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This past weekend I had an encounter that reminded me how important it is that we (as writers, animal welfare workers, business owners, entrepreneurs, etc…) keep our audience in mind when we establish marketing campaigns. Sounds like a simple directive, but can you say you are doing it as well as a part-time newspaper salesperson?

A woman selling newspaper subscriptions at a local art fair stopped me in my tracks this weekend with her marketing methods. She opened with a simple question, “Do you subscribe to the paper?”  I explained that I had when I lived in town, but since moving to another county I hadn’t taken the paper.

She explained that since I lived in the next county, I would receive a special paper that carried news for both counties. Almost a “two in one” offer! She enthusiastically pointed out that the new rates for annual subscriptions had dipped to an unbelievably low price that basically equals that of four months of the regular subscription. To boot, she was offering two $20 dollar gift cards to a local grocery store.

I had to inform her that I only purchased the Sunday paper for the advertisements and I had been cutting down on those newspaper purchases this year. She cut me off and explained that they had an option for that too. They have a four day weekend edition that would save me a boatload of money and I could still have a $20 gift card.

A great deal to be sure, but I had been cutting back on my newspaper purchases because I’ve been viewing the advertisements online and reading the paper online too. Still, it was something to consider. I let her know I’d think about it and if I changed my mind while walking around, I’d come back to talk to her. Her face visibly fell, but she thanked me for my time and went off to greet the next person.  

This encounter has a lot of great material to mull over. One, she was confident and well-versed in her material. She had printouts that illustrated the subscription rates, regular and sale rates, and while she referred to them to provide a visual for me, she didn’t rely on them. She knew the material backwards and forwards. She kept eye contact with me and listened to what I was saying.

Two, she didn’t ignore my words and make generalizations about my newspaper needs. She didn’t say empty statements like, “Don’t you want to know what is happening?” or “Everybody wants to have the paper delivered… what’s stopping you?” Granted, there were some listening opportunities she missed, but overall, she got it right.

Finally, she had a multitude of ways to interact with and convince me that not only was I getting a great deal, the paper had taken into account the variety of ways in which people want their news delivered. There was an option for everyone.

The one improvement I could find in her pitch was the lack of presenting a way in which I could contact her should I change my mind. She could have handed over a card (I know she is working on commission) and had the opportunity to track whether or not the people who turn her down in person change their minds at a later date and follow through with the sale.

Another option, she could have had a sign-up sheet for anyone who thought they might be interested in the offer at a later date. Contacting them by email would be a time and money saver.

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Freelance writers, while we are hardly offering our wares on the streets of a festival, are often in spots where we are asked what we do, what we charge, and our contact information. Are you prepared for those questions? Do you carry business cards with you? Is your bag, briefcase, car, or desk stocked with examples of your work should a potential client cross your path? Do you have a “pitch” that lets others know what you do and how you can help them?

Remember, it is one thing to hear it, but it is another thing to see it. Telling a potential client that you can improve their brochure won’t make half the impact a visual will produce. Showing them an example of what you can turn out for them can make all the difference in the world.

When the newspaper sales woman showed me the paper with actual numbers and percentages, I became an active participant in the conversation. Even I, with no desire to purchase a subscription, found myself intrigued by the numbers on the page. I could see the savings. I wasn’t lost in the cloud of numbers that surrounded me as she talked.

Animal welfare workers, are your marketing efforts as good as the newspaper salesperson? When a potential adopter stops and asks why the price of adoption is so high, do you have concrete numbers to show them? Are you guilty of making “empty statements” like, “Overhead costs are high,” or “Animal care costs a lot of money,” or my favorite, “Animals aren’t free ya know.” Are you offering multiple paths to the same door? Are you tracking the contact you have with potential donors, adopters, and volunteers?

For example, you can explain the money saving features you are supplying for the adopter. Highlight county/city regulations that mandate spay/neuter, microchipping, immunization, vaccination, etc… anything that you provide for the animal that has been provided for free or at a discount to the adopter. Break it down to show the local fees of veterinarians in a compare and contrast table. This information educates the adopter and lends support to your claims. Your numbers should be based in fact, and what better way to use them than to illustrate your need and their savings?

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Knowing your material gives you confidence. It quickly becomes apparent when someone does not know the material they are trying to sell to someone else. The voice falters, the eyes wander, and the conversation screeches to a halt. If you cannot provide a simple price quote for a potential job, or you just shrug your shoulders when someone asks how long it will take you to put together a press release, it won’t matter how talented you are; you’ve given the impression that you don’t know what you’re doing. In this case, the material you are attempting to “sell” is yourself, or at least your skills. Whether you have a policy of not discussing your rates without a potential job lead, or your costs are specific to each job, make sure you are providing alternate routes to the desired destination.  Offer your business card, explain how your rates work, and let your potential client know how you handle each job. Bottom line-offer something in exchange for their interest.

But wait, you say, “You walked away without a newspaper subscription. She obviously didn’t make the right pitch.” Wrong! I’m a rare bird. I’m not a part of her normal demographic. She (rather the newspaper) anticipated, and rightly so, that the demographic at the event would be local, interested in community news and events, and expect a good deal for their money. I meet all those descriptors sans “local.”

Another difference is my desire to save money, time, and trees by choosing to read my news online. The local newspaper, instead of embracing this demographic, penalizes those who choose the online route versus the print edition. The paper grants online readers a small window to read the news, often only one or two days, before they lock the story and “archive” it, and in turn, require a subscription to the “archive” to read at a later date.

For this paper I’m a rare bird, of really no concern to them. They haven’t realized the potential for marketing their online services. Instead, they seem to view the online version of the paper as a needless option and aren’t listening to the industry news that states how people are abandoning print news for online versions. They’ve failed to note that large, national, and metropolitan papers gave up attempting to extract cash from online article archive subscriptions or registrations. That’s an editorial issue. Until the paper changes its views and methods, this is how it will require the sales team to pitch a sale.

The lack of a sale in my situation cannot be blamed on the woman’s methods, but rather those of the shortsighted views of the paper. If they had conceived of this demographic, she would have pitched me an online archive subscription. At the very least, queried me on my online usage and what sections of the paper I view online.

While the newspaper has done a great job targeting their traditional demographic by offering a multitude of options for subscription, they’ve missed the opportunity to expand their growth and change with the times. I don’t anticipate they will change their course until the salespeople begin to report back to their sales managers that people are reading the paper online and don’t want a print edition. Then again, even this may not propel them toward change. They may be caught in the “if it works don’t break it” belief system. Are you trapped in this system too?

Questions to Consider…

  • What’s your ice breaker? (e.g. Do you subscribe to the paper?)
  • Do you present multiple paths to get to your destination? (What services are you offering? Are these choices based on research specific to your demographic? Are you allowing room for research and growth?)
  • Do you have visuals to accompany your facts and selling points? Examples of your work?
  • Are you tracking your attempts? (Giving out business cards, brochures, information sheets and keeping track of how many, where given, and when replied to?)
  • Are you confident in your product? Are you educated in your product and the potential questions you may encounter?

Finally, keep your eyes and ears open for individuals and companies who, like this salesperson, are doing it right. Learn from their example and subscribe to a new marketing plan that returns the results you need.

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Time To Renew Your Marketing Plan Subscription by J.M. Striegel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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