Most of us are easily sidetracked by distractions disguised as work activities.

Dick had wandered down the hallway and found me at my cubicle desk.  Other than the morning DJ’s we were the only ones at the station.  Eating Cheerios from a snack box, Dick was two days into his new oat-based diet designed to reduce cholesterol.  I was writing a commercial for a client.  Sensing that he had something to say, I looked up.

“Timmy, do you know the problem with our business?”

Dick often used a question as a way to get into a topic.  The correct answer was always a polite ‘no’ because then he could launch into a monologue.  His monologue would include a story and an example and then a call to action.  Lesson absorbed, I would head out to conquer the world of radio advertising sales.

But, sometimes it was more fun to throw a couple of ideas out there first.

“The problem with our industry?  Maybe, massive consolidation destroying the very soul of the industry?”

“No. I mean ‘yes’ but that’s not what I meant.”

“Voice tracking?  Rampant discounting? Greedy ownership taking companies public for no reason other than a massive payoff that will eventually result in thousands of shareholders losing millions of dollars?”

“You’re not really playing the game properly.”

“I’m sorry, Dick.  What is the problem with our business?”

“Simple,” Dick replied as he crushed his little Cheerios box.  “We don’t have any deadlines.  Think about it.  If you want to be in the Food Section of the Charlotte Observer on Wednesday, do you know when your ad needs to be in?”

“Sometime on Tuesday?” I guessed.

“No!” Dick shouted.  “No. That’s the point.  If you want to be in the Food Section, you need to have your ad in to the paper by 3pm on Tuesday.  Three p.m.!  Do you know what happens if you get your ad in at 4 p.m.?”

“They hold the paper to maximize their revenue for the next day while somebody rushes the ad through layout and production?” I was warming up to the game now.

“No.  What happens is that you don’t get in the Food Section until the following week!”  Dick was giddy from his newspaper discovery, or maybe it was a reaction to the oat bran.

“You know,” I said, “a friend of mine says that most human behavior is in response to a deadline.”

“If that’s true,” Dick said reflectively, “then our job is obvious.”

“Yes!” I said as the brilliance of what he was saying started to dawn on me. “We need to create deadlines.”

In the radio business, one day is pretty much like the next.  There is little sense of urgency to cause a customer or prospect to move more quickly.  Moreover, the lack of urgency on the part of the customers becomes contagious and bleeds over to the sellers.  Yeah, we could get it done by tomorrow but what’s the harm in waiting till Wednesday.

Perhaps the radio business isn’t the only media selling business where this is true.  Are there important deadlines in the internet advertising game?  Probably not.  Billboards?  I doubt it.  Other out of home like transit or airport advertising?  Seems unlikely.

The lack of deadlines diminishes our ability to maximize our revenue by delaying the revenue generation.  You can’t bill for something that hasn’t yet run.

And so it was on that fateful day that Dick and I sat down to figure out how to add deadlines to our business for the purpose of goosing sales.  Here’s what we came up with:

Deadlines for Prospects and Customers

Have a sale.  Retailers do it and so can we.  The key is that the sale has to be real and you can’t give anyone the same deal after the sale ends.  Don’t be like Macy’s and announce a one-day sale that everyone knows is going to be extended for the rest of the weekend.  When you do that, customers learn very quickly that the deal you are offering is available most any time they want it.

Create specialty programming.  Our radio station may not have a Food Section in which restaurants and grocery stores want to advertise but we can create the Friday Afternoon Whistle or other once-a-week shows that advertisers would like to sponsor because of their popularity.  Note that this is not the same as a daily feature, like a business report.  If the special programming is daily then one day becomes like the next – exactly the situation you are trying to avoid.

Offer support by appointment only.  Customers often need access to the recording studios of radio stations.  Rather than letting them come whenever they want, if the access they require is a little more difficult to get then, they’ll be more respectful of the deadlines being established by their sales rep.  The same could be said of brainstorming sessions with the promotions department.  I’m not advocating a dereliction of our customer service duties, I’m suggesting that when the sales rep behaves as if the services offered are valuable and dear the customer will develop a greater appreciation for those services.

Deadlines for Sales Reps

Cluster Appointments.  Too often, sales reps allow their appointments to spread themselves out like spilled milk on the kitchen floor.  Insist on filling up M-W of next week before c.o.b. this Thursday.  There are two deadlines built into this activity.  The first is a deadline to set appointments and the second is a deadline for having the majority of one’s appointments for the week completed by Wednesday.

Prioritize Activities.  Most of us are easily sidetracked by distractions disguised as work activities.  When we have a clear understanding of where each activity fits into our priority hierarchy we know which to do first, second and third.  In effect, we’ve created a series of deadlines for our activities.

Make Appointments with Ourselves.  In the radio business, sales reps need to prospect for new customers.  Asked if they plan on prospecting this week, most sales reps will “yes”.  Asked when they are doing it, a blank stare is not an uncommon answer.  When sales reps make an appointment with themselves to do activities they know are required but flexible, they have created a deadline.  More often than not, their behavior will be respectful of the deadline even though they created it solely for their own purposes.

These aren’t the only deadlines one could create for customers or reps.  Plus, there are more possibilities when deadlines are applied to support departments.  But, these are the ones that Dick and I started to apply to the way we were doing business back in the day and they still work now.  In which ways do you apply deadlines to your business?

About the author

Tim Rohrer

After a 20-year career in broadcast sales, Tim J.M. Rohrer wrote a book, Sales Lessons…

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