The last session of the WAN-Sudan Advertising Sales Training Program for Newspapers Executives looked at how to handle objections in the sales process. Marilyn Honikman, former marketing and sales director for The Weekly Mail (today The Mail & Guardian) in South Africa, and current marketing manager of Big News for the Business Owner, led the training.
Client objection is a natural part of the buying process. Expect objections. Often, if there is no objection, the client is so switched off they are not even in the room. They’re not going to buy. Even if the objection comes across as fairly rude and obnoxious, don’t be thrown by it.
Objections happen when:
- More information is needed
- Clarification is required
- Further justification is needed
- There is disbelief or skepticism, proof is needed
- There is apathy or indifference, or no perceived need
- The client dislikes something about the company or the product
- The timing is wrong
See it as the client needing more information. Acknowledge their objection. Say, “I understand your objection” or “I acknowledge your concern”. Then ask them for more information about their concern. Let them talk. It will give you more time to compose yourself.
Respond to their objections with soft questions of your own:
“May I ask…”
“Please clarify for me….”
“Is it the price that is making you hesitate? There are a few options…”
“You obviously have a good reason for saying that. Please share with me.”
“I’d like to hear more about what happened…”
“That is an excellent question. This is how we can handle it.”
“Am I right in thinking it is the …… that worries you?’
“So what you are saying is that you don’t think we have enough readers to give you results?”
Respond by answering the objection as best you can:
“I understand your concern. Allow me to show you...”
Or even, “I am so glad you brought up that point. Let me show you what progress we have made in that area…”
Avoid the word BUT. It can sound aggressive and defensive. Remember what I said about this being like a boxing match. You roll with the punches. Using the word “but” is combative.
What do you do when the objection given doesn’t feel like the real reason for the objection? You ask the client more questions. You bring him back to the newspaper. Sometimes, if the client doesn’t have enough of a budget, they don’t want to tell you that. Or of course, you get back to the horrible problem that the person is just pretending to have the authority to buy and does not actually have it. And then you can see that perhaps you have to come back another time when there is a budget or you need to find out who has the authority to buy.
Probe to discover the problem. There are some tricks for determining what the real problem is. Using whatever problem he gives you, ask him questions such as: “Suppose that wasn’t a problem.” This should help you uncover and then deal with the real issue, which the client may be embarrassed about.
Assuming there is a match between your client’s needs and your newspaper, their objections could have to do with:
Cost: They think your newspaper is too expensive for the number of readers that you have. This is where having audience research is key. You can then show that the cost of per reader is not in fact that expensive. There might be another segment that your reader research shows that you reach – for example, you have a large percentage of readers with post-graduate degrees. And the client is a university. You can show that the cost per reader in that particular segment of readership is not that expensive, because those people are difficult to find in a group.
Not wanting to change from their present media outlets: They have been with the same newspaper for years and switching is going to mean effort; that they have to do some work themselves and make a policy decision. You are going to have gathered all your facts and figures to show the benefits of using your newspaper over the ones they have used before.
Example: When I was with the Weekly Mail during the period when we only had a circulation of about 8,000, we were competing for recruitment advertising with a national newspaper that had a circulation of 500,000. We did research that showed that 25 percent of our readers had post-graduate degrees. I was able to do some sums that showed in actual numbers my newspaper reached more people with post-graduate degrees than did the Sunday Times. That became the newspaper’s “bread and butter” for a long time. We got all the universities to advertise with us. And what’s more, the universities realized how well it worked. The advertising in our newspaper worked better than the advertising in the Sunday Times. But without the audience research, we never would have been able to prove it.
Time and timing: Maybe they just have nothing to sell right now. They’re waiting for stocks to come in and they don’t want to advertise right now. Your questioning needs to establish that so that you know when you should come back to them again.
They have had a bad experience with your newspaper: This is the hardest. They were let down, the ad was messed up, they’ve been disappointed in some way. If they have had a bad experience with you, my advice is to step aside. Sometimes personalities just don’t click. If yours does not click with the person you are in front of, despite losing the commission, sometimes it is better to set them up with someone else.
But if it was the fault of the newspaper, not a clash in personality, you ask them questions about their experience. You listen with sympathy. Sometimes just giving them the opportunity to let off steam is all that is needed. And then when you’ve got the details, apologize and tell them what you are going to do to improve matters. And if the problem was with someone who designed the ad, or with the editor, talk to them back at the office and make sure its never going to happen again.
Get back to the golden rule: “Under promise and over deliver”
Your newspaper has criticized their product or company: This is where you try to get a meeting set up with the managing director of the company and you bring your editor along. You get them to tell you about exactly what their problem is with your newspaper. Sometimes just that is enough to get them to view your newspaper as objective. Another very important aspect here is your newspaper’s editorial policy of allowing a response. If you have criticized the company in an article, in this same article you should also have their response. This is called the right of reply. If you are working for a good newspaper, you will have this problem all the time because it is a strong, critical newspaper that will offend people all the time.
How do you get around a company’s policy not to advertise in your newspaper? You go first and give it your best shot. If you can’t arrange this, you ask your editor to phone and request a meeting asking them to clarify their position. The editor can also invite a ‘letter to the editor’ to include in the newspaper. Try to go with the editor-in-chief so that you don’t relinquish your authority. But if it is a phone call, it could be an editor to the managing director. Or it could be the journalist who wrote the article to the PR department. You will have checked with your editor first. You speak to them about this problem and you don’t invite a letter unless the editor has agreed first that he will publish it. In my old newspaper we critiqued one company’s impact on the environment. I was able to convince them to place an advertisement about how they were improving this practice. I don’t know how honest they were, but we got a lot of money.
Example: The government – they don’t like your editorial stance. You can tell them that they can take out an ad to show the world that their government is moving toward democracy. If they are clever, they will place an ad in your newspaper to show the world that they support open society and democracy. This might work with some, it might not. But try it!