Lawrence told me about a technique for gathering information from prospective advertisers. “I’ve been selling for a long time, so I realize the importance of information. But I like to go beyond the standard questions about their history, products, customers and goals.”
He said that sometimes it helps to switch gears. “A lot of people ask prospects to rate their current marketing on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest. Whatever number they choose, you simply ask why they made that choice. For example, if they say ‘seven,’ ask what would make it a ten. The answer tells you what they would like to change, so you respond by focusing your presentation on your paper’s strengths in those areas. If they say ‘ten’ – which you’ll rarely hear – ask them why they feel that way. Sometimes their answer will reveal that it’s really not a ten. If they truly believe it should rate that highly, ask how they can maintain that number – then look for a role your paper can play.
“I like the car comparison that Paul Smith uses for computer systems in his book ‘Lead with a Story.’ It’s probably related to questions that kids ask, like ‘What kind of animal would you like to be? or ‘If you were a tree, what kind would you be?’ In this case, ask, ‘If your current marketing were a car, what make and year would it be?’ Then ask what kind of car they would like it to be in the future.”
Lawrence was pleasantly surprised first time he tried the idea. “I figured it wouldn’t work with everybody. So I used it with a prospect who had shown some creativity in our conversations. She said her current marketing was like a 20-year-old Toyota – reliable and comfortable, but not running as efficiently as before. Then she said she would like her marketing to run like a Porsche – stylish and built to react quickly to market changes. Now that’s what I call good information. Those two simple questions gave me a clearer picture of what she thought of her company’s marketing. I was able to show her how to Porsche-ize her advertising and keep some of the best qualities the Toyota had when it was new.”
Lawrence explained that you don’t have to have spec-list knowledge of every car, but it helps to have a general understanding of product categories. For example, economy cars are affordable and fuel efficient. Luxury cars are heavy on high-end features and turn heads on the highway. SUVs are spacious, minivans are practical, pickup trucks are strong and serious. Of course, age and mechanical condition are factors. And some models are higher maintenance than others.
“And just like people,” he said, “some advertisers start with an entry-level model and progressively move up. That creates plenty of in-between advertising options.”