MarComedy: Don’t make me laugh

For what tickles my fancy in media, communications and life in general.

100 000 dials and counting (or Ma Bell owes me some commission)

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(Warning: Seriously NSFW language in this clip)

The first thing in sales is to get on the phone. You have to talk to people – real people, not voicemail. It’s a bit of a numbers game. Common belief is that sales can be compared to a funnel. For every 100 calls, you’ll get 10 live contacts and that will lead to 1 sale. And, as usual, common belief holds up well under scrutiny.

Cold-calling is hard. You have to overcome call-reluctance and set goals to keep you on task. You have to toughen your skin so rejection just bounces off of you.

It’s a funny, fickle game, too. Some days everything’s going well. You’re making live contacts. Conversations are going smoothly and you’re booking meetings or taking orders (Taking names doesn’t count. Unless you’re kicking ass). And there are other days when you hardly speak to a soul. Those that you do speak to may be unpleasant or are just too busy (they may just be saying that, though).

I’ve had to make a lot of sales calls. Maybe not 100 000, but it’s been one of my primary responsibilities for the bulk of the last 5 yrs. As I move into public relations, I’m taking stock of how this experience will help me down the road.

From what I can gather (and have been told by those who would know), business development responsibilities at PR agencies are concentrated at the senior levels (say Account Director and up). Some agencies have a group who’s main focus is business (or corporate) development, but this is much less common. For entry & intermediate professionals, it seems that the expectation is that some attention is paid to biz dev, but that the expectations for results are pretty modest.

Having said that, it also seems clear that being able to generate revenue for your firm is a key element in advancing your career. After all, the higher up you move in the firm, the more you will have to pay attention to business development. So starting early and practicing often has its advantages.

For those of you who may not have much experience with biz dev (which is probably most people starting out in PR), here are some tips to keep in mind:

– You need to dedicate time to making sales calls. It can be daily, weekly, monthly. But if you don’t book time in your calendar to make those calls, something will always come up that prevents you from doing it.

– Make sure you do your research. Know who you’re calling, why you’re calling, what the company does, how they do it, who they currently work with, what you can do that meets their business needs (and what those needs are), etc…Have they recently reviewed their ad agencies? Are they planning on doing the same with PR? Can you anticipate changes in their industry that will require significant PR activity?

– You’ll probably find that most people you talk to are satisfied with their current agency. Fair enough. But I can’t stress strongly enough that you should avoid bad-mouthing the competition. There’s a couple of reasons for this: There’s a good chance that the person you’re speaking too (if it’s the right person) will be the one who hired that firm. Slagging the other agency is questioning their judgment and will make them defensive. Also, it reflects poorly on yourself and your firm if you spend time bad mouthing the competition rather than informing the prospect about what you can offer them.

– Selling isn’t telling. Sure you need to introduce yourself, the firm, why you’re calling. But just talking to someone isn’t going to get you very far. A better approach is question-based selling. Ask questions that will help the prospect realize that you can do the job better than their current agency. Just telling them that you can won’t get you very far. There are plenty of good books out there on the subject of question-based selling.

– Be persistent. There’s an old adage that persistence wears down resistance. It’s true…to a point. But if you work hard to build a relationship with a prospect, offer them something of value even if they aren’t looking to switch shops at the moment, you’ll be on their radar when the time does come for them to evaluate their agency relationships.

– And a couple of final thoughts: Make sure you’re speaking to the right person (a.k.a. the decision maker). Be respectful of their time (if they say it’s not a good time, accept that & use it as an opportunity to book a meeting or follow up call). Stay positive (even if all you’ve received is rejection, keep your chin up. People can hear your mood in your voice) . Follow up (either with info or a thank you for their time).

I’ll end this by saying my experience comes from ad sales. I haven’t done PR biz dev (yet), so there might be a different dynamic in play. Get input from senior members of your firm. Their experience will be invaluable. It will also show that you’re committed to building the business and, even if they don’t expect much, they’ll surely admire your initiative (as long as it isn’t taking away from your primary responsibilities…). Thus endeth the rant.

PS. Real sales is not (or at least should not) be like the Glengarry Glen Ross clip. But it’s a great scene and does contain some kernels of wisdom….A-B-C, A-I-D-A.

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Written by Jonathan Dunn

March 14, 2007 at 4:22 pm

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