Consultative selling

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The salesperson's job in a b-to-b media company has been transformed by the explosion of media options, and selling integrated media has become a fact of life for most b-to-b salespeople.

Today's salesperson must tailor a package for each advertiser to include print and online display advertising, lead-generation programs such as webinars and live events, custom publishing in print and online as well as award programs and other event sponsorships. To help customers sort through these options and choose the best combination, salespeople are increasingly adopting the technique of consultative selling?as opposed to the simpler transaction-based model.

However, even though the two terms are often paired, selling integrated media is not the same as consultative selling, publishers say.

"The consultative model requires providing a value to customers above and beyond the integrated products a person is selling," said Michael Friedenberg, president-CEO of International Data Group subsidiary CXO Media. "It's true that a consultative salesperson will marry customer needs with product offerings, but the consultative salesperson is able to map products to the customer's marketing objectives while bringing additional knowledge of where the market is going to enable the customer to be ahead of it."

In addition to providing "a ton of training" to sales reps, CXO Media provides them with "a tremendous amount of research on our audience," which enables them to speak with authority on future market directions, Friedenberg added.

"Consultative selling is fully understanding what the customer needs and wants," said George Fox, president of Advantage Business Media. "It starts before the call, in the preparation. Consultative salespeople identify themselves by their approach, which you can see in their preparation, the depth of their research and the way they arm themselves with information that enables them to anticipate their customers' needs."

Integrated selling is not consultative selling unless "the salesperson first understands what each product would represent as a value to that particular customer," Fox added. "When you know that, you can talk about products in the context of the customer's needs. To do this, a consultative salesperson must be very knowledgeable about the market and the audience his or her titles serve. I've even had salespeople who would anonymously call the customer service line to experience the client from the perspective of the client's customer."

Fox said a consultative salesperson has an entrepreneurial side. "That's a culture we're trying to instill here," he said of Advantage Business Media, a new company formed when Reed Business Information sold its Rockaway, N.J., division to a group including Fox, CEO Richard Reiff and private equity company Catalyst Investors.

"Our customers are driving this," said Anne Marie Miller, senior VP-corporate sales at CMP Technologies. "Clients, particularly the agencies, want to know about our audience?how they use media, which media they use. They don't want to hear pitches about the latest `sizzling' new product."

A consultative salesperson not only needs to find out and understand what the customer wants; he or she also needs to articulate the customer's needs back to the publisher. "This can be tricky," she said.

While it is the publisher's job to invent new products for the salespeople to sell, customers are less likely to accept a solution that's not customized. "No matter how great the program is, if Microsoft is doing it, HP isn't going to want it," Miller said. As a result, salespeople must be more creative in their dealings and must be champions for customers inside their own companies to execute these customized visions. M

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