10 DOs and DON’Ts When Selling with Research

Fri Oct 3, 2014

C. Lee Smith

C. Lee Smith is the President/CEO of Sales Development Services.

C. Lee Smith is the President/CEO of Sales Development Services.

My friend and sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer likes to say “If you say it, it’s bragging. If someone else says it, it’s proof.” There are times when you want to use a piece of research to really drive home why an advertiser should be spending more with you.

So here are 10 DOs and DON’Ts you should follow when selling with research:

1.) DO use reliable independent sources of media data. Stick with well-known and respected names like: Nielsen, Scarborough, Rentrak, AdMall, Polk, AudienceSCAN, BIA/Kelsey, Borrell, Kantar, The Media Audit, Marshall Marketing and the like. If you’ve never heard of a media research source, you can bet your advertiser wouldn’t have heard of them either.

2.) DON’T use research promoted or paid for by media trade associations. Whether it’s from the NAA, RAB, or any other collection of acronyms, nearly 70% of U.S. small business owners (under 100 employees, spending at least $1,000 on advertising in the past year) agree that “research from media trade associations is obviously biased to show their media in the best light.” This was a finding from Ad-ology Research’s 2014 Small Business Marketing Forecast study. As an industry advocate, anything from your trade association will be perceived as biased – almost to the point of working against you. That’s because bias is the enemy of credibility – especially if it’s intentional.

3.) DO use the most recent research available. It doesn’t have to be dated with the current year. In fact, many research studies aren’t conducted every year, but you don’t want to be using “insights” from 1997, either.

4.) DON’T rely only on providers of media research. Trade publications, consultants and other groups do their own industry-specific studies that include questions about advertising and marketing. You might find that instead of having one source that backs your argument, you have two – or three.

5.) DO source your research. Nothing raises suspicion like “facts” without sources. You’ll usually find the source of information in small italic type at the bottom. When you use it, it doesn’t have to be in their face, it just has to be there – always!

6.) DON’T twist the research to suit your sales pitch. If an advertiser is intrigued enough by your presentation, they may Google for more information. Their level of trust in you will take a big hit, and might even be beyond repair, if they think you intentionally misled them.

7.) DO critique the sample (who’s being surveyed). If a large percentage of respondents in a “small business survey” comes from the advertiser database of local newspapers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the study finds they prefer newspaper advertising as a form of marketing their business. In this real-world example, that’s not really a small business study, that’s a newspaper advertiser study. It’s better that you poke holes in the research before giving the advertiser (or your competitors) a chance to do the same.

8.) DON’T do your own anecdotal research. “I asked 10 people in my office about…” or “we were sitting around the family dinner table last night and…” The sample size is too small to be relevant and chances are, you’re a salesperson, not a researcher.

9.) DO keep it short and to the point. Unless they’re a research geek, their eyes will glaze over if you throw out too many stats and figures. Use research like a chef would use salt and pepper (or some other seasoning) – to spice things up, not to overpower the substance of your presentation or proposal.

10.) DON’T use licensed research your company hasn’t licensed. Don’t use Arbitron or Nielsen data, for example, if your company doesn’t subscribe to the ratings book. Sure, you can get the data from an agency or some other contact, but that doesn’t mean you have a license to use it in a presentation, proposal or website. Because of the amount of money it takes to conduct this kind of research, many of these firms are very protective of their intellectual property.

And there’s one more thing…

10+1) DON’T BS your way through a research question. If you get a question from the advertiser and you aren’t 100% sure of your facts, “I don’t know, but I know who to ask” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Then ask a research expert for clarification. If you aren’t certain about data your company has licensed, shoot off a quick email or support ticket to your supplier. If you’re lucky enough to still have a market research expert on staff, ask them what the research means (or doesn’t mean).

Using research should support and bolster your argument for spending more with you. And it will, if you use it the right way.

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About C. Lee Smith

C. Lee Smith is the President/CEO of SalesFuel - a firm he founded in 1989 with the mission to empower media sales professionals to help their advertisers make intelligent decisions on how to spend their marketing dollars. He is a graduate of Ohio University with an Executive Leadership Certificate from Cornell University. He is also one of the world's few (Jeffrey) Gitomer Certified Advisors for consultative sales.

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