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Wayne Ens

Maybe Radio Does Have A Sales Problem

by Wayne Ens

In a recent Radio Ink article, Editor Ed Ryan wrote With 242 million people listening, and radio revenue only growing slightly, maybe our problem is a sales problem. But that's an entirely different article. This is that article. With that simple statement, Mr Ryan has hit the nail on the head! (Einstein said Genius is making the complicated look simple).

As I work with stations across the continent, Im embarrassed by the calibre of most of the local sales people and local sales efforts I witness. Virtually every big business started as a small local business. If these small local businesses grow without radio as a key component to their success, they almost certainly are not going to put radio at the top of their list when they become national accounts.

I could have written a series of incredulous articles about the pitiful radio sales efforts Ive witnessed in the past few months alone. Lets start at the top, with management. Ed Ryans article said It sounds like radio is sold out all the time just from the volume of spots we're now airing. But is every radio station getting top dollar for those spots? The answer is a resounding no. Weak sales people have found it easier to sell even weaker managers on a low rate than it is to sell an advertiser on the right rate.

And then there is the misguided manager who wears being sold out like a badge of honor. Being sold out simply means youve cluttered your airwaves, driven away audience, undersold your station, and invariably turned away good money for bad. Many of the independent broadcasters have promoted their best sales people to sales managers, with no management training whatsoever, as if the skill sets for management was the same as for sales. This is a double-edged sword because weve taken a good salesperson off of the street, and created a bad manager for the rest of our sales people.

At the other end of the scale, the big conglomerates have their managers slaving over forecasts, spread sheets and reports to justify their existence rather applying their talents to growing revenues! And then there some who deliberately cut the throat of the radio brothers. In one market recently we uncovered a broadcast group that would offer a discount to any advertiser who promised not to buy any other local radio stations. In another market, the sales manager sent out a fax and email blast over her signature with a Make me An Offer sale!

Assuming management is also in charge of marketing, where are the radio marketing initiatives? Check out most radio station websites and you wouldnt even know we sell advertising for a living, let alone find a way to make it easy for prospective buyers to invest in radio. We have such little faith in our own medium that I seldom hear on air messages promoting the power of radio advertising.lets just fill those spots with crappy bonuses instead. 
The bulk of our educational radio advertising seminars  are merely glorified package sales presentations, and every stations claim to be number one makes us all look like liars. In most markets, our remuneration systems result in the top local used car salesperson making more money than our top radio sales person. Hello!  Used car salespeople sell to pre-qualified prospects who come onto their lots looking for a car.  Our sales people have to go into the market searching for prospects and have the harder task of persuading businesses with shrinking margins and tight budgets to spend more on an intangible.

Now on to our front-line marketers.those sales professionals with whom we expect advertisers to entrust huge sums of cash. Take a look at the way they package and present themselves. You would expect someone in advertising to understand a little about branding. But I see radio sales people driving old beat-up cars, showing up in jeans and sweat shirts, trying to convince already-successful business owners that they can make them more successful.
And thats just the packaging. Branding goes beyond superficial packaging and walking the talk. Many radio sales people dont understand how to create successful campaigns for their clients. Their answer to increasing their clients sales is simply buy more spots.In some markets I even see people who dont want to be selling, hitting the streets part time to supplement their low on-air salaries. How passionate and professional are most of these desperate soles?

Our survey of 540 business owners makes it clear that the number one reason business owners advertise is to increase sales. Yet 86% of the radio presentations we audit talk about format, signal, rankers and personalities as if those things matter, with no mention what-so-ever of how the proposal will help the advertiser increase sales. That same survey revealed the average business decision maker hears from sixteen vendors a week, from customer relations management software sales people to sales trainers and advertising sales people claiming their product will increase sales.

The mall leasing manager who talks your main street retailer into cutting his advertising in favor of moving to their mall doesnt sell cost per square foot.they sell sales per square foot. Yet radio sales people still sell cost per thousand or cost per spot instead of sales per campaign. Most radio sales people focus more on their personal monthly target than on helping the advertiser achieve their monthly targets, and then we despair at our high client attrition rates.

Much of what falls under the banner of radio sales training still revolves around old-school business-to-consumer models focusing on tactics like cold calls, handling objections and closing the sale. Modern business-to-business sales practices focus on building customer relationships and how to create results for our clients. But behind every cloud there is a silver lining. With 80-85% of radio sales efforts being pathetic, there is lots of room for progressive professional radio marketers to break from the pack and make a ton of money; for their stations and their clients.
Wayne Ens is President of ENS Media Inc and can be reached via e-mail Wayne Ens


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