Current Issue:

Current Issue

On The Cover:
Cumulus Chairman Jeff Marcus

Click here to subscribe to Radio Ink.

Radio Ink Writers

Jeff Schmidt

Ideas Sell Better Than Salespeople


As a young manager in the car business, George was struggling. He had big dreams and goals, his owner had high expectations and George wanted his store to be different from any in town. He sold high-end cars, so he wanted a high-end sales department. He wanted the best sellers in the business and he knew that the normal compensation system of a base salary for three months then straight commission wasnt going to serve him well. In fact, it was going to lead to the same high turnover than most dealerships experienced. He asked me for help. I was his radio sales rep.

From the very beginning of my career, my goal was to be different, to think big, and make big things happen. This meant that if I was going to be successful in sales I had to do much more than simply sell products and services; I had to be a business consultant.

In the mid 80s, the concept of thought leadership had not been invented. I attended a class at the University of Wisconsin lead by Don Beveridge. Dons message was that you could never maintain a long-term competitive advantage based on product and price. Its what you do beyond your product that gives you the edge. I took that message to heart. Just starting out as an advertising salesman I decided that my point of differentiation was going to be providing my clients with information they didnt have easy access too, and ideas they hadnt thought of.

I created a newsletter. I called it The Market-Ear. My slogan was, Sound ideas that are ear-resistable. Looking back it was rather cheesy, but at the time I thought it was brilliant.  Each month I would gather information from various sources -- Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, and more. I grabbed what I thought were the 10 most important articles for my clients and summarized them on my one- page newsletter.

I always saved the complete article, and in every newsletter I gave a standing offer. If anyone wanted the complete article, I would gladly send it to them (which, in the early 80s, meant snail mail). Each month I also invited people to share the newsletter with others and invited new readers to contact me if they wanted to receive future newsletters.

Nobody else in my profession was sending out a newsletter, let alone handwriting the envelopes and including personal messages on each newsletter to the prospects and clients. Looking back, although I didnt know it at the time, I was living the concept of being known for what you know. I was providing my prospects and clients value, in the form of information. Sure, they could have read the same publications I did, but they didnt.

When I started, I selected 50 prospects and accounts as subscribers. Within two years, the subscriber list had grown to well over 200. The response to this simple process was nothing short of amazing. It was the most impactful prospecting tool I have ever used. After 20 years of doing it, I still have people in various business settings thanking me for sending them the Market Ear. They tell me they always found the information helpful.

Today, the presses have stopped and the newsletter is electronic. My articles for Radio Ink, my LinkedIn profile, my Twitter feed, and my blog are my new forms of communicating information and ideas to my clients. The value of providing the information is even more important. The distribution channels are easier, but you have to use more than one. There are also a lot more people doing it now, so you strive to be different in different ways. If youre not one of the people sharing information and ideas with your customers, your competitors are going to steal your customers.

The simple lesson from the Market Ear is that salespeople have to be R.E.A.L. Don Beveridge was right, you cant maintain a competitive advantage based only on product or price; you have to be different.  Heres how to be R.E.A.L:

R: Read constantly about business, about your industry about your client business.
E: Educate yourself formally or informally. Most professions that I know of require some form of continuing education to maintain proficiency.
A: Ask a lot of questions. Each question is an opportunity to learn.
L: Listen carefully. They wont tell you directly, but if you listen carefully your customers will tell you exactly what they need and how they want to be sold.

It was an article in the Market Ear that prompted George to call his radio sales rep to talk about compensation for his sales staff. Together we created a system that identified the behaviors he wanted from his sellers. The compensation system not only paid commission, but rewarded the behaviors George wanted to see in his dealership. He was able to attract better quality sellers, get better quality results and dramatically reduce his turnover. . . all because his radio rep sent him a newsletter. Oh, and yes, George was one of my largest-spending clients. Coincidence?

Ideas sell better than salespeople. What ideas are you giving to your clients to help them grow their business?

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach me at

Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt