I was prompted in part, to write this on the basis of another fine blog from Mark Schaefer over on the ‘Grow’ blog I’ve featured before. In its title was the phrase ‘Truth as Competitive Advantage’, which is a phrase I love! And it got me thinking about what my, and therefore my sales teams competitive advantage might be? Along the way, I identified some more of the ‘really bad sales advice’ I’ve promised to uncover in this blog, so here we go…

By competitive advantage, I mean beyond the obvious, and beyond the transient. Beyond the so-called ‘features / benefits’ style of selling, which is largely irrelevant in my style of selling, and very limiting in terms of getting a high quality conversation going with a client. Beyond whatever, in my case, the current audience picture maybe, or whether fashions dictate that radio advertising is ‘hot’ or ‘not’. Either scenario I’ve seen play out before many times.

The one thing I’ve always prided myself on is my honesty. Honesty in terms of dealing with people and clients. And this basic character attribute (or flaw! It’s got me into trouble plenty of times as well!) has developed into a sort of system or approach to the job. Selling the client for their own good. (What Dave Gifford calls ‘tough love selling’)

And so I’ve found my personal USP! My competitive advantage, and it’s one I would suggest everyone selling in the same way, i.e. so called ‘consultative selling’ adopts immediately.

I’ve always believed that I can sell effective advertising through any medium, given that at least some people are consuming it, and the client will do what I want them to do. And I suspect many other consultative sellers will see the same opportunities within their own industries. It actually boils down to the quality of advice and your knowledge of the subject at hand, as well as your ability to impart that knowledge. If the client isn’t listening, it might be that you aren’t selling them right!

For the sake of this article, I’m going to continue with the selling of radio advertising as the theme, and leave it up to you, dear reader, to translate that, if possible, into your own markets and industries.

The second bit of really bad sales advice to talk about (beyond the irrelevance of the ‘features benefits’ style above) is the completely irrational requirement to get (especially) new sales people to uncover the clients ‘budget’ before progressing. I understand that sales trainers would prefer sales people to only talk to good prospects, which means prospects with money, and they achieve this through this hugely unsophisticated approach. The trouble is, it results in advertising campaigns designed to fit into a budget, rather than advertising campaigns that work.

And anyway, how many times have you been asked by a sales person ‘how much have you got to spend?’ or some such? And how many times have you been genuine and honest in your answer? Exactly my point. The last thing a client wants to do is give you an indication of how much they can pay. On the basis that you’ll simply come back with a price designed to be ‘affordable’ and therefore prevent them from using the ‘it’s too expensive card’ in their negotiations.

Now it gets really interesting. When you really need something, or want something, the cost becomes a different entity altogether doesn’t it? The cost becomes something you maybe need to justify to yourself? Or your partner maybe? The cost becomes something that you may even aspire to in some sense. Besides  we all know nothing any good comes cheap. A great example of this is golf clubs! I’ve lost count of how much I’ve spent on golf clubs designed to improve my game, or at least in the often vain hope of improving my game.

If something goes wrong and we need it fixing, or we win big in someway and want to celebrate in style, we are always looking to justify the ‘high prices’ we might find ourselves needing to pay for things. Simply put – If we want it, we’ll pay for it.

In the case of advertising, it’s often the case that the customer buys despite the sales person. They buy because they feel they must have some form of advertising for their business, and in this mind-set the number one priority is to minimise the cost. Add into this mix the sales person that is actually grateful for the order and there is a recipe for disaster. A client buying the wrong thing, at too cheap a price, and a sales person so happy to walk out with an order that they aren’t at all willing to compromise the possible commission.

Contrast this with the situation you find yourself in when you present a client with a fantastic idea that they just have to have! The first thing you’ll notice is that you’ll talk to them differently (much more assertive in general) and the second is that they wont be particularly interested in how much this idea will cost. You are excited about the product, they are excited about the product, and they just have to have it!

Is this because radio advertising is capable of taking on the attributes of fantastic art? Or that we can reach advertisers through the medium of the 30 second spot on such an emotional level they can’t help themselves from buying? Nope, it’s usually because it’s nothing more complicated than they can see how the idea you have for them is going to make them money – they can see how its going to work.

Thats what gets clients excited. Excited enough to buy, and buy without all that nasty argument over how much it costs, and how much budget they may or may not have.

So it stands to reason that you attempt to only sell advertising that works! Don’t sell any other type at all.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say, if you wouldn’t buy it for yourself, if you were in the advertisers shoes, then don’t sell it. If its something you yourself would turn your nose up at, you’ve no business recommending it to anyone.

And here is your potential  USP? You only sell advertising that works. You sell the advertiser what they need to have, rather than want to have. You sell based on your own personal recommendation, based on your judgement and experience. You sell only what will bring in results for the client.

You stand your ground when the client dictates or suggests or alters and adjusts. You sell them for their own good. You explain that you are the expert, and they wouldn’t get an accountant in to do the books and then ignore the advice for instance. You stick to your guns, and insist they buy what you have to sell, in the way you need them to buy it, for the price that you need to get for it.

After all, what DO they know about what we sell? And whats the point of having us representing ourselves as experts if we aren’t going to work this way? In terms of what you sell, the client is almost always wrong, and this very fact should be what finally makes them decide to buy.




  1. Mike Bersin
    Mike Bersin says:

    Couldn’t agree more; selling the client advertising that’s going to make them money is easy, cause that’s what they want. Problem is, in my experience, not every salesperson I meet in radio actually knows what works; every TSA has a proportion of toxic clients who “tried radio once and it didn’t work” and go round telling all their business mates.

    • damiandowling
      damiandowling says:

      thats exactly the issue Mike. In my opinion, selling advertising should require qualification much like advisors in other business critical areas such as IT and accountancy
      Maybe then the good ones will be taken more seriously, and the bad ones weeded out so they cant do any damage!

  2. Paul
    Paul says:

    After presenting scripts, before anyone gets a chance to speak (and sweet lord I try not to let the sales person speak before I can get this out!), I always ask the client, can you see how that will work for you/make the phone ring/drive people into your store?
    If they say no, and somehow we’ve got it wrong (brief changed etc) theres little point, I find, in talking price!

  3. Christopher O. Wait
    Christopher O. Wait says:

    Great conversation starter Damien!

    Speaking as a radio Creative Director, I’ve seen selling on price as one of the worst ways to sell. I’ve seen sales reps actually laugh out loud at a client who told them their budget and tell them they can’t afford radio, I’ve seen another rep take a clients budget and play 2-30 second ads…that’s right 2. Not 2 per day or 2 per hour. Just 2 (with separate creative I might add). Neither of these scenarios helped the clients.

    We are in the business of helping clients. That is the only business we’re in. Period.
    We should offer suggestions to those clients who “can’t afford” radio and be willing to give folks the bad news if they want to buy radio but the budget they have won’t do them any good.Talk to your creative team see what they can come up with. Clever door hanger mail outs, attaching their name to one of your promotions, referral ideas etc.By doing this we’ve achieved 2 things. We’ve been honest with them (and who doesn’t like honesty?) and we’ve given them a positive experience with our industry and/or company which will hopefully be remembered when they do have a budget that can afford airtime. No more “I tried radio and it didn’t work” conversations.

    That being said; many, many clients do come across as wrong. I prefer a positive spin though. They’re just uneducated. Just like when we go to the doctor, we like to know “how” we can avoid the injury we’ve just been diagnosed with, or what the medication they’re prescribing is going to do. We need to help educate them and let them know why they need that particular daypart, rotation, consistency of message, style of message etc. I would have to say that 75% of a writer’s daily tasks (in my experience) has been educating clients on what exactly they’ve bought, why it’s worth it and why I’ve gone the way I did with the copy. We need to remember (and I hope sales reps take a note here) that this is a lot of money for our clients to be spending and it’s very risky for them to put their livelihood and businesses future and reputation in the hands of someone else. Let’s flip the mindset. We don’t sell airtime. We don’t sell ads. We sell advertising expertise. They are experts at their business, we’re experts at ours. We don’t tailor campaigns to budgets, we create campaigns that work and hopefully you can afford it!

    From the writer standpoint though, I am tired of hearing (mostly from sales reps/managers who need to make budget. Don’t get me wrong, I understand, but…) the old adage “you can lead a horse to water…” and being told to do what the client has asked for regardless of how effective it will be. I personally feel that the results achieved from these campaigns are MY/MY COMPANY’S reputation on the line, and by allowing “uneducated” cleints to steer the buy/copy in a direction that won’t help, is only detrimental to our industry and our company. I’d rather let the client walk than mess with my reputation and perhaps by telling them that, we might get them to understand and have a little more faith in our expertise.

    Sorry for the lengthy ramble but sometimes, it just needs to be said.

  4. damiandowling
    damiandowling says:

    Great comments Christopher, and thanks for joining in! I agree pretty much with everything you say, but I especially like the remarks about your reputation being on the line with every client you take on
    I’ve always felt this is the case, and take every brief personally as a challenge to get the best results for my client. And I’ll often suggest to prospective clients that they speak to my existing clients for testimonials, thats relying on my reputation in exactly the way you mention.
    one other thing, why do you think it is that it’s only professional copy writers / creatives / creative directors that have commented on this post! Where are the sales guys?!