Business of News Community Journalism

Billionaire invests in community journalism

“In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper.” The speaker was not a journalist – it is billionaire Warren Buffet, who just invested an additional $142 million to purchase newspapers. We are all tired of hearing that “print is dead” and that our industry is history. We all know our that newspapers have a lot to offer to the public and to our advertisers. Apparently the legendary Warren Buffet agrees with us. He just invested $142 million purchasing newspapers and has expressed an interest in buying more publications. Warren Buffet has become one of the wealthiest persons in the world by following a simple strategy—he looks for business opportunities that are undervalued because most people don’t see the potential they offer. Buffet sees the potential of print advertising. When someone tells you that print is dying, tell them they might want to talk to Warren Buffet!


25 questions that help ad salespeople uncover the needs of advertisers

The most useful tools in a salesperson’s tool box are questions.

Good questions get the customer talking and help the sales person uncover needs that their products can fill. Questions keep the customer engaged and help them to see the value your products offer. When I am interviewing a customer, I try to cover what I call the “5 C’s.” Here they are:

  1. Company: how their business works
  2. Customers: who they want to reach
  3. Current Marketing: how are they trying to reach those people
  4. Competition: who they need to beat
  5. Challenges: what they worry about

The answers to the 5 C’s questions will give you everything you need to know to sell the customer and to develop an effective program to help them achieve their goals.

Here are my favorite 5 C questions:


  1. What led you to get into this business?
  2. What are your goals for the next quarter? Six months? Year?
  3. What do you see as your greatest strengths as a company?
  4. What are the most profitable products/services you offer?
  5. How do you want people to think of your business?


  1. Can you describe your best customers to me?
  2. How far do your customers come from to shop here?
  3. What is a typical customer worth to you?
  4. Is there a group of customers you have trouble reaching?
  5. If I asked your current customers why they come here, what would they tell me?

Current marketing

  1. What types of marketing do you currently use?
  2. When you set up the current program what were your goals?
  3. How effective is your program in achieving these goals?
  4. Why do you think your current program is (isn’t) working?
  5. Do you have a website? How do you invite people to your site?


  1. Who are you competitors? Local firms? National chains?
  2. How has competition affected the market?
  3. What have you done differently to meet your competition?
  4. Are there areas of your business where you face more or less competition?
  5. If I asked you why I should deal with you rather than with your competition, what would you tell me?


  1. What keeps you up at night? What are the biggest challenges you face in running this business?
  2. How is the market changing? What new challenges do you see in the future?
  3. What steps are you taking to meet these challenges?
  4. If you had a magic wand that could change anything about your business what would it be?
  5. What strategies have you tried to alleviate this challenge?

Benefits aren’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition for advertisers

I am in the process of reading Walter Issacson’s excellent biography of Steve Jobs. Reading biographies of recognized leaders is an effective way to learn from their successes and to avoid the mistakes they made.

Steve Jobs understood that to build a great company he needed to recruit great people. He knew that having his friend and early collaborator Steve Wozniak on board was critical for Apple’s success. Wozniak’s genius for computer engineering was behind many of the company’s early products.

Wozniak turned down the offer to be a major partner and founder of Apple. The chance to be an executive and to become a very wealthy man could not entice him to leave his job as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard. Steve Jobs begged him to leave HP and even got Wozniak’s parents to put pressure on him, but “Woz” wouldn’t budge. Finally, Mike Markkula, a mutual friend, intervened and convinced Wozniak to join Apple.

How did he convince him to make the move? Markkula understood that Wozniak wasn’t interested in money and actually hated the idea of having to boss other people around. He knew that the only thing “Woz” cared about was engineering and designing new hardware and software. Markkula convinced Wozniak that eventually HP would force him to accept a promotion and leave the lab. He told him that at Apple he could exercise his creativity and do nothing but work on his own designs.

This approach convinced Steve Wozniak to make the move and, as they say, the rest is history.  This is an important lesson for sales people, sales managers and for anyone who needs to persuade others to make a change. We all have our own reasons for doing what we do. Taking the time to talk to people about themselves to gain an understanding of their individual needs and desires is the secret to motivating others.

Benefits are very personal things. What you see as a benefit may be meaningless to me. Any good tailor knows that to make comfortable, well-fitting clothing requires taking careful measurements. A good salesperson will use questions to take their customer’s measure before offering a benefit. A good salesperson knows that benefits are not “one-size-fits-all”!


How to respond to ad customers who want to buy only one ad

Like any sales person, I hate to hear a prospect tell me “no.”  But, I’d much rather hear an outright “no” than have someone tell me, “I’ll try an ad and if I get some business, we’ll take it from there.”

I prefer the “no” because I will have a chance to sell that customer another day. The “buy an ad” response is a trap that sets me up for long-term failure. In most cases, a “one shot” program will not produce noticeable results. One of the most challenging objections to overcome is, “I tried advertising in the past and it didn’t work.”

When I probe these prospects further, almost always I find that when they “tried advertising,” they had run just one or two ads. This would be equivalent to taking a dip in the pool once or twice a year and then being surprised when you don’t make the Olympic Swim Team. To be successful a sales person needs to sell their prospects on the benefits of advertising frequently.

Elements of effective advertising programs

There are three components of an effective advertising program: Reach, Frequency and Message. Reach is easy to understand; advertisers know they must get their name in front of a potential customer if they want a chance to sell them. Likewise, they must reach these people with a compelling message that will entice them to patronize the advertiser’s business. The importance of reach and message are relatively easy to explain. Maps and spec ads provide tangible examples of these aspects of a well-crafted advertising program. The importance of consistent advertising is much harder to demonstrate because frequency does its work inside the human brain.

Why TOMA matters

Advertising sales people have talked about TOMA (Top of Mind Awareness) for many years. Recent psychological and economic research has explained the mechanism behind this concept. Sociologist Niklas Luhmann stated that, “Familiarity is a pre-condition of trust.” Researchers found that the more familiar a person is with a firm, the more likely they are to make a purchase from that firm. One of the senior reps that I work with tells his customers, “My job is to make you famous.” Frequent advertising does just this. By staying in front of the customer, a business makes their name familiar to potential customers. When making a buying decision, consumers prefer to spend their money with a company whose name they know and therefore, trust.

The thin market—I’ll be right here when you need me

America is the land of the microwave pancake. We are an impatient people. Consumer research has found that most sales are made within 24 hours of the decision to buy. Another 25 percent of sales are made within a week of the decision to buy. This means 75 percent of sales are made within seven days of the moment when a consumer decides to make that purchase. If a consumer decides he or she a pair of shoes in a week when Jones’ shoe doesn’t advertise and Smith’s shoes runs a sale, guess who gets the business? 

The “Thin Market Concept” describes the distribution of sales throughout a certain period of time, a year for most products, shorter for seasonal items. For example, if consumers in a certain market purchase 200 washing machines in a year, appliance dealers in that area will sell about four machines per week. If an advertiser decides to skip just one week per month, and taking consumer behavior into account, they will miss the opportunity to make 48 sales (12 weeks X 4 machines per week).

These opportunities can never be recovered. In addition to the lost revenue, these businesses have lost the chance to build a relationship with a new customer. The “Thin Market” highlights the risks businesses take when they do not advertise consistently.

The sale is in the eye of the beholder

I work with an advertiser whose ad is virtually invisible to most of my readers. He runs a large display program 52 week a year, but most people simply don’t notice his ad. This customer owns a business that specializes in emergency water heater replacement.  He doesn’t care that most people pay no attention to his ad, because he knows that it screams at the people who need his service. Neuroscientists have named this phenomenon “Reticular Activation,” after the reticular cortex in the brain. The job of the reticular cortex is to protect the brain from information overload. To make sense of a complex world, our brains are conditioned to filter out all but the most interesting and important data. This is why if you decide to buy a Honda Civic, suddenly you start seeing Civics everywhere. By advertising consistently, my plumber customer made sure people would have access to his ad when they needed him.

Selling frequency

As a sales manager, I also told my reps that I never wanted them to sell an ad.  I wanted my people to always sell programs. Even a fire station advertising their annual carnival benefits from frequency. They can generate interest in their event by running a series of ads in the weeks leading up to the event. I encouraged my reps to refuse single ads. This is not easy for a commissioned rep to do, but it is in their best interest. Consistent advertising produces results and leads to solid customer relationships. Here are some ideas to help you sell advertisers programs that will make them (and their rep) successful.

  • Think contract from the first contact. When approaching new prospects, plan to sell them a program. Build your presentation around the benefits of consistent advertising.
  • Get the client thinking long term. When probing for information, ask prospects about their goals and long-term plans. Ask them where they want the business to be in five or 10 years and what must happen for them to achieve their goals. This will put them in the right frame of mind to discuss long term advertising.
  • Don’t take the quick sale. As discussed above, customers who run an ad now and then are unlikely to get measurable results. If a customer suggests doing this, defend your program recommendation. Concentrate your efforts on building your territory, not on making a quick sale. This will pay dividends in the long run.
  • To sell a program, plan a program. Develop a marketing plan for your prospects. Talk to them about different approaches for different aspects of their business. Talk to them about how to promote their business in different seasons. This approach will help them see the benefits of long-term programs.
  • Advertising agreements are more than a discount. If your publication offers a discount to advertisers for making a commitment, do not try to sell the program on price. Position the program based on the benefits of consistent advertising. If the customer is not totally sold on the value of the program, it is not likely that the discount will motivate them.  If the focus is on simply saving money, they can accomplish this by simply cutting back on their advertising.
  • Manage the customer’s expectations. Don’t promise the customer immediate results, remind them that they are building a program that will produce long term results. Stay close to the customer and help them develop their ads and reassure them that they made the right decision. One of my reps tells a customer not to expect any increase in business for three months. When advertisers begin getting results in a month or so they are pleasantly surprised.

Be committed to selling advertising commitments

Selling long-term programs is always difficult. The recession has made this even more challenging. In an uncertain economy, customers are nervous about making a commitment. The key to overcoming this objection is reminding customers that they committing to the success of their business. Business owners have already made many commitments — they have financial commitments, commitments to their suppliers and to their employees. Committing to an advertising program is a minor commitment which protects all of their other commitments.

As a professional advertising salesperson, my job is to help my customers to be successful. My training and my experience tells me that the best way to help my customers is to keep them in front of their customers. Selling ads is easy; selling advertising programs requires a professional.

Professionals must sometimes tell people things they don’t want to hear, but need to hear. Professionals help people understand what is best for them. We show our commitment to our customers by convincing them to commit to their own futures. I’ll finish with the words of Edwin L. Artzt, CEO of Proctor & Gamble:  “No company that sells products or services to the consumer can remain a leader in its field without a deep-seated commitment to advertising.” 


This ad-selling technique is FABulous

Benjamin Franklin was the original American advertising salesperson. Like many of the people in our industry today, Ben started his newspaper on a shoestring and used his entrepreneurial skills to build it one reader and one advertiser at a time.

As a good salesman, Franklin was tuned into what his readers and advertisers wanted. He had an intuitive understanding of the psychology of sales. In his popular Poor Richard’s Almanac, he offered the following advice: “If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than to intellect.”

Ben knew what customers wanted to know: “What’s in it for me.” He understood the power of self-interest, that people buy for their own selfish reasons. Successful salespeople must demonstrate how their product satisfies these needs.

What we sell

As advertising salespeople, our job is to help our customers grow their businesses. We do not sell paper and ink — customers can get a much better deal on these commodities at Staples or Office Depot. What we really sell are customers.

We are in the eyeball business.

At its core, our business is all about helping people who have something to sell, connect with the people who want or need to buy that “something.” Our papers and websites are simply the packaging that our real product comes in. If I go to Best Buy and buy a new flat-screen TV, it comes in a big cardboard box carefully padded with oddly shaped blocks of white Styrofoam. I don’t really want the box, but I want the TV to make it safely to my living room.

Our product is the “box” that delivers what advertisers really want — customers, safely to their business. It is our job to help our advertisers understand this. No one wants to buy advertising; everyone wants to buy paying customers.

Why people buy

People don’t buy a sandwich because they want to help out the restaurant; they buy a sandwich because they are hungry. Most buying motives are not quite that simple — people don’t choose to buy a BMW simply because they need transportation. A Hyundai can move them from point A to point B just as effectively. The BMW also fills a need for comfort and an ego boost as well. Most decisions are made with the emotions and justified with facts.

“Feeling” that they are making the right decisions is more important to them than “thinking” they are doing the right thing. This means you need to position your product in a way that allows the customer to imagine how they will rewarded for buying an ad from you. If you can get them to visualize what your program will do for them, you will tap into the emotions that drive decision making.

New improved FAB

Most sales people have been taught to talk about features and benefits. Tell the customer about your product and what if can do. FAB selling takes this one step further. FAB is an acronym for Features-Advantages-Benefits. FAB is essentially a process of process of customizing your offering to the customer’s situation and needs.

FAB selling requires the salesperson to use good probing skills to uncover a customer’s problems and needs before attempting to recommend a solution.

Defining FAB:

  • Feature-A physical characteristic or attribute of the product or service.
  • Advantage-How the feature can help the customer.
  • Benefit-How the feature and corresponding advantage solves a customer’s problem or addresses a customer’s specific need.

Features describe the product. Advantages help the customer understand the product. Benefits make the customer see how the product can help them. Benefits make the customer want to buy from us.

Let say I was a car salesperson and I told a customer that a feature of the vehicle they were considering had a “turbo.” The “turbo” is a feature. Unless the customer is a real car nut, he or she is likely to think “So what!” The feature is meaningless to them.

Since I am a clever car salesperson, I decide to hit them with an advantage of the turbo. “A turbo significantly improves the acceleration of this vehicle.” Many customers will think, “I’m no drag racer. Why do I need that kind of pickup?”

Now it’s time to seal the deal with a benefit: “What this means to you is that when you are pulling on to the freeway with your kids in the back seat, you’ll have the power to merge in before a truck kills you.” The customer thinks back to a few close calls on the on ramp and taps into the emotional stress of a close call and thinks, “I need that turbo.”

I have seen this happen when I am out with our sales people. A rep will say “Our product is direct mailed.” When the customer doesn’t respond they may say “This means it reaches every home in the area.” Sometimes this will “click” with the prospect, but often it does not. The most successful reps drive home the feature and advantage with a benefit. “Ms. Customer, we are direct mailed so your ad will reach every home in the area so more people will see and respond to your ad, making your more money.”

“Making money” is ultimately what the customer wants to accomplish. By tying your feature to this need, you heighten the value of the feature to the prospect.     

Never assume customers “get it.”  You have to tell them why they should buy. Customers have a lot on their mind. Don’t make them have to figure out why they should buy an ad.

One FAB doesn’t fit all

Advertisers are as unique as fingerprints. No two prospects have the same needs. This is why you must ask good questions to reveal the customer’s needs and situation.

One customer may want to blanket the entire market with his message while another may be more interested in a targeted ad to a limited area. Some people may be interested in a coupon vehicle while other never discount. As the old saying goes, “You’ll never know, unless you ask!”

Being FABulously well prepared

You have a lot to think about during a sales call. When you are with a customer, ideally you should be thinking about their business and their needs. Since this doesn’t leave a lot of time to think about FAB, it makes good sense to do this ahead of time. Take the time to list all of the features of every product your sell along with the accompanying advantages and benefits. Many features will be offer multiple advantages and benefits. Here is an example for a racked product:

  • Feature—Demand distribution (Racked)
  • Advantage 1—people only pick up the paper when they want to read it
  • Benefit 1—no wasted circulation, so everyone who picks up a paper will see your ad so you will generate a better response and make more money
  • Advantage 2—Readers know where to find the paper when they have a buying need and will seek it out.
  • Benefit 2—Your paper is available to potential customers whenever they need it so you will reach customers when they are in the market and ready to buy so you will make more money.

Taking the time to write out the “FAB” for your products in advance means you will be prepared to respond when you discover a customer need. This exercise also helps you to think in terms of FAB. By writing out the advantages and benefits associated with each benefit, will help you to “connect the dots” for your customers on a call.


As sales professionals we get what we want by helping other people get what they want.

As we have seen, customers aren’t interested in the features of our publications, and advantages alone will not motivate them to advertise. Features and advantages are only effective when the customer see them in the light of a desirable benefit.

Resolve to never offer a prospect a feature or a benefit without including a meaningful, customer specific benefit and you will be FABulously successful.


Five things shoppers look for in an ad

I have had many teachers and mentors in more than three decades in in sales. One of my favorites was Cecil “Ceese” Heyman. Ceese grew up in the “hollers” of West Virginia. He looked a bit like Boss Hog and sounded a bit like Jed Clampett, but he was one of the best advertising salespeople I’ve ever known. One of the wisest things Ceese ever told me was: “Don’t forget to remind your customers – Your ad is you in print!”

Cecil would tell his customers: “You put a lot of effort into making your place of business attractive and inviting to potential customers, Does it really make sense to send a different message to the people looking at your ad? People who have never visited your business might get the wrong impression if the ad doesn’t accurately reflect your business. If you have a small, dingy cluttered ad, they may think that’s what your store is like. You have a great business; you need a great ad to tell people about what you’ve built here.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

Ceese’s strategy was to use prospects’ pride in their business and their desire to project a positive image to sell a good-looking ad. He reminded customers of the effect the ad would have on readers. Ceese understood that an ad is a tool to communicate information about a business that will entice potential customers to call or stop in.

An ad should paint a picture of the customer’s business. The more complete the picture, the more likely someone will be motivated to do business with the advertiser (as long as the ad doesn’t become cluttered).

Here are five types of information shoppers look for in an ad:

1) Information about products and services

This is the most basic information in an ad. It tells what the client sells. Are they a jewelry shop or a plumber? The problem is that many advertisers’ ads read like a laundry list of products. Their ads are cluttered and difficult to read and frequently this information displaces other information which consumers need to make a buying decision.

Generally it is better to focus on one or two product categories in an ad and present them attractively. If a client sells many products, they can run a rotation of ads featuring various products.      

2) Why buy this product:  value factors

If the product information is the “what,” value factors are the “why.” They tell readers why they should purchase the product/service presented in the ad. People want to know what sets the advertiser apart from the competition and what makes the product worth the purchase price.

This is Selling 101 — people buy benefits, not features, but this information is missing in many ads. I see many restaurant ads that list every single topping available on the pizza and all the salad dressings available but fail to tell me one thing: Does the food taste good?

3) Can I trust this business?

Other value factors are reasonable prices (“Half off this week only”), advantages over competition (“Longest Warranty Available”), or other advantages such as safety (“Health Department’s highest rating”). Value factors are copy points that offer benefits to buyers and convince them that spending their hard-earned money with the advertiser is the smart thing to do.

We have talked about the "what and why.” Trust factors are about the “who.” Specifically, “who” am I thinking of doing business with? Can I trust this person, this company? Trust factors in an ad are statements like “since 1972” (They’re not a fly-by-night company), bonded and insured (“I’m safe to do business with”) or references available (“I can check them out”). 

This type of information becomes more and more important as the investment required to purchase the product/service increases. Businesses in industries that have a bad reputation (like used car dealerships or contractors) will reap significant rewards by establishing their trustworthiness in the mind of the consumer.

One of the best ways to establish a positive image is to use local testimonials, preferably using a photo of the satisfied customer. Readers can identify with the person pictured and this will mean more to most people than a ream of professional certifications.

4) Is this shopping experience convenient?

Convenience factors include features like free parking, delivery, evening hours, financing available, credit cards accepted or three-locations-to-serve-you. These are copy points that tell potential clients “Come on down…we’re easy to deal with!”

Consumers are stressed and busy today. Anything you can do to save readers time or to make their life just a little bit easier will make them much more likely to do business with your advertiser. Consumers often will even bypass a business that offers lower prices to visit a store which offers more convenience.

5) Now what?

This information tells the reader how to take the next step. This includes the advertiser’s business name, their address, their phone number and their web address. Here again the easier you make it for the consumer, the better response the ad will generate.

A simple map is better than an address alone and a reference point (“Across the street from city hall”) will help consumers find your client’s location. There is some research that indicates that saying something like “Call today” in front of a phone number actually causes more people to pick up the phone.

Using the five factors

As an advertising consultant, you should discuss these factors with your advertisers. When you talk to people about what goes into their ad, you get away from discussions centered on the price of the ad.

One technique that I like to use is an analysis of an ad using the factors listed above. I copy an ad and divide it into a grid. Using this grid I calculate what percentage of the ad is dedicated to each of the factors. Often when I do this I’ll find ads that completely lack trust and value factors. These ads tell customers the what and who but not the why. This process often opens a customer’s eyes and convinces them to expand their program to tell a more complete story.

You can use this analysis technique to take business away from the competition. I will review a prospect’s ad in a competitive publication before calling on them. If they say “No thanks, I’m already in the daily competitor,” you can say, “Yes, I’ve seen your ad. In fact, I did a content analysis of your copy. I’d be happy to leave it with you so you can discuss it with your rep if you’d like.”

This piques the prospect’s curiosity and keeps the discussion going. Review the analysis with the prospect to demonstrate your expertise and your willingness to work for the client. You are positioning yourself as a true consultant. More often than not, you will wind up with a slice of the client’s budget.


We are in the communication business. We try to communicate the value of our publications to our customers and we try to communicate the value our advertisers offer to their customers. It is important that we look at what our customers are saying in their ads.

Remember: The ads we create for our customers tell a story about their business. We must make sure we are telling their complete story. If we tell their story right, everyone involved, the shoppers, our advertisers and sales person, will get the happy ending they want.


Selling with intelligence: The competitive edge of master salespeople

Knowledge is power.

This is true for anyone, but especially for salespeople. To be successful, salespeople have to be very knowledgeable about their products and expert at asking good questions that uncover their customer’s business needs. While these are basic requirements for selling advertising, master salespeople take the time to educate themselves fully about their market, their competition and industry trends.

This “intelligence” gives them an edge over their competition and enhances their ability to help their customers. Here are a few ways you can increase your store of knowledge and sell with more “intelligence.”

Market intelligence

Athorough knowledge of the territory allows a salesperson to maximize current opportunities and anticipate upcoming ones. Salespeople should make a point of reading the business section of the local paper and any other local business publications to keep abreast of changes in their territory. You should pay particular attention to announcements of new businesses coming into the market.

Doing this allows you to contact the new business before the competition, often before they even break ground. Perhaps even more importantly, this information can be used to open a discussion with your current advertisers and prospects.

For example: If you hear a major chain is opening a new pharmacy in your area, you should ask the local drug store owner: “How do you think the new chain store will affect your business?

What steps do you plan to take to protect your customer base?” Remind your clients the best way to protect their business is to start advertising aggressively long before the national chain launches their marketing for the new location.

Other important points to discuss with your clients include new housing developments, highway construction, retail developments in adjoining communities and population shifts. Any kind of change, especially something that potentially affects their business, can be used to disturb advertisers’ complacency and get them thinking about advertising. If you are the first one to approach the advertiser with the news, or at least the first one to get them thinking about the challenges/opportunities presented by the changes, the client will begin to think of you as a resource for their business and as a consultant.

The web can be a good source of market intelligence. The U.S. Census Bureau and a number of other organizations collect a great deal of information on communities. A good source of information is the free lookup section of, which gives information such as the population demographics, or IRS adjusted income for every ZIP code in the U.S. If you are calling on a retirement community, they are more likely to listen to you, if you start the conversation with “Did you know more than 12,000 people over the age of 55 live in the area served by my publication?”

Market intelligence can also be gained by attending local business association and Chamber of Commerce meetings. Identify and cultivate a relationship with community leaders who can provide you with valuable information. These relationships will not only give you invaluable knowledge but also can be a source of introductions to potential clients. As always, your best source of information is asking good questions. When you notice something new in the market, make it your business to ask everyone you meet about it. Just asking questions will get the clients (and you) thinking about how it will affect their business.

Competitive intelligence

Themore you know about your competition, the more effectively you can compete. Read competitive publications; listen to local radio and watch/record local TV and cable stations. Pay attention to who is advertising, and the copy in their ads. Keep copies of the ads run by prospects and record the date the ads appeared. This will allow you to track trends and patterns in the prospects advertising.

If an advertiser runs the same ad for a long time, he or she may be open to someone who offers a new concept. Advertisers who stop advertising may be dissatisfied with the competitor and looking for an alternative. Keep a tickler file for seasonal advertisers — an advertiser’s funds may be already committed by the time you see their ads this summer, but your file will remind you to call on them the following spring.

Whenever possible, collect copies of your competitor’s media kit and collateral material. If your competitor has a website, bookmark it and look at it frequently. This material will tell you how competitors position their firm and what they see as competitive strengths.

This information will be very helpful in developing your plan to overcome the competition. One of the best sources of competitive intelligence is your current advertisers; ask them to save any competitive literature for you. Be sure to share the information you collect with other sales people within your company and ask them to do the same.

Recently I approached a prospect that advertised in a local coupon magazine. From talking to other advertisers I knew this magazine was very flexible with their rates, charging a wide range of prices for similar ads (From $100 to $1,000). When the advertiser said he liked the competitor, I agreed with him and said as someone who had been in advertising for years, I didn’t know how they can produce that type of ad for a $100. When the customer looked surprised and challenged my statement, I suggested he not “take my word for it” but just call some of the other advertisers and compare notes. He doubted me, but did as I suggested and is now an advertiser in our publication. My knowledge of the competitor’s practices allowed me to turn this account around.

Industry intelligence

Knowing something about a prospect’s or advertiser’s industry is an excellent way to differentiate yourself from the run of the mill advertising sales person. Most industries have association websites that can be a wealth of information about trends and issues of interest to your clients. Google their business and look for facts that you can use. Once while waiting for a chiropractor to see me, I picked up an industry magazine in his waiting room. The cover article was about new techniques used to adjust the spinal columns of infants. When I got in to see the client, I asked him about this trend. He was very interested in this subject and gave me an impassioned description of this aspect of his practice. I asked him if most people were aware of this subject and when he agreed they were not, it was a simple matter to sell him on a series of ads “educating” the public about his profession.

One of the best sources of information on industries is other advertising. Look at what national advertisers are promoting, look at what other local firms have in their ads and use these as conversation starters. Use your conversations with advertisers/prospects as opportunities to collect information that you can share on future calls.

Taking the time to research a client’s industry makes engaging them in conversation much easier. It shows the client that you are willing to go the extra mile to understand his/her business and to help their business.


Gathering intelligence takes some forethought and can be time-consuming, but it pays big dividends in sales results. One of the benefits of a career in sales is the opportunity we get to learn and grow as individuals. The commissions and salaries we earn from our jobs are soon spent on the necessities of life, but the knowledge we gain is ours to keep forever. Another thing we get to keep is the sense of accomplishment that comes from being a knowledgeable professional.