| Jun 2, 2023 | | 7 min read

The consultative selling approach framework for media sellers


The art of connecting with local advertisers by deeply understanding their business needs is the foundation of a consultative selling approach. When I began my sales career in the late 90s, innovation meant launching a new magazine or publishing a new coupon book. If revenue fell short one month, it was often as simple as calling one of my best customers and asking them to move a full page from one month to the next to meet the sales goal.

Strategy was determining reach and frequency based on print days and home delivery versus rack-and-stack and making sure that there was a compelling call to action in the ad.

Sometimes, compelling ad design was even a factor.

Today, most every media company and digital agency in the country has access to hundreds of digital solutions in addition to being an email away from placing a print ad in any publication in the world.

We cannot do what we’ve always done and get what we’ve always gotten. Borrell & Associates predicts that digital forms of ad spend will grow 5.2% next year, while traditional print, broadcast, outdoor, and cable will collectively drop 6.5%. If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll earn less revenue. Period.

Marketing solutions are no longer one size fits all, but one size fits one. Don’t let your consultative sellers make the mistake of jumping straight into product sales to demonstrate the capabilities of your company. I’ll let you in on a little secret: The sales consultant who wins is not the one who brings the most solutions to the table; it’s the one the customer trusts to bring the right solutions to the table.

As a former publisher who has overseen hundreds of consultative marketers throughout the years, the following is how I coach a media “seller” to become a digital marketing partner:

Here are the six keys for media sellers to create a rock-solid consultative selling approach:

1. The consultative selling approach is not about you. Start by listening

Humans have an inherent need and desire to be heard and to be understood.

Get to know a customer’s business better than anybody else. Use good data and market research to identify potential business opportunities and to uncover possible challenges that the target customer is facing. Small businesses are fighting for every dollar they make, and the decision makers are almost always wearing multiple hats. Dive deeper than a Google Analytics report or generic market data by business vertical.

Create a reason for the customer to give you the time of day. Chances are, they’ve seen or heard from five more people just like you this week alone. Show them that you are truly paying attention by having viewed their website, their social media pages and those of their competitors.

Ask questions about their business based on what you’ve learned. Then ask more questions. Digital product sellers pitch the same products regardless of the customer’s needs. A consultative selling approach means understanding the challenges, fears, opportunities and goals of the business and then applying the correct digital solutions.

In the consultative world, you need to give before you take; when a prospective customer believes you are invested in their success, you will begin to build the foundation of a trusting relationship.

2. Make yourself relevant and useful

Show, don’t tell, your prospective customers why you are their best marketing partner.

Take the time to send targeted informational and educational materials to your high-priority prospects. Just as you research new products and services before you buy them, your potential customers are evaluating and assessing your skills and strengths. Send a relevant article, video, or digital analysis that you know will resonate with your customer.

Using resources such as Vendasta’s Snapshot Report is a great way to show your customer information about their competitors that they may not have and they are likely not getting from other vendors in your market. It opens the door to a conversation that you might not otherwise get to have. If you use market data from Borrell & Associates or other providers, coupling market trends with competitor information helps you to create urgency and interest for a business decision maker. It also allows you to ask better informed questions.

Sharing relevant information alone won’t make the sale, but it will demonstrate that you are engaged and paying attention, which gives your customers a sense of confidence in your commitment to their business. Added bonus: What you learn will make you a more well-rounded marketer.

3. Differentiate yourself. Now it’s time to make it all about you

You aren’t the only salesperson calling on your customer; you’re one of thousands who can sell the same products and services all within a similar price range. As a media sales leader, your personal brand is what sets you apart from your competition.

Demonstrating quickly and succinctly how you will save your customer time and/or money and solve their business problems is what gets their attention. You are a digital consultative seller, so you should have a solid digital brand presence. If you don’t have a first-tier LinkedIn profile, consider whether your client should take you seriously when they look for you and your last job listed was as a babysitter in high school. The first thing I do when determining the credibility of someone in the digital world is look up their digital credentials. Practice what you preach.

I’ve had many conversations with clients who tell me that I’m investing so much effort in their business that they wonder what’s in it for me. I love that question. I’m a marketing consultant. If my solutions work, my client achieves their goals and they continue to advertise (and probably grow their advertising) with me. When the client wins, I win. That’s what’s in it for me.

4. Help your customers feel confident about their investment

When your customers can sleep easier because you have delivered a solution to their most pressing challenge, you’re nailing the consultative selling approach.

Put your detective hat on. If a customer says “sales are down,” don’t let that be your top takeaway. Why are they down? Has the business changed? Has the product changed? Is staffing a problem? Are their customers dissatisfied? Has a competitor gained a bigger share of the market? What changed?

In the world of digital marketing, the likelihood of your customers feeling overwhelmed with marketing options and underwhelmed with the tools that allow them to know if any of those options actually work is high. Show them what they should expect and set a high bar for your competitors.

According to a Borrell Associates SMB survey in 2021 of resort markets in Colorado, one of the top customer complaints was not getting adequate reporting or help interpreting their reporting from their salesperson. How can that be? We have the tools at our disposal. Small business decision makers need to know that their marketing dollars are being invested smartly; provide succinct, but thorough, reporting as part of your service to the customer. And show them how you’ll do that before they even sign a contract.

5. Propose solutions with no surprises

You’ve done your due diligence, proven your worth, and added value to the relationship. You’ve figured out what keeps your customer up at night.

The next step in strategic consultative selling is to deliver a proposal that is in alignment with the conversations you’ve had and the challenges you’ve discussed.

Oftentimes, salespeople will decide to “throw in a few extra things” when they deliver the first proposal because “if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no,” right? Wrong. Part of building a relationship based on trust is not surprising your customer (unless it’s with a birthday cupcake).

A consultative selling strategy begins with listening and ends with having heard what your customer said. Provide a solution that meets the needs for the problems you need to solve. The opportunity for new products will arise once you understand how your proposed solutions work.

6. Run across the finish line

Once the sale is closed, the real work begins.

Don’t come up short by passing the important details off while you chase the next big prospect. Most customers don’t understand how digital media works the way you do. There is a high level of stress and anxiety around figuring out whether campaigns are performing. Few things make a customer feel more unsure about their investment than spending money on something they can’t see, touch, or feel and then having their marketing consultant go dark.

A consultative seller ensures that the details in the proposal are managed well and the campaign effectiveness is consistently reviewed and adjusted as necessary. A recurring reporting meeting should be set monthly to review performance and objectives. A good digital consultant is worth their weight in gold when they can confidently explain how campaigns are performing including what is going well and what isn’t performing as expected. These meetings are a perfect opportunity for ongoing needs analyses and to check in on business in general to listen for changing goals or priorities.

The bottom line: The consultative selling approach is when you care about your customer’s business as much as you do your own; their success will be your success.

About the Author

Samantha Johnston is an experienced media executive with a proven track record of building the kind of company culture and climate that drives business results. She has more than 20 years of media management experience with a specialty in sales management and talent development, organizational change, philanthropic fundraising and consumer revenue, leadership development and strategic alignment. Sam is the Founder and Lead Strategist at Strategy Hound, LLC, a culture, communication and strategic media management company based in Colorado. Before Strategy Hound, Sam was the General Manager of Colorado Mountain News Media overseeing Colorado resort properties for Swift Communications.

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