Partnership Selling for the Long Term

Here’s a joke for you: Susan breaks up with Jack, a man her mother adored, and begins dating Mike. Every time her mother calls, she asks Susan about Jack, how he is doing, what he is doing, if she ever sees him, etc. One day Susan becomes so annoyed she finally says, “Mom, enough about Jack. It’s over. I’m dating Mike. Ask me something about Mike!” Her mother pauses and says, “So what does Mike think of Jack?”

I see some of you doing this same thing with advertisers. No matter what your advertisers say, you respond on your own track and talk about your site and its benefits. Why? You’re excited about your web site. You believe in it. You have a big quota. This is all well and good, but that enthusiasm, pride, and motivation can seriously backfire.

In this dot-com fallout period, there is pressure to produce revenues and results NOW. There is also pressure to build broad, long-term partnerships with advertisers. And the ideal would be to build broad, big-revenue relationships NOW.

It would be easier to take out your own appendix.

Transactional selling is very different from partnership selling. One is the short-term quick hit (and sometimes those are exactly what you want). The other is a longer-term, developmental sale, where the payoff is usually much greater in terms of revenues, renewals, and growth.

It takes time for the latter sale, which requires a lot more listening time while sitting face to face, more time aligning your company’s internal resources with client needs, and more time in meetings with the client.

But big-ticket selling, online or off, still begins with that old-fashioned, low-tech skill: listening.

Why Listening?

For two reasons. First, listening is a time-related issue. In this high-tech world, time is the overwhelming limited resource. If you skim over advertisers’ real needs and expectations, you’re wasting their time (and yours) and irritating them in the process. So, listening is not just a nice-to-have skill; it is an essential skill for being perceived as value added instead of value wasted in people’s busy lives.

Second, listening is a human-nature thing. When people really listen to us, whether it’s our significant other, our doctor, or the guy selling us a new computer, we tend to feel cared about, important, and secure. Strong listening builds trust. Strong listening in selling elevates you to the level of expert in the eyes of the other person. Strong listening encourages people to share information and feelings.

The bottom line: Strong listening produces a more robust discussion that most likely will pay off big-time in increased revenues.

Example: I witnessed a role-play between an advertiser and a sales rep that exemplified how dangerous it is when you don’t listen well. The advertiser said he needed to be aggressive in his advertising. The rep immediately and enthusiastically offered several creative options for aggressive advertising, everything from sponsorships to sweepstakes. I stopped the role-play and asked the rep to go back and simply ask the advertiser WHY he needed to be aggressive. The floodgates opened and the rep got an earful about a previous bad experience the advertiser had had with sponsorships and what he had needed to do to offset the negative fallout that had occurred with customers.

Demonstrating a lack of attention again, the rep went off on her own track and immediately recited a list of all the successful sponsorships that her site had with advertisers and continued to sell the value of sponsorships. Again, I stopped her and asked her to ask the advertiser WHAT the negative consequences of the earlier sponsorship were. This time the floodgates opened even wider, and new information came out that helped the rep craft a specific, applicable solution to this advertiser’s problem.

Without the rep picking up on the advertiser’s cues and the advertiser being prompted to share this new information, the rep would have missed the opportunity to win the business that was there to be had.

What Does It Really Mean to Listen Well?

You need to be intensively focused on the other person, to have a kind of “listening intelligence.” In an October 2000 issue of The New Yorker, there is a wonderful definition of that ability in an article about the election. It includes a reference to Clinton’s “emotional acuity… an ability to size up a person or a group of people, sense the vectors of hope and sentiment or anxiety and resentment rocketing around the room, and windsurf the breezes and gales of feeling toward his goal.”

In less-elevated day-to-day selling terms, this translates to:

  1. Seeing advertisers with the intention to understand them and their situations first before you talk. Think: I am here to help the advertiser win, and, thereby, I will win as well.

  2. Paying attention and responding to the other person’s expressed and observed emotions. Here’s an example. Advertiser: shaking his head while saying, “We really need this to work.” Rep: “My sense is this is more important than usual. What is going on that makes success here so important now?”
  3. Asking questions for clarity. For example: “Why?” “What does that mean to you?” “Tell me more…”
  4. Suppressing your need to listen to the sweet, dulcet sounds of your own familiar voice.

In sum, everyone wants to bring in big ad contracts. To win big, listen big. Remember, while no one ever listened himself or herself out of a sale, so to speak, many have talked themselves out of one.

A happy and prosperous new year to all.

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