Radio Sales’ Toughest Client
Some of the luckier radio sales departments will, from time to time, enjoy the benefits of a little out-of-town sales training. A “Pro from Dover” will be brought in and account execs will be offered some combination of personal improvement training and/or client-influencing techniques. While any training at all is worthwhile, it won’t be enough to gain much rapport with, and close, the hardest and most unwilling client of them all.
The people who provide these trainings come with as many backgrounds, priorities, and approaches as could be imagined – or feared. Some lean more heavily on different incarnations and elements of the “self-help” movement – past and present. Some provide “sleight-of-mouth” techniques to manipulate a client. Some teach “self-confidence” methods while others demonstrate a variety of “closes.”
The effect of applying any of the provided methodologies or techniques can be safely and accurately described as those that are effective sometimes, maybe, and depends. That many of the more manipulative techniques are the same ones that also generate massive doses of “buyer’s remorse” is hardly ever acknowledged in the presentations.
Still, the art of communicating ideas to those who would (allegedly) benefit from their application is as much a professional skill as it is art form. Any individual who is not already effective on a personally, intuitive level and able to influence through charm and personality is served better when they learn more rather than less. The shame is on those organizations whose management relies on bully tactics to motivate their sales staffs and, in turn, are demonstrating those same tactics as being useful in the marketplace of competing alternatives to advertising approaches, media, and other radio stations.
The sales trainers themselves are fair subjects for serious scrutiny. Some are found to be relying on platitudes and attitudes that, on the surface, seem to be meaningful. Unfortunately, they are exciting and emotionally motivating only for so long as it takes the attendee to get to the parking lot. The truly credulous and gullible are still offered “affirmations” as a legitimate and powerful strategy for self-improvement.
Further, “confidence” – or rather ”self-confidence” – is asserted as an essential element for any sales executive’s psyche, in order to survive and/or prosper while operating in a retail sales environment. Yet, the acquisition of self-confidence generally comes as a result of being satisfyingly effective – often and through time – in a given context. It’s not a state that can be purchased and bolted on in the garage. (In fairness, beginning the process of acquiring a form of self-confidence can be experienced as an “event,” but it takes more than a platitude or an affirmation to accomplish that task.)
Meanwhile, as to radio sales’ toughest client, their lairs are close – very close. The bones of their victims have been swept away so as to avoid alarming others who will, eventually, be venturing in the vicinity. Many of these “clients” seem reasonable enough and many are quite charming. Some are also considered to be valuable sources of information and even supportive generators of enthusiasm.
But let us make no mistake, as to do so carries serious consequences. They are also aggressive protectors of their own turf – fierce, resolute, and packing extremely low tolerances for any who would tread upon unmarked, but still forbidden territory. They are easily located. They can be found shackled to radio’s own, corporate dogma, obeyed in corner offices in every radio station in the country. They will be one of two people – or both. These are the GMs and the GSMs. Until or unless GSMs and GMs openly accept and take steps to correct a certain pervasive circumstance, there will be no huge improvement in sales!
For literally decades, radio has improved on the writing and presentation of its commercial content not one whit. Zero. From this abject failure, we have become the brunt of cheap and easy jokes about how inept radio is at generating influential, appealing and listener-tolerant commercials. Even internally, we can all come up with dozens of ridiculous and insulting clichés that are still used by hack writers and insistent clients.
I often comment that the spots I am reading today are the same spots I was reading when I was a young, soggy-eared rookie. The only difference today is the placement of the decimal in the price point.
I accept that the goal is not, repeat not, to make every spot a creative award-winner. Desirable – of course. Not a priority. The first priority is in preparing our spots with precision and clarity, so that they become influential, and so an audience can accept them without inwardly groaning or outwardly retching.
GMs and GSMs are going to have to be sold on this, as they refuse to even have the conversation. To address any of this within their earshot is to mess with their wholly accepted, coveted status quo and their “rice bowls.” Some might claim they are completely unaware the commercial content is toxic – a frightening possibility.
No matter how much motivation a sales rep can muster or how many well rehearsed closing techniques they can yank out, unless they have some powerful, effective messaging to take to their retail clients, they are beat before they leave the building. The challenge, then, is convincing management on the need for massive improvements in the creative department.
Note to the eager: The bones that are regularly swept up around management offices are those of the brave, the imaginative, the innovators, the enlightened, sometimes the naïve, and those who want to set these important managers’ minds free – that all might prosper. If anyone is successful in this challenge, I will be grateful for hearing what it took.