Serious Problems

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The recent SIRIUS/XM merger hasn’t appeared to help the struggling satellite provider in the short term, with over a billion dollars in debt due in 2009. The company touts its 17% annual growth rate in subscribers as an indication there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But other changes may not bode well for the satellite giant.

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The Name Game

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In an earlier post, I mentioned how advantageous it can be to learn the name of the decision-taker and gatekeeper when approaching a new client. The question is: what’s the “easy” way to uncover this information?

Here’s how it’s done: pick up the phone, call the potential client, and ask.

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Lowering Expectations

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Two travelers met in an airport terminal.

“Where are you going?” asked the first.

“Don’t know,” replied the second. “I just buy a ticket and get on a plane.”

“Well, if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you’ve arrived?”

Most advertising campaigns are not much different. We sell a client a schedule to “increase sales” and the client is hoping for “more traffic” and “some new faces”, but without a specific goal, it’s impossible to know when the ad campaign is a “success”.

The difficulty lies in the difference between reality and the client’s expectations. When an advertiser runs a schedule with your stations, will he be satisfied with 10 responses?  One hundred? One thousand? If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. To that end, the Return on Investment Calculator (shameless plug) can help both you and the client arrive at a realistic, measurable goal that defines an adequate return on his advertising investment. Without such a benchmark, both you and the customer are likely to be disappointed.

But beyond a measurable goal is the requirement for a message from the advertiser that is worthy of a response. Some clients think that by “just getting our name out there” they’ll see an increase in business. And they might achieve that goal. But if the message is on target and compelling, they’ll realize a much larger return.

Several years ago, one of our top-rated stations ran extremely heavy schedules for two non-competing advertisers: an auto dealer and a furniture store. The schedules were such that many of their ads ran back-to-back. The following week, the auto dealer reported dismal results; sales were horrible and Radio didn’t bring in any customers. The furniture store meanwhile reported excellent results; a record-breaking week that was the best in their history.

The difference was the message content. The furniture store offered excellent value and a compelling message. The auto dealer’s message was “come buy a car from us.”

Fixing an advertiser’s expectation of results and crafting the message they will send are two critical parts of success in Radio (and in any advertising medium). Without these goals in mind, neither you nor the client will know when you’ve arrived.

Comfortable with Silence

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Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a sales newby.

I had undergone the standard sales training: my sales manager handed me a copy of the yellow pages, a rate card, and pointed to the street. “Go get ’em, tiger!”

It took over a year of making every mistake a new salesperson can make for me to finally realize there are certain things you should do—and others you should definitely not do—when attempting to make a sale. One of the items under the “definitely not” category was talking too much.

Think back to a time when you met someone to whom you were very attracted. You wanted to make a good impression, and there were those awkward moments of silence. To minimize the discomfort, you said something—anything—to fill the void. Unfortunately, whatever you said made the discomfort worse. And saying the wrong thing risked ending the relationship before it ever truly began.

The same is true in sales.

Once, when calling on a decision-taker in his office, I completed my presentation and sat back to await a response. Instead of asking a question or making a comment, the executive turned his swivel chair and gazed out the window. I was somewhat nonplussed.

What was he doing? I fought down the urge to fill the silence. Instead, I vowed I would not say a word…even if we both sat in his office for years as time ticked silently by.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity—but was actually only about 30 seconds—the man turned back to me, picked up a pen and signing the offer said: “Okay, let’s do it!” He took the time to think over the merits of my proposal, and eventually decided they outweighed whatever negatives he was considering.

I’m convinced that if I had given into the urge to fill the silence by saying something, I would have broken his concentration and possibly lost the sale. He had all the information he needed to decide…he just needed a moment to think things through logically.

If you’ve had the quick salesperson’s course, add this bit of experience to your fund of knowledge. If you’ve said all you need to say to make the sale, say no more. Become “comfortable” with silence and let it work for you.

All “Is-Is-Is”, All The Time

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Christmas Eve, sitting in a supermarket parking lot in West Palm Beach, FL.

While waiting for the wife to obtain a few last-minute items, I switched to the AM band and pressed the “Scan” button on the radio. The digital dial spun like a slot machine display and ended up at 1000.


My ears were treated to a very unusual format. Instead of talk, music, sports, weather, or some other mundane format, I heard: “is-is-is-is-is-is…”

Ad infinitum.

It was obvious that the station’s automation system had locked up. The audio source—whatever it might have been—was repeatedly sampling the word “is”, perhaps as a holiday tribute to President Clinton’s infamous quote about the meaning of “is”.

I checked back from time to time to find out how long—if ever—it took for someone…anyone at the station to realize there was a problem. I gave up after two hours.

The obvious conclusion: this station was part of a group and the attention was being given to the “important” stations, namely the FM outlets. The AM was automated, unattended, and ignored.

Unfortunately, this condition obtains in a lot of companies in a lot of markets. The idea behind consolidation was to maximize revenues while minimizing expenses and resources. In theory, all the stations benefit. But experience shows that when multiple stations are added to the same cluster, 100% of effort cannot be allocated to each one. A five-station cluster means each station garners an average attention of 20%. Providing more attention to one means the others will suffer. This is not the way it is supposed to work—but in the real world things often don’t work out as intended.

The bottom line: if Radio people don’t pay attention to all of their stations, don’t be surprised when listeners don’t pay attention, either.

Radio (Still) Never Takes A Holiday

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“Radio never takes a holiday.”

That liner was a reminder that local Radio stations were always on hand—even through major holidays—to provide the music, news, weather, sports, and more that both listeners and advertisers depend on.  Today, thanks to the giant strides in station automation, all but a very few station staff members will enjoy days off.  In many markets, the stations will be on complete auto-pilot with no human hand at the helm.

About a decade ago, things were very different.  While the sales and administrative staff would spend a holiday with family, a good portion of the air staff of local stations was on the air as normal.  Prior to automation, each station had at least one staff member on the air on Christmas day and again on New Year’s day.

What will Radio be like a decade from now?

It’s difficult to predict.  But I suspect Radio will still be here; still providing the music, news, sports, weather, and more.  It may be radically different from what we know today, but it will be here.

Even on holidays.

Customer No-Service

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My wife recently experienced the depths of automated telephone systems when she placed a call to a well-known, national service provider to inquire about an unauthorized credit card debit.

Calling the designated national number, she became lost in a telephone tree with five choices, none of which addressed the issue about which she was calling.  To make matters worse, if she pressed “0” (a logical choice to be connected to an operator/live person), she was returned to the very front of the automated message where the process started all over again.  After three tries, she hung up.

Next, a call was placed to the local branch office of the organization.  After another trip through a telephone tree, she managed to reach a real person who forwarded her to another office.  There she was greeted with the message that “all our representatives are busy” and informed to leave her name and number and they would call her back…eventually.

Finally, a call to a third office managed to reach Katie, a real, live, competent person with a positive, how-can-I-help attitude.  Not only did Katie take immediate steps to resolve the problem, she took pains to relay exactly what she was doing and how it would ensure the problem would not occur in the future.  In every way, her performance was exceptional.

What type of service do your customers (both advertisers and listeners) receive when calling your station?  Are they greeted professionally and receive prompt responses to their queries, or are they relegated to some type of telephone hell?  How many people do they have to go through in order to obtain an answer/resolution?

The best way to find out is to ask your clients.  The feedback you receive may surprise you.

Hows Your Account Portfolio?

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Almost every Radio salesperson I’ve met likes having a large account list.  The apparent thinking is the more accounts the better.  There’s always the possibility — however remote — that one of the people on the list will call in one day, asking if they can advertise on the stations.

You could also hit the lottery this weekend.

Some time ago, when a particular salesperson was struggling with a list of 70-plus accounts and lamenting a lack of sales, his experienced sales manager asked him to look at his list as if it were a stock portfolio.  Which accounts were performing well, which had significant potential, and which were non-performers?  After ranking the accounts by potential, he dropped the bottom half his list.

Concentrating his efforts on the remaining 35 or so accounts with real potential, his sales doubled within four weeks.  In this case, less really was more.

Re-evaluating your account list on a quarterly or even monthly basis allows you to eliminate the dead wood that is keeping you from developing those accounts with real potential.  A good clue is to drop any account that hasn’t shown movement after 90 days.  Keep your list lean and mean, and watch your sales increase.

A Little Bit Pregnant

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I heard a commercial on the radio yesterday that made me laugh…but not because the ad was intended to be funny.  It was the type of ad I call “English-challenged”.

The ad copy (for which business I don’t remember) claimed the sale now underway was “…the most unique in the area!”

Pardon me.  Have the people who wrote this copy opened a dictionary lately?  Apparently not.

Unique is defined as being one of a kind; standing alone. Nothing else like it.  This means “unique” is not subject to modification.  It cannot be more or less; it is either one of a kind or it is not.  Sort of like being pregnant.  You either are or you aren’t.

But this is not a surprise.  Language on the Radio (and TV) is tortured and twisted every day.  Perhaps the most egregious offenses are the meaningless phrases that occupy the majority of ads.  Examples:

  • Save like never before (I got this product free last week, a 100% savings; are you now going to pay me to take it?)
  • Unbelievable savings (You’re right—I don’t believe it)
  • Incredible bargains (Bargains with no credibility; I’ll be right there)
  • Conveniently located (Convenient for me is across the street…I’m looking but I don’t see your store there)

These are just a few.  Feel free to supply your own in the comments.

Depending on the size of your station and the local practices, you’re either occasionally writing ad copy or you’re writing it every day.  Take the time to brush up on alternative words (a thesaurus is a great tool to have within easy reach) and break free of the mediocrity and misuse of our language.  Your ads will sound better, and maybe even produce better results.

What’s in a Name?

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In a previous post, I mentioned how calling a gatekeeper by name can aid your quest to reach the decision taker. If you’ve spent time on the phone trying to reach Mr. Decision, you’ve probably experienced a conversation similar to this:

Gatekeeper: “Good morning, Great Big Business Company, Mr. Decision’s office.”

You: “Hello, is Mr. Decision in?”

Gatekeeper: “Whom may I say is calling?”

You: “This is Rodney Ratecard from WWTH Radio.”

Gatekeeper: “Let me see if Mr. Decision will take your call.”

After a minute or so on hold, you are informed that Mr. Decision is in a meeting and can’t accept your call.

Well, maybe he is in a meeting. But maybe not.

After going through this scenario countless times, it was time to wise up. On one of my next calls, I found out that Ms. Gatekeeper had a first name: Susan. In addition, Mr. Decision also had a first name: Bob. A few days later, the next call went like this:

Susan: “Good morning, Great Big Business Company, Mr. Decision’s office.”

You: “Hi, Susan. This is Rodney Ratecard from WWTH. Is Bob there?”

Susan: “Just a moment.”

Bob: “This is Bob Decision. Who is this?”

You might think this is a fantasy, but it works 90 percent of the time…even on a cold call. The key is to find out the first names of both the gatekeeper and the decision taker (I’ll tell you how that’s easily accomplished in a future post). Notice that I offer my name and company up front. You know Susan is going to ask for it, so make it easy on her. It demonstrates you’re not ashamed of your employer. But most of all, it has you talking like the people who are calling and getting through to Mr. Decision every day. By the tone of their voice and the words they use, they convey that going through the gatekeeper is a routine formality—not an insurmountable barrier.

If you’re having problems getting through to your decision taker, give this method a few tries. You’ll be delightfully surprised at the results.