Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Ask Yourself the Tough Questions

Ask yourself the tough questions. That's a great strategy for sales presentation prep.

I remember chatting with a chemist who works for a large international research company. He mentioned that he and his coworkers make numerous presentations at conferences. "It's always a pressure-packed situation," he said, "because our reputation is riding on the outcome, and a lot of research money is at stake."

He explained that a lot of audiences try to punch holes in their research. "Preparation is everything," he said. "If we're not ready with the right answers, a project can die right there on the spot."

Sounds like a sales presentation, doesn't it? Fumble a question, and lose a sale.

I asked how they get ready for big presentations. "It's like that old joke," he explained. "A teenager asked a New York City cop how to get to Carnegie Hall, and the cop said, 'Practice, practice, practice.' It's standard procedure for us – and for every presenter – to polish examples, fine tune the PowerPoints, proofread the handouts, and rehearse in realistic settings. But we go one step beyond that by asking ourselves the tough questions ahead of time. Those are the questions that could be asked by the orneriest person in the audience, maybe someone who wants to see us fall flat on our faces. Then we rehearse the answers until we know them well enough to respond under pressure."

Ask yourself the tough questions. That's a great strategy for sales presentation prep.

The most difficult questions deal with ad costs and ad results. Let's take a look at two representative examples. Sure, they're uncomfortable to discuss. But with practice, you – and your entire ad department – can prepare acceptable answers.

1. What is your lowest price? This is a reasonable question – one which you've probably asked as a consumer. If the lowest rate appears on the rate card, the answer is easy, because you can simply explain the published discounts. However, if your paper sells off the rate card, this question is a trap that can kill the sale. When you say your lowest price is $200, and your prospect says she knows someone who got the same size ad for $100, you'd better be ready with an answer.

Your response should be a diplomatic – and honest – expression of your paper's policy.

2. Why isn't my ad working? The problem with this question is that it is asked after you've made a sale. You're dealing with an unhappy advertiser whose expenditure is not meeting expectations.

The cause can usually be narrowed to: (1) wrong offer, (2) wrong target audience, (3) poor execution, (4) not enough frequency or (5) all of the above. In your answer, you should shift the focus from the last ad to the next ad. And you should be ready to re-sell him or her on the benefits of advertising in your paper.

The more you know about advertising principles, the better equipped you will be to answer this question. It's not just the words you say, it's the knowledge behind those words.

When it comes to questions and answers, you want good chemistry.