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Circulation Can Be An Asset on a Sales Call.

Peter Lenahan has been a salesperson and sales manager for The New Yorker, Condé Nast, Primedia, Scholastic, and a successful consultant to The National Geographic Society, Cowles Publishing, Hearst and Meredith Corporation. Peter's company, Mediasales Associates, presently consults with Group C Communications, Inc. and is launching a new business magazine on alternative investments.  His company has 3 offices across the country and is based in CT.  Peter can be reached at 203 979 3278.

Most circulation executives have never made a sales call.  Generally, there is no need for you to accompany the publisher or ad sales director because the sales force is equipped to handle questions about your magazine’s market and readers. But, not always.

There are times when you might be asked to come along on a call to discuss something in more detail.  This is not usually a good sign because it means the advertiser is not taking the ABC or BPA report as the last word...they have other questions.

Those questions depend greatly on the magazine in question.  Most magazines are open books with nothing to hide beyond that which should be hidden from non-professionals (% responses to mailings, source of lists, ….who exactly are these “Agents”?)

There have been a few memorable instances when I was helped greatly by being able to provide face-to-face back up from circulation on a sales call.  In one instance, a competitor distributed a completely false comparison of our circulation to theirs.  It was a printed piece so we had a copy of it.  

Figures from the Publisher’s Statements – theirs and ours - had been combined and compared in a way that cast doubt on our sales story.  The promotion also implied Audit Bureau oversight of the “combined” figures.  It was great to have an “impartial” professional explain the reasons I was claiming the numbers were unfair and, by her serious and professional demeanor, suggest strongly that we would never do anything similar to what the competitor had done.

There was also an occasion when a controlled magazine I sold against decided to reposition its circulation; to mail copies to “industry professionals” on a rotating basis rather than the “old fashioned” traditional controlled circulation method of soliciting and getting confirmation of a desire to receive the magazine.  I had to bring in the circulation director to explain WHY ABC and BPA had these rules and that they were to protect advertisers who, understandably, didn't know much about magazine circulation.  Again, a professional circulation director made my case perfectly.

Whatever the reason, if you are asked to represent circulation in a meeting with your publisher or ad sales director and an advertiser or prospect, here are some tips you can use to help advance the sales effort for your magazine.

  1. Know what the issue is and why the advertiser has questions and what those questions are.

  2. Arm yourself with the facts and answers to those questions, and any ancillary ones that you can anticipate. Do a little of your own research on the client so you'll be able to ask questions of the publisher before the meeting should you need to do that.

  3. Be absolutely certain you understand your magazine's BPA or ABC Statement contents and media kit information.  It would be embarrassing for the salesperson if you did not.

  4. Once you arrive at the meeting, let the publisher or ad sales director run the meeting.  Your role is to support the sales effort.

  5. When/if a question is directed to you, wait a second before answering so the salesperson can jump in with an answer suitable for the occasion.  If the sales person doesn't jump in, make sure you understand the question.  If you aren't sure, ask for clarification before you provide an answer. If you don’t know the answer, say so and promise to provide the information immediately after the meeting and do that.

  6. Do not make any direct negative comments about competitors unless urged to by the salesperson.  Sometimes it’s necessary.

If you’re invited along on a sales call and feel a bit insecure, ask the publisher to role play with you so you become more accustomed to fielding questions and handling objections or disagreeable comments from others.  Sales people role play all the time.  Not many circulation people do it.  But, role playing is an excellent teaching tool so I recommend it to help you get up to speed and thinking on your feet.