Sell beyond the overlap

August 8, 2014

By John Foust

Meredith has been selling advertising for many years. “Watch out for overlap,” she told me. “It’s a big challenge in the sales profession. Just like all companies who compete with each other, my paper and my competitors offer a lot of the same things. I’ve heard that—depending on the industry—feature overlap can be more than 50 percent.”

According to Meredith, when a salesperson focuses on things that the competition can do just as well, there’s little chance for differentiation. The prospect thinks, “Why buy advertising in Choice A when Choice B offers the same thing?”

Here are some common areas that can overlap:

1. Audience: “To sell beyond the overlap, this is a good place to start,” Meredith said. “The No. 1 media question that advertisers have is: ‘How many prospective buyers will my ads reach?’ All salespeople talk about audience, but not many of them acknowledge the fact that other media choices reach some of the same people.”

Selling beyond the overlap forces you to analyze how many of your advertiser’s prospects you—and your competitors—can reach. With facts on your side, your selling approach becomes: “Of course, we cover x-audience, like so-and-so does. But let me show you where we reach more people” (better quality buyers, etc.)

“Even when you’re selling against Total Market Coverage products, there can be gaps in coverage,” Meredith said. “You’ve just got to look for them.”

That leads us to another possible source of overlap.

2. Market research: More and more media companies are offering research services to their advertisers. This can be a good point of differentiation.

“It’s important to promote your research department as an objective source of information,” Meredith said. “If advertisers start to think it’s just to stack the deck in your favor, they’ll turn away.”

3. Ad production: “Although most media companies are capable of producing ads, this is where you can put some distance between you and your competition,” Meredith explained. “Unless your prospect uses an ad agency, your creative team will have a big influence on the content and style of the advertising. In fact, you might close the deal if you have some good examples of ads your paper has created—both print and online.”

4. Flexibility: “Advertisers are concerned about adaptability,” Meredith explained. “How quickly can they adjust to shifting market conditions? Obviously, dailies can outmaneuver weeklies, and weeklies can outmaneuver monthlies. On the other hand, it looks like online marketing levels the playing field. But there are bound to be gaps.”

5. Customer service: “Actions speak—and sell—louder than words,” Meredith said. “Everybody talks about their great customer service, but how many actually walk the talk? If your competitors are slack in this area, you can position yourself as extraordinary.

“It’s better to talk less—and do more—about customer service. Demonstrate your customer-centered philosophy by returning phone calls and e-mails right away, by keeping your accounts informed about their ads, and by sending hand-written thank you notes.” © John Foust 2014. All rights reserved.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

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