By: Tom Baldwin

Many great companies have climbed the ladder of excellence on the rungs of a structured sales call – e.g., IBM and Xerox in their heydays and Proctor and Gamble all trained to a structured sales call. Also, P & G placed the responsibility for that training squarely on the shoulders of management, and still does. That responsibility was carried up the line with every level assigned the task of developing the skills training of the people that reported to them – and in effect, P & G became the trainer for the entire packaged goods industry, because other companies raided and recruited their talent.

A structured sales call gives sales reps a track to run on – and perhaps more importantly, it gives the managers a track to manage against. In our industry, I have observed a major publisher with declining revenue adopt an approach I totally disagreed with – but because management bought into the approach and managed it closely in the field, it was a successful, albeit short-lived, turnaround success. Imagine if that was done with a more customer-focused, partnership sales call? So here is how we see (and teach) the Yellow Pages sales call:

Pre-Call Planning

Review current YP ad program, including competitive books

Review website, social media marketing, and other known advertising

Check sales collateral for industry data, trends, recent news items, etc.

Call Opening

Our idea of an effective opener includes (1) mentioning a business-specific benefit such as offering advertisers info or data about their industry or heading that they are likely not aware of ; and (2) indicating some preparation effort on the advertiser’s behalf. For example: “…in checking your website, I notice you highlight basement renovations. So I checked our database and found some interesting new stats on basement re-dos that I’ll share with you.” Then we suggest the rep outline an agenda for the next 20-30 minutes and get the advertiser’s commitment to grant the 20-30 minutes of quality time.

Fact Finding/Needs Analysis (About the Advertiser)

From our experience, fact-finding is the skill reps are poorest at carrying out – e.g., most ask a few general questions and then never deal with the answers the advertiser gives. Some reps essentially don’t fact-find at all. The basic problem is typically a lack of business experience and a fear of trying to converse “in the advertiser’s territory.” Our successful solution to that has been to provide reps with business-specific fact-finding

tools that not only invite heavy advertiser involvement, but also: (1) make good technique easy and (2) more-or-less force reps to use it. Thus, reps are easily able to uncover key products and/or services, intangibles like reliability factors, priority market segments, ROI information, marketing efforts in other media, and the like. And it will all be written down.

Product Story (About YP) and “Solutions”

This step is what too many inexperienced reps start the sales call with, because they feel they are in control (actually, bored advertisers will be thinking of ways to cut the call short).

But when the product story is positioned after fact-finding, then the rep can tell it the way the advertiser needs to hear it – i.e., mainly (and briefly) the product features and benefits that apply especially to needs and other factors uncovered during fact-finding. Thereafter, our strategy is to have the rep sell the advertiser in principle on including any additional ad copy, headline changes, related headings, etc. in the next year’s program, based on the assertion that these YP “solutions” will all result in significantly more response.

Closing with ROI Projections

If an advertiser agrees in principle that these upgrades would benefit his business, the rep can recommend a specific YP program, with a package price. And whether or not the advertiser raises a price concern, we teach reps to work with information developed mostly in fact-finding to walk the advertiser through a projection of reasonable ROI expectations from the program.ROI is why businesses advertise, so it’s an unbeatable closer.

In Conclusion

The steps outlined above are obviously very general, and many of our detailed sales tools and sub-steps are involved in the process, including relating everything to the new media. But we believe these basic selling skills are the platform for a rep’s success.