101: Adapt or Die: Selling Digital Media in 2018

If you are going to be an expert in selling digital media, you will have to become a student first.

In the age of “I’ll just Google that…”, it takes a lot of effort for salespeople to become (and stay) the go-to marketing experts for their local business clients – but it can be done! In this episode, George Leith, international sales educator and Chief Revenue Officer at Vendasta, discusses why constantly adapting and learning are mandatory for any salesperson hoping to stay on top in 2018.

In this podcast, you’ll find these takeaways and more: 1. How much time should you spend learning every day? 2. What part of your sales process needs to adapt in 2018? 3. What kind of research and strategy planning is necessary to stand out in the eyes of your prospects? For all that, including what’s so special about Kyle, Saskatchewan and other great nuggets, listen now.

Marketing consultants are always learning

So, the first thing that I want to talk about when we talk about how to run a digital agency, or how to be a marketing consultant, or how to serve those businesses that you are trying to help attract more customers, and to do customer service is doing some research and remembering that you need to always be learning. So when we were setting up for this first episode, I thought back to when I started in the marketing business which is a little over 30 years ago, and I started at the local radio station.

I started on the air doing evening religion, so you had to run these religious programs starting about seven o’clock, you play these cassette tapes. I’m really dating myself now. And there wasn’t a lot of money in that, I think I was getting paid like $3 an hour or something like that. So I can talk, and my general manager was looking for a new sales person he said, “Hey, why don’t you do some sales. I think you’d be really good at sales.” And over the years, I learned in the radio business they try to get everybody to sell. That’s their proving ground, is if you can talk you could sell.

So I was game for that, I was always up to making a little bit more money and my sales manager sent me to the little town of Kyle, Saskatchewan. If you want to Google that online it’s the home of the woolly mammoth, and it’s about 48 people now. But then it was about 480 people, and it had 20 or 30 businesses in it. How do I know that? My sales manager gave me the yellow pages and said, “Here’s your account list,” and gave me a one-sheeter. So, for those of you who are new to the sales business, a one-sheeter is an 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper that has the things that you’re going to sell the customer and how much money it’s going to cost. And that was the proposal that I had to sell to the business of Kyle, for the upcoming Kyle Rodeo. And I got into my Chevy Corsica and drove the hour south to Kyle, Saskatchewan to pound the pavement and start becoming a professional marketing consultant. It actually said that on my business card that I was a marketing consultant, but I was anything but that. I was just out hawking the one-sheeter and trying to sell the rodeo package.

So, when I look back at that the amount of training that we used to get and the amount of training that I used to give to new sales people as I eventually moved into management and ownership of media, it was horrible. And I think that in 2018 what we’ve learnt is that you need to always be learning. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I don’t know anything, and that’s the way that I go into every day is to be a student, look deeper into the situation, figure out a better way to do it, find some podcasts that I can listen to, read some blogs, and constantly be feeding my mind with new information, because the space is changing so fast that if you are not always learning new things you’re going to get displaced. So if I could give any advice to those of you that are either starting a digital agency or are pivoting into selling digital marketing services for maybe selling 30-second radio commercials, or newspaper ads, or television ads and you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to sell digital.” You’ve got to become a student.

And for those of you that are in traditional media, you’re actually at a bit of a disadvantage, and I found this when I arrived at Vendasta Technologies five and a half years ago. I was at a disadvantage because I never really did a bunch of learning. I just went out and sold the same thing that I’ve been selling for 25 plus years. So, to be thinking about new things pretty much on a weekly basis was new to me. I found it to be very refreshing and very challenging. I’ve always loved a challenge and I think that the reason that you’ve arrived at this podcast is you’re that type of person too. So, if you know other people that love a challenge, make sure that you encourage them to tune in because we’re going to be challenging you pretty much on a weekly basis to learn new things and to evolve to be the very best account executive that you can be.

Building a sales process

So the next step in building a digital agency, or pivoting to be a digital marketing consultant, is to build out some sort of a sales process. I had the privilege in November of this year of attending the Alexander Groups’ Chief Executive Sales Forum in Laguna Beach, California. It was a group of about 500 sales executives from four different disciplines; we had folks from media, we had folks from technology, medical, and manufacturing. All of them in the sales business, and it was a three-day intensive 12-hour a day convention around sales process, and they were analyzing how sales has changed. And I’m going to use this term quite a bit in the podcast, sales no longer is a guy with a bag going out and selling the one-sheeter like I was doing 30 years ago in Kyle, Saskatchewan. If that is what your sales career is about today you will be displaced, it’s only a matter of time, and I can look to all sorts of organizations in the past five and a half years that that’s happened to.

So you’re going to have to adapt and you’re going to have to change your sales process for maybe what you’ve been doing for a long period of time. And, we’re in January, so there’s lots of talk about self-improvement, and the gyms are really busy with a bunch of people who won’t be there in February. But what we learn from that sort of going to the gym and you talk to a personal trainer they’ll say, “You need 28 days to develop a habit.” So imagine trying to change a habit that you’ve had for 25 years of grabbing your bag every morning, stuff in a couple 8.5 by 11 sheets of paper into the bag, and going out and hawking that one-sheeter. So we’ve got to break ourselves of that sales process, we’ve got to become a student. So go back to what I mentioned off the top, always be learning. You’re going to have to learn new tactics and new process that you’re going to be deploying in the field to help your customers. But the next thing you have to do is always be a student of what the challenges are that your client is facing.

So it is not about the products that you sell, it is very little about the products that you sell. I don’t care what the products are, I could probably sell around a process if I learned the products. So give me the product brand new thing, maybe it’s in the medical space I’m going to make a change in my career. Within about a month, I could learn the product and I could go out and adapt my sales process to bring some business in. I am a professional sales consultant, I’ve been doing it for a long time. So I’m speaking to those of you on the podcast that I’ve been doing it for a long time, you just have to take what you’ve been doing and make sure that you’re being a student of that customer. It’s a really important piece, and you may not have even thought about it. I think that if you’ve been doing this for a long time you probably have been a student.

Interrogating your customer?

So for those of you that are just starting or coming this podcast as a resource to start your digital agency, that being a student is a really important piece of the puzzle, and it’s not about interrogating your customer. I was on a sales call a couple of weeks ago with a media company that shall go nameless, and the sales person was basically interrogating the customer. The only thing that was missing was the sweat, and the cigarette smell, and the coffee, and the big light over top of the client because they were just peppering him with questions. And the question that I hate the most that is a rookie move, “What’s your pain point?” I hate that question when you ask a client.

There’s a whole other way to come around to that to figure out what struggles that they’re having, because I don’t think that the business person wants to even admit what their pain point is. So if you’re really trying to figure out what the problems are that you’re going to solve, you’ve got to dig deeper than that, and you really have to understand what tact, and you got to build some trust as well. You can’t really ask the hard questions if you don’t have some trust with the customer. They’re just going to shut down, they’re going to say, “What’s this person asking me these questions for? I don’t even know who they are yet. I don’t even know what they’re bringing to the table.” So you’re going to have to establish some sort of trust with that customer.

Who’s researching who?

So when we think about that sales process, and we’ve been doing a bunch of digging after we establish trust with the customer, so we’re going to have to establish trust first. We do a bunch of digging, we find out some things and then we need to go back and do some research. This is a really important piece. What you are looking for are what I call the nuggets. So you are looking for the key components that can build some sort of strategy. Now, this is where I talk to both sides of my mouth, don’t ask about the pain points directly, but figure out what the pain points are because I think those lead to the nuggets. So you’re going to want to find the pain points, I just don’t want you to interrogate the customer to get to them. And one of the ways you may find the pain points is by using some technology to do that research. Keep in mind the minute that you leave the opening sales call where you meet a customer for the first time whether you do it over the phone or you do it face to face, that person if you’ve done your job, is going to start researching you and it’s never been easier to do that.

They’re going to go to your Linked In profile, hopefully you have one and it’s well-built out, and it’s got all the information about why they should trust you. They’re going to go to your Facebook page, they’re going to go onto social media, they’ll probably go to your business’s website because it is so easy for a prospect to do research. That’s why you need to do your homework and you need to have it locked down, because where we’re going is we’re going to build some sort of a strategy, we’re going to build some sort of a plan and research is very, very important. Everything that I’m talking about today is very, very important because I’ve got rid of all the fluff, but when you’re doing the research phase that is the most important piece and you better have your branding and your company’s branding locked down when they go to do that research.

Nothing drives me nuts more than somebody that’s out trying to sell a listing, so they’re trying to sell a listing claim, or a listing claiming solution, and then when I search their agency, or their media company, or their newspaper, or their television station, they’ve got wrong listing data. It’s just doesn’t make sense to me. If that’s what you’re selling you better have your house in order. It’s like the cobbler’s shoes, it’s a joke, or the mechanic’s car. They fix cars, they do a great job, they drive a horrible car. That’s not going to work in digital marketing. The agencies that I’ve found who really do a good job have their own virtual doorway locked down, so just think about that. If you’re going to be selling marketing strategy you better have good marketing strategy deployed on your organization.

Building a marketing strategy for a business

So we’ve got some nuggets, we’ve done our research, we’ve gained some insights from being a student and asking the right questions to the customer. Now, we’ve got to build a strategy and that’s where those products come in. We’re going to have to have some things that we’re going to use and they’re going to have to have some benefit for the customer, and we’re going to have to start to set some expectations of what’s going to happen. So some people call that a set of recommendations, some people call it a marketing strategy, some people call it a media strategy, some people call it a proposal. But before I get into what that strategy is going to be and what the tactics are, I really think it’s important to set the stage as to what we’re going to measure and that’s called KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators. For customers when you’re talking to them, business people, you say, “In 30 days if you’re going to move ahead with me I’m going to come to you every 30 days and show you how it’s working.”

So try not to use KPI because a lot of the business people that I have talked to have no idea what that is, but do start to set the stage that you’re going to give them an overview of your performance. So that’s one of the things we’re going to dig into in the next few weeks is, “How do I show that I’m doing a good job? How do I set expectations around the things that I’m going to do in my digital marketing strategy? So I’m going to make a suggestion to the client based on the research, searching for the nuggets, building the rapport and the trust, I’m going to suggest a strategy, and then I’m going to measure that thing and show them how things went.”

The next 8 weeks on the podcast…

So that’s what you’re going to see over the next eight weeks of The Conquer Local Podcast. We’re going to get started with insights. I’m going to bring in a bunch of guests. I’ve got some great people lined up over the coming weeks. They’re going to help me with some real-world examples of where they’ve started to deploy some of these tactics, and they saw incremental growth of their organizations by really nailing down the sales process, by really helping their sales people build trust and rapport by deploying tools that allow them to do that research in a scalable manner, and to find those nuggets. And then in showing that proof of performance, showing the client how they did and how things went.

Are you #3 of 30?

Now, one of the things that I find when I’m talking to sales teams, and I’m training them, and we start talking about… it’s usually about a week or two after they’ve been out talking to their clients, they’re like, “Holy smokes, there’s lots of people selling this.” My clients are telling me that they’re inundated by 28 people calling on them every week trying to sell them something digital. And some sales people get a little bit scared by that, they’re like, “Oh my, there’s a whole bunch of people in this marketplace.” Well, I got news for you. In the 30 years that I have been involved in the media businesses and selling media solutions there’s always been 30 people calling on that customer. In fact, there were probably a lot more than 30 that were calling on that customer. How do you differentiate yourself from all of those people that are calling on that client?

I want to go back to one of my favorite sales managers over the years, his name is Rick Helmsing, and Rick had been doing it a long time at CJME Radio in Regina. This is 1989 when I met Rick, and he was the war horse, he was the old war horse in the room that have been doing it a long time. And what Rick liked to do is to pull the new rookies in and give them some wisdom, and I really appreciate that he did because he taught me something that I’ve never forgotten to this day. He said, “George, you don’t need to be number one, you just need to be in the top three.” So what he was saying was a client has X number of dollars in their budget that they’re going to deploy for their marketing, you’re not going to get it all because it’s a competitive space out there. All you have to do is think about, “What am I going to do to position myself to be in the top three?” So I appreciated that.

For a while I thought, “Well, he gave me an excuse to be number three,” and when I finally realized I needed to be number one was where I really started beating my budgets. But what Rick was showing me was it wasn’t going to work if I was 30. In the customer’s mind I needed to come up with a way to position myself as number three, I needed to bring value to the conversation to be number three. That’s why selling with a one-sheeter is never going to work, that’s why expecting marketing automation to just give you money is never going to work. You’ve got to come up with some things that are going to build your brand and to position your organization so that its lists in the top three when the customer thinks about marketing and the things that they’re doing for marketing. If you can be in the top three and start to land some of those customers and get some of that budget then you can do a great job, work your tail off, and grow that spend to be number one.

So when you’re going out every day and you’re calling on the client, and you come out of a client call or you’re on the phone and you’re talking to a potential customer doing a screen share, I want you to ask yourself this question at the end of the call, “Was that presentation good enough to be in the top three of the 28 people that are calling on that client this week?” I think that if you start to think about your approach to delivering the message of what you’re trying to do for the customer with that protocol, you’re going to start to see a lot more success. And what I found when you start to have a couple of wins you get a whole bunch more wins.


We’re looking forward to having you join us here on a weekly basis for The Conquer Local Podcast. We’re going to teach you, we’re going to motivate you, we’re going to show you what’s new, and we’re going to help you navigate this space. I personally have taken it on, to be one of my missions, to help sales people transition their games. I’ve met lots of sales people over my career and I want to help them make that transition. Disruption is coming and if you’re able to handle change management you’re going to be able to move to that next step. Tell your friends, share it on social media, The Conquer Local Podcast. Join us next week. My name is George Leith, I’ll see you when I see you.


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