Gordon Borrell built an entire business around a survey, and he’s still doing it!

It’s 10 years running and there isn’t a stop in sight. Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, has confirmed what we’ve been hypothesizing for a while now. The customer journey needs to have a relationship built off trust, BUT he throws in a twist. Listen and find out what the secret sauce is.

Gordon Borrell is ranked in the top 2% among Gerson Lehrman Group’s 150,000 consultants worldwide and is quoted frequently in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Ad Age, Forbes and other publications. He has appeared on CNN and other TV and radio programs discussing trends and forecasts for local media. Prior to starting Borrell Associates, Gordon was vice president for new media for Landmark Communications, where he worked for 22 years. He started his career as a reporter and editor for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.

Introduction

George: It’s another edition of the “Conquer Local Podcast.” And one of my favorite events to go to in the year is Gordon Borrell’s LOAC presentation that he has at the Grand Hyatt, and it’s been running now for 10 years. And we have Gordon Borrell all lined up to take us through all of the nuggets from that convention and to also tell us what…

You know, Gordon, he reads the tea leaves. And he has a look at the data, and he says, “Here’s where the space is going, and here’s where you need to pivot your business.” And he also has a tendency to attract some of the best keynote speakers to his convention. I always find it to be very informative and very educational when I go to that event every year. So we’re gonna hear it from the man himself, Mr. Gordon Borrell, coming up next on the “Conquer Local podcast.”

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George: It’s another edition of the “Conquer Local podcast.” You know, it just hit me like a lightning bolt. We’ve obviously been doing this for a little bit over a year because I remember one of our first podcasts had Gordon Borrell on. And Gordon Borrell is back because it is that time of year where you have your massive convention in New York City and you unveil all of that data. And I had the privilege of being there when you did the unveil of all the data around your survey. So, first off, welcome back, Mr. Gordon Borrell.

Gordon: How about that. What an honor it is for me to be here. Thank you, George, and you do have a great podcast. It is indeed an honor to be on this. You’re doing some great things. I’ve heard quite a few of them, and you’re really helping the industry from an educational standpoint. So, thank you.

George: Well, we appreciate those comments. It’s great guests like you that help us to do that because you are out there doing the hard work getting the insights. And I found some interesting things as you were rolling through the rollout of the data from your survey. So, can we set the table for the survey, and can you tell us about how long you’ve been doing it? And just for new listeners who may not be familiar with Gordon Borrell and the great work that your company does, can we kind of get a little bit of a back story, please?

Gordon: Sure. We’ve been around for 18, 19 years or so. We’ve been doing surveys and research for that period of time looking at local advertising and tracking the trends in advertising and marketing expenditures. The survey that you’re referring to is the Local Advertiser Survey that we do annually from April until July, and it’s the largest survey in North America of local advertisers. It’s about 44 questions, and it’s a huge amount of insights and information from the local business industry about what they’re doing, what they’re planning to do with their advertising and marketing expenditures.

 

The Giant Toy Box of Advertising and Its Treasures

George: You know, that is very valuable information for a local seller. Imagine going into the customer and knowing what, you know, furniture stores in markets that size are spending on social media advertising. So can we dig into some of the insights from this survey that you saw when you were speaking to those advertisers because I think it’s very valuable for salespeople to know what the poll says of businesses in the markets?

Gordon: First off, George, the survey itself is now, what, six, eight months old or so because it ended in July. But we also do a monthly panel of about 2,000 advertisers. So, we kind of filter the results and look at it over time in how things have changed. So, overall, the trend that we see, I guess the two most important things that I can tell you out of that survey are local advertisers are expanding the number of types of media that they’re buying. So in a given year, they typically buy five and a half, on average, different types of media.

So it might be Yellow Pages, newspaper, radio, social media search, you know, etc. There are 5.5 on average that, pretty consistently, they have bought in a year’s time. For some people, it might be direct mail. And others, they’ll buy direct mail. They buy radio or this or that. It has now expanded to eight. So they’ve increased. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really is. They have expanded to eight different types of media that they buy in a year.

Now, this is the really shocking and scary thing that we saw on the most recent surveys. They are cutting the number of companies that they are buying from five to three. So they’re cutting out two. And what that tells us is that they are definitely looking into the giant toy box of advertising, you know, marketing technologies that they have and go, “Wow, social media boosting posts? Let’s do that. Let’s do something on Twitter. Let’s shoot a video of ourselves and cut it into a 15-second pre-roll and do some YouTube advertising.” So they’re certainly adding that type of stuff.

But they are cutting out the dumbest punk companies that they have been dealing with that are just saying, “Oh, that social media stuff doesn’t work. Radio advertising is bigger than anything else, or newspaper advertising is the best.” So they know those people aren’t really telling the truth. Those people are just trying to sell advertising.

George: So it’s interesting. You know, we in the industry, we call it, you know, the reduction of vendor clutter. But what it really means is that the advertiser is looking to a trusted provider, and they’re saying, “I can get it from Joe. I don’t have to deal with Suzy or Tom over here who I don’t even think are telling me the truth. So I’m just gonna go with that trusted local expert.” You know, we’ve been talking about this for quite some time, but the data is starting to support that or continuing to support that.

Gordon: It is, George, but it’s just a little more complicated than that. And I’m actually just learning this from my Executive Vice President of Research, Corey Elliott, who’s the guy who’s at the center of all the surveys that we do. And he was just sitting with me this morning telling me that, “You know, you think it would be they’re going with the person whom they trust and the trusted brands. But while that is important, that is not the most important thing.” And this is kind of shocking because, George, you and I have always felt with lots of other people that, “Well, they’re gonna buy advertising based on trust.”

You could have the most trusted, nicest, kindest, most wonderful person walk in that door. If they didn’t have the right products to sell, and they didn’t know, and that’s the key, and they didn’t know about your business and let’s say you’re a furniture store, and they didn’t know, you know, how to sell an ottoman, you know, the best marketing tips for selling an ottoman, and they didn’t have the right product, you know, maybe they were selling only Yellow Pages, well, that’s not gonna work. So, in the end, it’s the combination of things. Yes, it’s the trust, and yes, it’s the relationship, but, man, you’ve gotta have the right products, and you also have to have some knowledge about the business.

 

Training to Stay Ahead

George: So does that mean that, as a local seller, you can’t just be pigeonholed into one thing I think is what you’re saying. You need to have access to all the products because even if you have the trust if you have the absence of the products, you’re gonna lose the deal.

Gordon: I think that the dance is to stay ahead of the advertiser in terms of market knowledge. And the market knowledge right now, they’re teaching themselves because they suddenly have these tools available to them. They can build their own graphics, whereas 15, 20 years ago, it was really harder to do that. But now they can, and they can place their own ads, whereas 15 or 20 years ago, it was impossible to do that. You had to go through somebody. So, they have graduated from, we’ll say, high school with, you know, some marketing knowledge, and now they’re in college. So you damn well better have a college degree and be working on your master’s to stay ahead of them.

George: You know, that speaks next to something that we have been talking about in lots of episodes, so let’s really dig into that. When you’re working with your customers who are media organizations and agencies and you’re talking to sales leadership in that group, I’m sure that learning and having that culture of constant learning, who are you seeing that are doing a really good job of that in helping to teach their reps? What are some best practices there?

Gordon: Well, it’s always hard to name names because, you know, whenever I do that, I get calls or emails and people say, “What about me? You didn’t mention us.” Or, you know, I get smartass sometimes, and I’ll mention somebody who’s not doing a good job. So, hell, let’s just name names anyway.

There are a few companies out there that we see doing remarkable jobs in training the reps, and some of them are cable companies. Cable companies are getting cable systems roughly the same amount in digital advertising dollars as, you know, a broadcast TV station does in the market. These guys are actually pretty good at training. They’re kind of like radio folks. You know, they’re really, really good at selling.

So you take a private company like Cox Communications, both on their media side and their cable side, and they do a phenomenal job of training. And then you look at some of the smaller radio groups, not quite the bigger ones, but the smaller ones, and they just get it, and they understand it. And you have to look at, you know, all other groups: newspapers, Yellow Pages, etc. across the board.

But I would say that the difference is particularly with those who have multiple outlets, somebody that has a corporate level or company-wide training program that really keeps up with things, keeps up with the certification, maybe the digital certification and the other, you know, certifications like the radio advertising bureaus, you know, radio certification program and local media associations. So it really is the companies that have invested a significant, not a small, but a significant amount of money in training and, importantly, keep those training programs updated every single year because terminology changes and market conditions change and things like that.

 

Stop the Tear Down, Start the Frank Discussion

George: We talked about the number of products that people are buying from groups and things like that. Are you seeing anything around, you know, what they don’t like? And I remember last year, you launched into the podcast by saying that advertisers were pissed off. And I loved that statement, by the way. If you were to put one statement over what they don’t like from what you saw in that survey, do you have any of those nuggets that our reps can take back and say, “Boy, I better stop doing that because clients hate that?”

Gordon: Yeah. Stop pissing on other media and try to make yours look better. The advertisers tell us in comments. I’ve got a deck that has comment after comment after comment just to drive this home. And I was in West Virginia a couple of weeks ago doing it with the West Virginia Broadcasters Association. I said, “Look, don’t go in and tell them the myth that radio reaches 98% of the population in any given week.” They know that to be a lie. Well, maybe it does but not your station.

Don’t go in and say, “Newspapers are better than everything else.” Don’t go in and say, “Digital media sucks.” So you don’t go in and you tear down the other medium. You really have to come in and say, “Well,…” you know, and exhibit the market knowledge that everything works in unison. Outdoor works. TV works. Radio works. Yellow Pages work, particularly in small markets.

So the one thing that the advertisers are really fed up with is this false consultative sales approach where you come in and say, “Hey, I don’t wanna sell you anything. I just wanna ask you some questions. Tell me what your needs are. Tell me what your points of pain are. Tell me what you’d like to do.” And so let’s say you’re a radio sales rep, right?

George: Yes.

Gordon: And then you say, “I’m going to come back, and then I’m gonna give you some recommendations.” Well, guess what you’re going to come back and recommend as the solution? Radio advertising. They see through that. If you’re in the advertising sales business, it’s a really good time to be smart.

George: How do you feel about that line, “I’m not here to sell you something?”

Gordon: I think advertisers see through that. I think there’s gotta be…it may be true that you’re not on that visit, but I think it’s too time-worn now to use. I think you have to take a bit of a different approach. I think you have to say, “I wanna help you with your marketing needs, but really, on this call, what I’m here to do is try to find out a little bit more. I’ve got some information that might be able to help you. But if I’m really gonna be able to serve you, I need to be able to ask some questions. And I’m earnest in wanting to help you. I really think I can save you some time or money, or I wouldn’t be here.” You know, drop all those defenses, drop all that attack mode, drop all the false terminology, and just be frank with them.

George: No, I appreciate you validating what I was asking there because I find that when a rep walks in and says, “I’m not gonna sell you something,” does a bullshit needs analysis, and then comes back to try to sell them something, you’ve lost all credibility. You know, “Yes, I am an advertising consultant, or a marketing consultant, or a digital media consultant, and what I’m here to do is to see if there would be a fit between our two organizations where I would be able to help you with the products and services that I have. And, yes, those come with a price attached to them,” and just be open with the customer because the trust is the most important piece. And when you break it, you can’t get it back.

Gordon: Yeah. I completely agree. If you can’t say, “I’m not here to sell you something ever,” then you shouldn’t say it. I mean, that’s sort of a test.

 

Breaking Through the Noise

George: And what are you finding in your surveys around these needs, customer needs analysis, the CNA, the dreaded…you know, I’m gonna come in and ask you a bunch of questions. Is there any comments in there from your advertisers that you’ve surveyed around those because I’m sure they’re being inundated by those bloody things?

Gordon: Yeah. There really are. And, again, it does speak to the suspicion that the advertisers have that these folks are coming in on a sort of a consultative approach, but they are gonna come back and sell them something. You know, I don’t know how you get around that other than to say…just be honest with them to say, “I think I have a whole set of marketing opportunities, some of which you may not be aware of, that you can take advantage of. But on this call, I’m really just here to find out whether we actually have the tools that can help you, I kind of think we do, but I’m here to ask you questions.”

So, you’re basically saying, “I’m not gonna try to sell something on this call, but I’m probably gonna come back and try to sell you something.” That’s really important. You’ve got to know that these advertisers are absolutely besieged. The number of sales calls has doubled for the average advertiser to 24 a month in the past three and a half years. So, they’re just being barraged by all of this pressure from all of these media outlets. Here’s a fascinating fact for you, George. A lot of people don’t really know this.

But, you know, we’re assuming that the Yellow Pages industry is dying and that newspapers are dying, and, you know, nobody’s listening to radio anymore, and nobody’s watching TV. And that’s all a bunch of crap because, right now, there have been some Yellow Pages books that have gone away and there has been. And we hear a lot about them, but it’s just overemphasized. Some daily newspapers that have gone to online only have, you know, folded with two other papers. But still, there are about 1,300 daily newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, and there are phenomenal amounts of other media, 10,000 radio stations, 8,000 weekly newspapers.

So when you look at any individual market at province or at DMA, there are more than 100 locally-based media outlets on average. Even a really small market might have 30 or 40. And the advertiser is just shutting down and saying, “That’s too much noise.” So, it really is incumbent upon a company that wants to survive or, you know, grow again to just have a really, really, really smart sales approach. There’s gonna be so much effort based on training that sales staff.

George: Yeah. We do the count of media organizations. Then we also have every piece of marketing technology that has been built have their own sales team that is hammering the phones and emails of those SMBs trying to get them to buy their bespoke solution as well. So, again, to be in that top one or two is the most important thing that you need to do when you’re dealing with your prospects and that top of mind awareness that, “Yeah. I understand your business, we’ve built some trust, I’m going to see if I can get the product set that matches your needs,” has never been more important than it is today.

And it’s good to see that your data is supporting the things that we’re trying to train as we speak to people on the “Conquer Local Podcast.” When you look at the entire survey based upon the previous ones that you’ve done and the data that you’ve gathered, is there anything else that’s really glaring that jumps out at you from the information?

 

Getting Together and Educating

Gordon: Well, a couple of things. I’ll go back to what I said, you know, at the very beginning. It’s those two things that just keep going round and round in our minds that they’re expanding the number of choices but decreasing the number of companies that they deal with, therefore, they’re using a little more DIY stuff. Plus, you know, what I said earlier in that is that they just really want a very defined sleek marketing person to help them out, and those are the ones who are going to win.

I think, George, the other thing that we are seeing when we look at these surveys is these businesses, they’re beginning to learn from the DIY stuff that’s put in front of them. And we do it ourselves here at Borrell Associates. We go, “Well, we can just design this ad ourselves. Hey, we just put a post online. And you click this button here, and, you know, you can boost it for 100 bucks.” So we’re learning rather than having to rely on somebody else to farm it out to. That, I think, is one of the more important things, is to realize that the class or the education of the advertiser themselves continues to increase. However, I wouldn’t classify them as extremely educated. They still need that. They still show up in droves.

When you say, “We’re gonna have a digital marketing expert or some marketing expert come to town and talk to you about SEO and getting seen by the search engines and social media and things like that,” they still come out in droves. So their educational needs are still high. But realize that as they come to these meetings that everybody seems to be holding in the markets, and as they do their own stuff, that their education level is getting, you know, greater and greater. So it’s getting a little tougher to serve them.

George: We really appreciate you taking some time from your schedule to join us on the podcast again this year and give us the insights that were shared with your crowd in New York at the beautiful Grand Hyatt, which has been recently renovated, which was kind of nice to see. But I also wanted to offer our congratulations to you on 10 years of having that event, and I think it’s a great event, media executives from all over North America and, in fact, the world. You know, I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about the journey of your convention. It’s a monumental accomplishment that you and your organization have had, and congratulations on that.

Gordon: Thank you. We did start in 2009. The first one was in this time of the year, spring of 2010, and we were surprised, George, at the first one that we held. We didn’t ever think we’d be in the conference business in any way or wanna hold one. So we said, “Well, there’s really a need because the trade associations for radio, for television, for newspapers, for the directory industry, Yellow Pages, will hold their conventions or their conferences, and then will have a little section on digital. And if you go to it and you really know a lot about digital, you go, “Man, this is weak crap. Man, this is not good.”

We thought, “We’ll get everybody under one roof, and we’ll just have a local online advertising conference. It’s gonna be about local, it’s just gonna be about online, it’s gonna be about advertising, and it’s gonna be all types of media. The very first one that we had was sold out. We were shocked. It just spoke, I think, to the need for everybody to understand this new marketing space, not from a monolithic view. It really is a completely different medium with a completely different set of capabilities. And if you don’t understand that, then you’re gonna shortchange yourself. Having said that, George, I’ll tell you one thing. The hotel was renovated many, many years ago. Now, it’s being torn down. So this was our last event at the Grand Hyatt. We’re gonna have to find another place to go to 2020.

George: Well, I’m sure there’s all sorts of hotels that would love to have that chunk of business that you bring to town every March. Of all the people that spoke this year, what was your favorite presentation?

Gordon: Well, the favorite presentation is, to me, it’s always the presentation by comScore. We’ve traded off between Nielsen and comScore. We’ve usually had Gian Fulgoni, who’s the Co-founder and Chairman of comScore, this year. He had retired, and he offered Sara Hofstetter. And her presentation is just absolutely stunning. We like research people because they have great insights, and they talk about what’s going on irrespective of, you know, what they should be promoting because their company is a certain type of company. No, they’re truth-tellers.

So, in that presentation, what we saw was a lot of information on OTT and how that is growing or over the top video. It’s basically the transition of the internet from a read medium to a viewed-and-listened-to medium. The growth of podcasting and all these audio devices and the growth of video-viewing is turning the internet really into a multimedia event, and a lot of the ad dollars are flowing in that direction. So that phenomenal, you know, sudden uptick in growth, and the vast expansion of TV programming to the digital venue was really remarkable.

 

Conclusion

George: Well, I really appreciate you joining us on the podcast. I always feel that, you know, as a gray-haired old sales guy, I always learn things when I listen to Gordon Borrell. So I appreciate you bringing that insight and being a guest again this year. And we wish you all the best in the days to come as we move through 2019, and good luck finding your new location for the convention next year.

Gordon: George, thank you very much for having me, and thanks for doing this for the industry. It’s a great podcast. Thank you.

George: Well, probably one of my favorite public speakers to see him live, Gordon, commands the stage, presents very, very well, and he knows his information inside and out as you can tell. But what I found from that presentation as really interesting is sales and marketing to SMB is harder than it’s ever been because we have all of this confusion and all of this noise that’s happening with all of these entities that are calling on the prospects.

So, it’s never been more important for the rep to be more educated. And also, Gordon touched on the fact that those customers are using DIY solutions, and they’re becoming more educated. So it’s really interesting crossroads that we’re at, and it speaks directly to what our core foundation is on the “Conquer Local Podcast.” I’ve said this in past episodes.

When I first entered this space seven years ago, and I started working with sales teams, and I remember being on a sales call with a young lady. She was about 55 years old. She’d been selling for a number of years. I was looking kind of in the mirror. I’m like, “Oh, here’s somebody, not that young of a salesperson, and they know how to sell their legacy product. But we really need to come up with a way to help them sell the new digital solutions they’re going to need so they can stay relevant.”

There’s a lot of young smart people out there that are charging into business with a ton of education. They’re very tech savvy. They’re not intimidated by digital. And our job here at the “Conquer Local Podcast” is to help all of the salespeople, whether they be brand new salespeople, and they have to learn how to develop relationships, and they learn how to have to actually communicate with people and do active listening. And then we’ve got old salespeople like myself that need to learn new tricks, but new things that they can deliver to that customer to solve their problems.

So I really appreciate Gordon’s insight because it’s backed up by data. And the data points that everything that we’ve been talking about on the “Conquer Local Podcast” is more important today than it was a year and three months ago when we started this thing. So, thank you, Gordon, for all of those insights, and we wish you all the best as the months continue here in 2019.

We are coming up to summer, is just around the corner. We’re trying to plan what we’re going to do during the summer. And producer Colleen and I have been brainstorming, and we got saying, “You know, what haven’t we covered? What do we wanna look at?” We’d like to get your feedback. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn or on the Conquer Local LinkedIn channel and give us some ideas as to what you might like to see us cover as we move into…well,
we’re maybe gonna call “The Summer…” we’ll come up with a fancy name for it. I’ll leave that up to the Colleen to come up with that.

But we’re going to do a series in the summer months that is all gonna be around teaching. We’ll bring some people in that are great sales coaches to those episodes, but we’re looking for your feedback first. So please reach out to us on LinkedIn on the “Conquer Local” page or on my page, George Leith. Oh, by the way, my name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.