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09/05/05 Hidden Influences: The Real Reasons Behind Our Decisions
What I'm about to say will bother you because you know it's true.
Everyone always talks about “solving the client's problem” as the holy grail of advertising sales. Indeed, the skill is critical. Without the promise of solving a problem, you have little chance of making the sale.

But there are itches that need scratching, yet no one ever talks about them. Hidden influences often tip clients over the edge - or hold them back. Problem solving is often worthless when you haven't recognized the hidden influences. Listen closely now: I'm about to reduce your frustration and help you escape the madness.

Influencer #1: Ego
No one wants to admit it, but decisions at the top are usually based on ego, appearances, bragging rights, family and partner opinions, and competitive positioning. It often boils down to what your customer can say to friends at the country-club cocktail party.

It's your job to give these people something to brag about. If what you're offering is dull and routine, you may get an order, but rarely will you land a big advertiser. But if your plan comes with bragging rights, it can trigger that hidden influencer we call the ego.

Imagine how your package would be presented at a cocktail party: “I just bought some spots on K123 radio. We're really hoping to move some La-Z-Boys this weekend.” Pretty dull, huh? Especially when compared with: “We're launching a major ad campaign that will make us the biggest radio advertiser in the city. You can run, but you can't hide. We're going to be everywhere.” The second AE understands the power of the hidden influencer.

People love having a story to tell: “I just invested in a new company that I'm convinced will return a billion dollars on a million-dollar investment in just two years.” Or: “We're one of only three companies in the U.S. to dominate our category on radio.”

Napoleon Bonaparte taught us, “Small plans do not enflame the hearts of men.” If you want to enflame the heart of a decision-maker, pitch big. Deliver bragging rights. Begin practicing the pitch for your audacious idea. The first words of your pitch (or phone message or e-mail) must ring like a headline. Start with the cocktail-party story they'll soon be telling.

Influencer #2: Competition

Competitive positioning is also powerful. Some businesspeople are highly sensitive to the actions of their competitors. A client who talks about his competitor is telling you exactly how to sell them. What can you offer that will give this client an advantage over the competitor? Can you offer an exclusive sponsorship or program that only one company can own in a category?

Sometimes you won't get a client's attention until the client's competitor shows up on your station. Suddenly, they feel the need to ante up and raise the stakes. An advertiser who watches his competitor will act like a card shark playing poker. Know this, and you'll sell a lot more radio. But be careful: If you do this obviously or awkwardly, your client will see through you and feel manipulated. Game over.

Influencer #3: Family
A third hidden persuader is family influences, yet these are often the singular motive for advertising decisions. Rarely will anyone tell you, “My dad has to approve it,” or “My wife wants to be involved in all my marketing decisions.” These things are humiliating but often true, and no client will admit them. If you can find a way to discover this limiting, hidden influence - this governor - you'll have the key to help make your sale. How does this client want to look to their dad or wife or partner? Maybe they feel the need to look frugal or innovative, clever, analytical, or diligent. Listen for clues. Give them the story they need. But again, do it elegantly, or you'll find yourself looking manipulative.

I could fill a book on the hidden influences I've discovered in my career. Should I write it? Like you, I have lots of other things I need to do, with little time to write a book. But as always, your needs and your interest in the subject matter will be my guide. Are you interested? A “yes” vote requires that I hear from you. To vote no, just turn the page.


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