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December 19, 2014

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08/04/03 Are You A Con Man (Or Con Woman)?

Remember the story about the lion that asked the mouse to free him from a trap? “If I free you, you’ll eat me,” said the mouse. “I won’t eat you if you free me,” said the lion. So the mouse freed him, but the lion grabbed the mouse and started to put him in his mouth. The mouse said, “I thought you said you would not eat me?” The lion replied, “I’m a lion. It’s programmed into my genes: Lions eat mice. Sorry.”

Radio salespeople used to be considered most aggressive and least concerned about client results. They used the “me” sell (“It’s all about me and my needs, not you and your needs”), resorting to tricks and sleazy practices to sell advertising. As a result, Radio earned the reputation of slippery “Herb Tarlick” from television’s WKRP.

In the early ’80s, someone had an epiphany that people selling Radio should ask about the clients’ needs. This was the birth of the consultant sell. Every Radio station in America was issued a form to be used as a guide to gather information on clients. Clients stated problems, needs, target buyers and demographics, then the salesperson would go to work to solve the problems. Returning to the client, the salesperson would consult with the client by offering solutions. One minute the sales reps were aggressive meat-eaters; the next minute they were sensitive problem-solvers.

Every station in town was using the consultant sell, and every sales rep wanted to go through the 30-minute form with the client. Lo and behold, all stations came back to the client, and it just so happened that “my station reaches exactly the people you need to reach.” The consultant sell was not consulting at all. We were trained precisely to make our station fit when it does not. Advertising guru Roy Williams calls this “the con… the con-sultant sell.”

There is nothing wrong with a consultant sell if reps truly consult. The problem is, most of us have never been trained to be an advertising consultant. Most of us do not know how or why ads work; we only think we do. When we consult, we may be leading the client to disaster and giving them reason to say, “I’ve tried Radio, and it doesn’t work.” Of course, when that client stops spending, another sales rep tries to consult, then another and another.

Some sales reps really do consult. Unfortunately, many salespeople still do the con sell, knowing their station is not right, but knowing they will be fired if they don’t hit their budgets. Once the pressure increased, salespeople were told to sell the client no matter what.

There will always be budget pressure. Having tools to assist client success will go a long way to making sure our salespeople are nothing more than meat-eaters who intend to devour ad budgets with no benefit to the client.

Are you using the consultant sell or the CON-sultant sell? Clients will respect you more if you tell them the truth. If they don’t respond right away, remember the story of the mouse and the lion. It may take them a while to believe it’s not your nature.



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