Are there external forces that might be affecting the success of your advertising? For example, your ads may be bringing customers into your business but an unpleasant clerk may be sending them right back out again without a purchase.


What the above points bring out is the difference between the sales rep working for themselves and working for you. These will hopefully inspire other points that fit your particular business that I haven't thought of.



What To Ask For

In order for advertising of any kind to be successful it must bring paying customers in your door. To make sure that happens you need to have some way of telling which customers are at your business because of advertising or from some other source. To accomplish this we use a process called "keying your ads". In other words there must be a key from the ad that we can attach to each customer that uses it.

For example, in the case of a coupon, it's pretty easy to track. If they bring in the coupon we can track where they came from (the coupon) and how much in sales the coupon produced. But what if it's a radio or TV ad? They can't bring in the radio or TV. So we have to find another way to key those ads. One of the easiest is to give them some premium or some form of valuable free information . It might be "10 Things You Should Know Before You.... (Use your product name here). It might be "10 Things You Should Know Before You Pave A Driveway." Anyone asking for the free info came from that ad. For more on keying ads see: "What You Should Know Before You Place A Newspaper Ad."

The more competition you have the better this method works because customers are looking for "expert" advice. Anyone providing that information is perceived as an expert and has a leg up on the competition. For more on this see: "How To Be Perceived As An Expert In Your Chosen Field."

You're media rep may have other methods that have worked for them in the past that can be adapted to your situation.



Advertising Evaluation

Almost every business I know stands behind their product or service. Why should the advertising media be any different. I know you are going to remind me that a big part of advertising is testing to see if the message and media are the right ones to reach your target market and you would be correct. There is testing to find successful advertising methods that work with your business. But if the media consultant feels that you would benefit from their ad plan for your business I think they should put their money where their mouth is.

Here are some pretty amazing statistics. Sixty percent of businesses that were advertising in a particular media 12 months ago are no longer there. And 50 percent of the media salespeople who called on those businesses 18 months ago are gone. These may be more or less in small towns because the avenues of advertising are often limited. But one of the many advantages of small towns is you know other owners. Why not conduct your own poll. Ask other owners if they are satisfied with the results of their advertising efforts. If not why not? If they are then what's being done right?

Many advertising media will offer all sorts of incentives and packages for advertising with them. Trips, cars, boats, etc. If my ad rep can help me sell more books, I'll give them the boats, trips and cars. It would be well worth it.



The Last Word On How To Work With Advertising Sales People

The most important thing to always keep in the back of your mind is that every salesperson has there own goals and desires and they need you to achieve those goals and desires. This isn't a bad thing. It's what salespeople have done since the beginning of time. You just need to be prepared to make decisions based on your business and your instincts not pie in the sky promises. When Eve sold Adam on eating the apple she had her own agenda.

Make sure the salesperson knows that you are going to insist on some way to evaluate this advertising effort. Now don't run one newspaper ad and when no one comes in dismiss newspaper advertising as not working. Ads need to run for a length of time before they produce the desired result. As a rule of thumb I would give your advertising anywhere from three to six months to start generating income. That may seem like a long time and a large expense and it may be but keep in mind once it starts working it will repay that three to six months very quickly.

Advertising account reps should be knowledgeable about their industry, they should take the time to learn a little about yours, and should be accountable for the results they are expected to produce. If you find a good one you are very fortunate. For the rest of you follow the above and your own instincts.


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