Are you struggling to Challenger Sale theory into practice? Here's some practical advice on what advertising sales reps could do to succeed in becoming trusted advisers for their customers.
So you read the Challenger Sale a few years ago. Maybe you even have browsed through a few of the pages once in a while since then. You know you want to become the trusted adviser for your long term customers. Not all customers, only the key accounts that you know have money and are willing to invest in growing their business.
But you still struggle a bit to convert the theory into practice when you are selling your advertising inventory. You feel the theory makes all sense when you're reading the book but when preparing to talk customers, you find it very difficult to come up with those challenging thoughts and ideas. You find it difficult to really add value during the sales cycle.
Don't despair, we're here to help you! Here are some ideas you can play around with.
Study the market your customer competes in
If you are operating a niche, trade or industry magazine, you should already be very knowledgeable in that space. You should know the major players, who their customers are the value they are providing. If you don't, you need to study up!
Equally, if the customer you want to target with the Challenger Sale approach operate in an industry you don't yet understand, you need to develop that understanding.
Use Google to figure out the size of the market, i.e. how much money that the different companies operating in it are turning around in a year. Is that market forecasted to grow or is it in decline?
In the market, what are the different ways that companies add value to their customers? In other words; what are the different products and services sold and how are they used by those buying them? While it may not be the perfect term, some people call this which parts of the value chain they serve.
Also, study HOW products and services are going to market. Are companies advertising a lot or not at all. Is Content Marketing commonly used? Test a few key words and phrases in Google Search to see what they return.
Finally, try to figure out where the profit margins are in the industry. Is it in selling products or services, or both?
As you find information, enter it in a Google Docs document. The more facts and data you're finding, the better.
Figure out your customer's top 3 EBITDA contributors
Carefully query your customer about which to of their products and services that really add to their bottom line. Don't be surprised if your customer contact in marketing is not even be aware of this, it's very common in larger organizations that only P&L managers (i.e. the business managers with Profit & Loss responsibility) and Finance know this. The Marketing VP may be clueless simply because he or she is not measured on Profit and Loss, but rather on how many leads they are funnelling to sales.
If possible, interview the P&L managers and pick their brain if you are selling to large organizations. While at it, also ask them about their challenges as they may be very different from the Marketing staff you're usually selling advertising to.
The information you're able to gather from these interviews are real gold nuggets to use when you're educating the marketing staff. But be careful to make sure marketing is not feeling side lined by you in this process.
Enter the information in your Google Docs document.
Study your customer's top 3 competitors
As a magazine publisher, you can provide an objective perspective of your customers competitors. It's likely that your customer does not have an objective perspective and that may cause them to not truly understand how well or bad they positioned to compete.
A good way to Google for competitors is to search for "Alternative to X". For example, if you want to Google for RunMags competitors you may Google "Alternative to RunMags" and Google will return results for Magazine Manager, MagHub, and some others.
Read your own magazine but also other trade/niche magazines to see who's advertising. Try to distinguish which companies that are advertising the same kind of products and services as your customer is. Compare print vs. web, etc.
If you were able to develop somewhat of an industry knowledge in the first exercise, you may even be able to match them up each other in the value chain. In other words, if your customer is delivering premium value products and service way up in the value stream, then you should look at those companies that also do so. It's irrelevant to compare a mom-and-pop labor provider to a high-tech industrial construction company, right?
Again, enter the information in your Google Docs document.
Ask your customer what their top 3 media challenges are this upcoming year
When you've done your homework with the previous sections, you can have an educated discussion with your customer, potentially the Marketing VP or the CEO if it's a smaller business. In order to become a trusted adviser, you need to be working at that level. It's going to be useless to try to be the trusted adviser for some low-level market analyst.
Ask about any upcoming product launches and events. Is there a major growth initiative that Marketing has to support and make successful? Is the Sales organization complaining that the leads provided by Marketing are useless?
Ask about their advertising campaigns. Where are they advertising and why? What have they been trying to accomplish? Have they been building brand awareness or sell more products immediately?
Ask about their experience with Content Marketing. Talk about how they are producing it. If Marketing is short staffed you may find that they struggle to create relevant content and this is an opportunity for you.
When you are asking questions, try to casually drop references to things that you've learned about the company. If you're talking to the CEO of a multinational company you need to really come up with razor sharp observations or you'll be shown the door. But for most people you meet it will be good enough just to bring up a few things that resonate.
Try to read your customer's facial expressions to see if they react in a surprising way when you bring up some facts about them. That may be a sign that you're starting to add value during your sales cycle. Share your experience of what topics that excite readers and what consistently is generating traffic.
When your meeting is up, ask that you're allowed to take what you have learned to develop an individual plan for the customer and be able to come back to present it. If you have added any value during the meeting, there isn't a Marketing VP that does not want to see you again after that.
As soon as you can after the meeting, enter what you learned in your Google Docs document. Jot down any immediate ideas you have got for what you should be selling.
Develop and pitch your plan for what your customer should do
In the Challenger Sale, they are teaching that you should not lead with your recommended course of action. Rather, you should lead by presenting an alternative way to doing things, as opposed to how they've been doing things in the past. This may be relevant advise, especially if your customer has not started with Content Marketing. But in case your customer is at least half-way advanced in how to do marketing is done these days, it's not like bringing up Content Marketing is going to impress.
Don't overthink what you should lead with or not. The Challenger Sale is a book and when they wrote it they had to come up with something to impress us readers and disrupt our thinking. Yes, it worked for a lot of us, but it's not like it's the only way. Use your own style to talk about the industry and your customer. Don't be afraid to present ideas for what they could do with you and without you.
But whatever you do, make sure that each idea you bring up is helping solve their business problems. If you want to pitch a full page ad in each monthly issue for a year, you need to explain where in the magazine the ad will be, what kind of journalistic content it will be placed among, and who you think will see this ad. It's not going to suffice to reference some numbers in your media kit because no-one believe in those numbers anyway.
When you're talking about your readership, look in RunMags to explore how your subscribers are tagged for special interests. With our help you can also feed back traffic data from your website to your subscriber database in RunMags. That way you can really present what your subscribers are interested in.
Are you overwhelmed yet?
Sales is hard work these days. One thing the Challenges Sales is definitely right about is that surfing on a wave of relationships won't cut it anymore. Yes, a relationship may get you a meeting, but it's not going to close any sales.
Try this with one single customer to get started. The research should not take more than one or two hours in total. Pick a customer you initially believe would be a good fit for your magazine and work from there.
Your bonus is that in case you hit a home run with that customer, you now know their three competitors that you can pitch to as well. You've already done most of your homework ;-)