Practicing Real World Remedies to the Pains Your Advertisers Face


Editor's Note: Check out our recent E&P Reports vodcast with Ryan Dohrn, where he discusses  how ad sellers should adapt to a post-pandemic world. 

Every single sales call with an advertiser is valuable. So valuable that you do not want to waste time asking questions that will not help you close the deal. After 30 years of selling and marketing media, I find that you have three to five questions and that is about it on every sales call. More than that and you might as well turn on a bright light and point it into your advertisers’ eyes and take the interrogation to the next level. I am kidding, of course. The issue is that many media sales warriors have been misled to ask the wrong questions. 

When you first start your training as a salesperson there is usually a conversation about asking the three critical sales questions core to your success. Those three questions normally include the following: Are they the person that can make advertising decisions? What marketing are you currently doing? What is your budget for marketing?

What if I told you that I deeply believe that these are not the best questions to ask on a media sales call? Would you read on or roll your eyes? 

In previous columns I have stated that if we keep selling traditional media in traditional ways, we are destined to get traditional results. So, what can we do to be bigger, badder, and better in the media ad sales business? I believe it starts with reformatting the questions we ask. I deeply feel that we all need to think like a doctor and not like a salesperson.

You go to the doctor looking for relief from some type of ailment. They will normally ask you three questions: What is causing you pain? How long has this been a problem? What have you done so far to fix the pain? If we can be in the business of removing pain, like a doctor, we have a repeatable pattern for ad sales success.

Let’s start with the old questions and move to the prescription for success.

Do we need to know if the person is the decision maker? Of course. But, if we only meet with decision makers, we will not have enough meetings to get to our sales goal. In addition, in the media business, we are working with a different buying structure compared to “normal” companies. Unlike a copier salesperson, we are working with marketing directors or business owners. Both are in a unique position, unlike an acquisition clerk at a standard company, to make decisions or highly influence decisions. There are normally not many layers to get a marketing decision. I would like to suggest that we swap this question out for a new one. Keep reading, it is coming up.     

Do we need to know what marketing they are currently doing? Again, of course, we do. That helps immensely. But this question leads the advertiser to hijack your sales call and talk about the other things they are doing. You have just invited them to talk about your competition on your sales call. There is a better way to handle this question and get the answer that you need to move your ball down the field towards a touchdown. We need this answer, but we should ask it in a different way. I would like to suggest that we swap this question out for a new one. That’s also coming up.           

Do we need to know their budget? Yes, but how many times have you been given an accurate answer? How many times have you been told, there is no budget? Asking an advertiser their budget forces you to live in their often-unrealistic reality of what it takes to market their product or service to your readers. You are asking them to force you into their reality instead of guiding them to the actual reality of what it takes to have a presence, be competitive, or dominate the pages of your publication or website. Asking for budget without showing them the reality of marketing is a waste of a question. Again, we need this answer. I would like to suggest that we swap this question out for a new one. Keep reading.

When it comes times to asking questions of an advertiser, I have a proven three step process that has worked over and over again. I truly feely it is the prescription for getting the answers we need and closing deals. It will probably sound like just what the doctor ordered. 

Question #1: What is the one business challenge (or point of pain) that you think I can help you solve? This helps the advertiser get specific with you. It allows you to provide to them specific solutions to specific problems. This helps you get clear on their points of pain. They may have one or they may have five. Ask them to get clear with you and take notes. Sympathize with them. Tell them they are not alone. Reference that you have heard this pain point before and have some ideas to help. Once you know their pain, now you want to enhance the pain…just a touch. 

Question #2: Pain is a real motivator is problem solving and customer relations. If you can be seen as the person or company that removes the pain points a business owner is facing your secret media elixir will sell like wildfire. After I ask and identify their pain points, I will ask this simple question: How long has this been a problem? Normally, the answer surprises me. I am trying to enhance the pain. I want to make is very real for them, especially if they have been advertising with a competitor for years. I want them to subtly realize that they have been advertising elsewhere and the problem still exists. I am not looking to make them feel dumb. I just want them to see that they still have the pain point, and they do not like the pain. Once the pain is real, I dig just a bit deeper by asking my third question. 

Question #3: What have you done to fix this problem? I might even ask how much money they have spent to try and fix the issue. Did I just ask their budget? Sort of. I want to enhance the fact that they have spent money and time and the problem still exists. Again, sympathize with them. Tell them they are not alone. Reference that you have heard this pain before and have some ideas to help. 

Now, I am not suggesting that these are the only questions you should ask. If you read this column often, you know that there are many other questions to ask. I am simply suggesting that we have limited time on that single valuable sales call, and we want to ask the best questions to get the best results. In most markets, the questions that you ask will set you apart from the other salespeople that are calling on your same clients. If we can be in the business of removing pain, we have a repeatable pattern for ad sales success.  

Ryan Dohrn is a 30-year veteran media sales pro 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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  • enigma58

    Harold Lindstrom was a legend in Portland area automobile sales. There seemed to be no limit to the number of cars he could sell except hours in the day. Yet, never in the years I watched him in action did I ever see him sell anything. He listened. As he told me, nobody ever bought a car. They bought a resolution to their needs, desires and hopes for themselves and their future. Discover those and there was no sale which could not be made.

    I would enthusiastically agree with Mr. Dohrn that the traditional questions asked by sales representatives are self-defeating. Asking if this is the person who can make advertising decisions, what marketing they are currently doing, and what is their budget for marketing misses the point. No business leader will ever voluntarily exchange dollars which can be invested, saved or kept as personal income for paper, ink or any other advertising vehicle unless they accept that the advertising will meet their needs, desires and hopes for themselves and their future.

    However, I would question whether the alternative questions proposed by Mr. Dohrn are any more revealing. Asking what is the one business challenge that they think the media can help to solve, how long has this been a problem, and what other things have been done to fix this problem presupposes the business leader understands what advertising can provide, yet has not taken that understanding to the next level by using it to resolve a problem which can otherwise be resolved.

    Alternatively, I would suggest learning from Harold and seeking to share the experience of the client's business and life. Study their business messages and artifacts, which will reveal what is important to them. Offer to spend a day shadowing the business leader, saying little but watching and listening. Think of advertising not as a product but as part of a process, and think of advertisers not as customers but as contractors. Seek to fulfill their needs, however the tools you have at your disposal will allow you to fulfill them, and clients will no longer be obstacles to be overcome, but partners to be valued on the road to sales success.

    Friday, July 16 Report this