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4 Questions to Ask Anyone Trying to Sell You Ad Space

You can never know 100% for sure if something is going to work before you try it, but their reactions to these questions may help uncover if they’re offering you a real solution, or just trying to make a buck.

As the marketing manager for a B2B company, I get solicited. A LOT. Industry trade magazines, pay-per-click ad providers, online directories, and trade show organizers are but a few of the kinds of people calling me asking for a piece of my precious marketing budget. The thing is, I’m no pushover. Never have been. But in today’s business climate, there’s no way you can afford to throw dollars at every marketing option that calls you up. The vast majority of them simply don’t work, and even those that are worth your time and money only work if you use them in a way that makes sense for your business.

So how do you determine which options are worth a dollar, and which ones you should tell to kick stones? I wish there was an easy way, but the truth is that it can be very difficult to figure out. Effectively evaluating marketing options in today’s world requires you to look deeper than the traditional criteria of ‘page views’ and ‘circulation’, and examine the information that few of those solicitors are able or willing to provide to you.

I’ve put together 4 key questions that I use as the starting point whenever I get solicited by someone trying to sell me space in a magazine, online directory, or trade show. I’ve also noticed that there are certain ‘red flags’ that seem to consistently appear when dealing with some types of solicitors that can be early warning signs to tip you off that you’d best be cautious moving forward. I’ve included these after each question.

Let’s take a look at the questions now:

1 – First thing: What’s the range of costs?

This sounds really, really obvious. And it is. What you should be aware of is that very rarely is actual cost discussed up front. Most of the time, they’ll open with a ‘what is the #1 problem facing your business?’ kind of question that forces you to think of a negative aspect of your current situation, and give you the impression that they can help solve your problem. This is intentional, as it tends to disarm us a little bit, and leaves us more open to their suggestions. Solicitors who are confident in their product/service and can prove a real benefit/ROI will have no problem letting you know cost right up front. After all, if you don’t have flexibility in your budget to accommodate their product, then going in-depth just wastes your time and theirs.

Red Flag: If you answer a call from a solicitor, one of your first questions should of course be ‘What is the cost range for all your different options?’. If they answer with something like: ‘before we talk about that, let me ask what your goal is?’ or just flat out won’t tell you immediately where their prices start and where they end, be very wary.

2 – Who’s the REAL audience?

This goes for all types of marketing options. Magazines, directories, trade shows, you name it. Typically the solicitors will make available very basic stats that don’t really reveal much about who their actual audience is. For example, lets look at the infamous ‘circulation’ information for magazines, which outlines how many copies go out to their ‘readers’, and what kind of businesses they are sent to. The thing is, these commonly-used stats can be very deceiving. They may simply be pulling the information based on the name of the person on the address label, like the owner of the business that it is sent to. But who’s to say that this is the person who actually reads it, or even receives it in their hands? Especially in larger businesses that receive many MANY different pieces, only the most crucial pieces ever get opened by anyone. The rest? Either gets junked or ends up on the coffee table in the lobby. Make sure they can prove that their recipients are also actual readers.

Red Flag: If the solicitor can’t quickly back up their claim with readily-available hard data and testimonials from actual audience, and vaguely cites their own ‘internal’ surveying data, chances are they are making some pretty broad assumptions about who actually reads their rag.

3 – Can I do a short-term trial?

Contracts abound in the marketing world, and you’ll often find yourself staring down the barrel of a big fat commitment before you even know it. Smart solicitors who truly believe in what they are selling will be eager to have you try it out before you make any major commitment. If they don’t suggest it first, make sure that you do. Sometimes they’ll offer to do a short-term trial period at the same rates as a long-term program. Occasionally you may even find they’ll offer a free trial, depending on what kind of service they provide. Companies that openly offer a short-term trial are displaying not only confidence in their services, but also flexibility to your needs.

Red Flag: Sometimes the very suggestion of a trial period can offend some solicitors. If you find their tone or demeanour changes dramatically for the worse after suggesting a trial basis, you may be headed for a very inflexible and rigid relationship further down the road.

4 – Give some examples of your success.

Prove it. That’s ultimately what we all want to know. Ask them to provide stats showing what other advertisers have seen as a result. Have them show you data and testimonials from other advertisers/exhibitors that are similar to you. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another, but at least you’ll have a general idea of what kind of businesses are generating results. This is easy to do these days. Web tracking makes monitoring conversions and success nearly effortless. They should be able to tell you things like the number of referrals they’ve generated for specific types of businesses, as well as provide qualitative testimonials from companies similar to yours.

Red Flag: Any web directory or online ad provider should be able to give you buckets of reports that illustrate how their advertisers have benefitted from their services. If all they are able or willing to show you is ‘hits’ or ‘page views’, RUN AWAY.

Ultimately, B2B marketing people like us are trying to do the most we can with limited resources of both time and money. If they’re trying to sell a product or service to you, they need to realize this. Selling ad space to people like us really all boils down to a simple two-part strategy: Be to-the-point, and be able to back up any claims. If they don’t waste your time with a lot of preamble and vagueness, and they can prove to you that you’ll see a real, tangible benefit, I’m sure that you’ll be much more successful by doing business with them.

Bonus Red Flag: When they won’t let you get a word in.

This one really gets me riled up. The thing about providing effective service is that you need to listen to your customers. In my experience, you can’t really do that very well if you won’t let your customer finish a sentence. I’ve been solicited by countless salespeople who inexplicably decide that the perfect time to begin their next sentence is right in the middle of the one I’m currently speaking. It’s maddening, because I’m TRYING to let them help me. I’m TRYING to communicate my needs so that they can figure out how to help solve them. In a nutshell: If you’re the one trying to sell someone something: Know when to shut up and let them talk. if you encounter a salesperson who seems to follow this pattern, flee.