Don’t be a one-trick pony

Create a triangle of successful strategies


The idiom one-trick pony is derived from the circus. A circus featuring a pony that is only trained to perform one trick is not very entertaining. But, unfortunately, that is how we are sometimes seen in the media business.

Too often, advertisers see us as being good for only one thing, bringing them new business. While this is an essential part of what we do, it is not the only thing we do. Therefore, it is critical that media sales professionals recognize this problem and deal with it head-on.

Whether in prospecting or hosting meetings, I always talk with potential and current advertisers about the marketing triangle of success. If I could be so bold, I would like to lay claim to that phrase here in E&P. I believe that an educated advertiser will always buy more media for me. When I teach my ad sales training workshops, I tell media sales professionals that you need to think more like a teacher than a salesperson. What am I teaching?  The marketing triangle of success. 

The marketing triangle of success has three sides. This formula has been followed for years by larger, more sophisticated companies. But, if we teach it to our clients, I believe they will spend more money with us.

New business development is at the bottom of the marketing triangle. One of the other edges of the triangle is re-engagement with past customers. On the final side of the triangle is retaining customers. All three of these components of the marketing triangle of success are things that we can help an advertiser control. But, if we don't explain this to them, they truly will not understand why this is important.

The triangle is the strongest geometric shape.

When engineers build structures, they want to make sure that the system can bear weight. In other words, they do not want the structure to fall when a force is applied to it. For example, bridges must be able to hold up the materials that make the bridge and all of the traffic traveling across it.  That is why you see many bridges built out of a series of connected triangles. When a force (the load) is applied to the corner of a triangle, it is distributed down each side. That is why it's a great shape to use in describing how we can be helpful to our clients via their advertising. Let's break down each side of the triangle.

New business development should be on the triangle's base and in every graphical representation that you create. It is foundational. All advertisers want new business coming through the door. Of course, that new business comes in various shapes and sizes, but we impact it nonetheless. But if we don't explain the other sides of the triangle, we are seen as the proverbial one-trick pony. So new business development is top of mind and foremost to every advertiser.

When we talk about new business development, I also talk about managing expectations. I like to ask questions such as, “What does one new customer mean to you?”  Or, I like the question, “If we could help you bring in even one new customer, what would that mean to you?”  Or, “When this ad campaign runs perfectly, what type of results would you be looking for?”    All these questions lead to managing expectations and setting up your advertiser for success. Not asking these questions will put an unfair expectation on you as the media company.

Would you please keep in mind that as much as I love my advertisers (most of them), they are some of the most unrealistic individuals that we will deal with? They feel that they can spend $500 with us and they will get $500,000 in return. That's okay. We know this. So, we should be prepared to work with it. Explaining the foundational base of the marketing triangle of success is essential, but you have to marry that with the management of customer expectations.

New business is the base of the triangle, but one of the other sides is that you are more likely to re-sign or re-engage with a past customer. This maxim applies to your advertiser, and it applies to you as a media sales professional as well. Yet, most business owners and companies do not dedicate any budget to the re-engagement or renewal of previous customers.

When the focus is always on new business development, experts tell us that you are only about 10 to 15 percent likely to close a new account. Knowing these mathematical statistics, it would only make sense for the advertiser to focus a little bit of the budget on re-engaging or renewing their past customers. Very rarely do I come across an advertiser that does not want to re-engage with past customers.

The third side of the triangle is customer retention. This should be important to you as a sales professional, and it should be important to all business owners and companies out there. Yet again, I see very infrequently budgets dedicated to retention or thanking their customers.

This is a conversation that many people would frame as “branding.” However, just the nature of the word itself often means to an advertiser that they will run an ad with us and not expect any results.

That is why I have changed how I speak about branding.  I have now begun speaking in terms of “brand maintenance." I'm not trying to play semantics here with you. Brand maintenance and branding are the same things. But I’ve noticed that an implied value is received when I throw the word “maintenance” into the word sequence. When you maintain your vehicle or perform vehicle maintenance, you're receiving something for the price that you pay.

Again, if we do not explain this side of the marketing triangle of success, how can we expect to get paid for it? We can’t. I will say to the advertiser, “You have spent thousands of dollars getting your business to where it is today.  How about we dedicate some marketing dollars to protecting your turf and protecting your brand? Let’s look at some brand maintenance activities.”   

The marketing triangle of success is only as good as your ability to explain it. Because every sales professional hates role-playing, we need to figure out the best way to present this concept. It's also vital for us to have good success stories and examples of other advertisers following the marketing triangle of success.

In my opinion, the only way to effectively do this is with an excellent graphical presentation. Experts tell us that over 70% of what you learn enters your brain through your eyes. That's why I like to include a slide that shows the marketing triangle of success in every presentation. I want to walk my advertisers through what it looks like and speak about each side of the triangle. I'll often do this by drawing on a piece of paper or having some graphical representation in my slide deck. If I'm face-to-face, I prefer to draw it on a piece of paper. This allows me to create better engagement with the advertiser. I can also draw on each side of the triangle as we talk about budget allocation.

Being a one-trick pony does mean that you do at least have one trick. I suppose that is always a place to start. But expanding this conversation will help you get more advertising dollars. 

I genuinely do believe that an educated advertiser will spend more money with you. Once you wrap your mind around this concept, you will get out of sales mode and move more into educator mode.

A study a few years ago by the consulting company SAP told us that 89% of buyers would rather go to the dentist than talk to a salesperson. You've heard me talk about this on my Ad Sales Nation podcast many times. If this is indeed true, this is a bit scary for all of us.

 That's why I feel that the epitome of consultative selling is explaining the marketing triangle of success. Never forget, friends, if media sales were easy, everybody would be doing it. And they are not. We are the chosen few. We have found a career that will feed our families for a lifetime.

Ryan Dohrn is a 30-year veteran media sales, professional and marketer.  He is an Emmy Award-winning motivational speaker and is a sales coach to more than 200 media companies. Find him at


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