This article is one in a series reporting on key sessions at LMA Fest 2022, Aug. 16-18 in Chicago. The session highlighted here is “The art of prospecting,” with presenters Shannon Kinney, founder and client success officer, Dream Local Digital; Lenora Howze, executive director, The AFRO; and Jared Merves, senior vice president, digital, Cumulus Media.

Most of us on the sales and business side of things have developed a pretty good sales game, but at closer examination that game is often built on existing business and developing relationships. In fact, many local media organizations don’t even have a systematic strategy, or expectations, around prospecting — nor do they have goals, accountability, or compensation plans related to lead generation and prospecting. And while there’s nothing wrong with relationship-building (see “reducing attrition”), it’s hard to continue to thrive without fresh pipelines.

The sales leaders at this session addressed measuring activities developed solely to drive prospects and leads. Shannon Kinney, founder of Dream Local Digital, kicked off the discussion by bringing it back to the basics of prospecting, noting that a lack of understanding of “blocking and tackling” of prospecting is what she often sees missing from her clients’ skill sets out in the field.

“So, what we start with is a simple question: ‘What does a good prospect look like?’” Kinney said. “People often don’t realize a good prospect is not everyone up and down the street. Digital just doesn’t work that way.”

Kinney went on to say that in digital, optimal prospects (those most likely to need your services) can be identified with a little bit of research:

  • Does that business have a website that is not mobile friendly?
  • Do they show up well in search?
  • Do they have no social media or low engagement on social media?
  • Do they have an online marketing strategy?
  • Are competitors outpacing them in any of these areas?

Further, even if they’ve sent up any of the above “need” signals, not every category and companies within them will spend accordingly. Some industries and verticals are more likely to crack open their wallets to invest. Among them:

  • Mortgages, finance (but not single practitioners in insurance or finance)
  • Health care
  • Legal
  • Insurance
  • Ecommerce
  • Real Estate
  • Automotive
  • Service businesses
  • Travel/tourism
  • Education
  • Telecom

Kinney has also found that multiple-location businesses, companies within locally competitive niches, and those whose per-sale value is high enough to benefit from “lead gen” activities are optimal targets. Those highly likely prospects are also more likely to stick around after 3 to 6 months of successful marketing — especially true, she said, for home services.

Lenora Howze, executive director, The AFRO, said she prospects by spending significant time in the community. In fact, all leadership at the AFRO is tasked with selling through community involvement.

“When talking to prospects I rarely use the word ‘sales.’ Instead I focus on sowing seeds with potential clients that value the development of the strategic relationships, and who can look at the bigger picture,” she said. “Once a relationship is established, I offer to get in and help, offering tactics to help reach their stated goals. ‘Hey I have an idea for you!’”

How to generate your own leads:

  • Pay attention to TV/radio spots in your market — who is already spending money on other platforms?
  • Do Google research — who comes up in paid search?
  • Seek out and review competitive publications — who is spending money on the competition?
  • Do drive-bys — does your local business seem to be thriving from the outside? How many company vehicles do they have?
  • Use your media radar — follow your instinct about new and up and coming local businesses.
  • Send out e-blasts and mailers — get responses from, and follow up to, your regular email efforts.
  • Use your editorial calendar as a compass — identify potential sponsorship, custom content or sponsored content by category, by virtue of relevant special editorial, issues or sections.

When it comes to calls (in person and cold-calling), make it a priority and a part of your sales discipline: Schedule specific, regular daily or weekly times to make prospecting calls. Without fail. It’s a numbers game, so effort in means numbers out. Be sure to maintain minimum calls made per day.

Before you pick up the phone or walk in the door of your leads and prospects, be sure to do preliminary research, as mentioned earlier. Finally, review talking points before picking up the phone to call; practice them until they are second nature. The comfort of having practiced will translate across the call, or in person.

Once you’ve found and targeted the appropriate prospects, created a relationship, and offered the right solutions, the next step is creating a proposal that resonates. There are three keys for proposals that land sales:

  • Keep it brief, appealing, and personalize it by adding a client’s logo and images, and even key language elements. You can usually find these online, often from a client’s website.
  • Be willing to support the products and solutions you’re pitching with analytics and samples. Most customers are literal, and like literal (rather than conceptual) examples that apply to them. In other words: Show them, specifically.
  • Along those lines, show them what their ad would look like on your website; and provide mockups if necessary.

According to Jared Merves, senior vice president, digital, Cumulus Media, prospecting and sales optimization comes from the sales reps prioritizing time management, implementing consistent follow-up, being sure to propose next steps in communications, and using all the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools available.

Managers can create accountability for those activities by aligning the seller’s comp plans; rewarding the desired behavior. Merves notes that the right comp plan alignment focuses on motivating the bottom 85% of your team, because the top 15% are generally already motivated.

From there, those reinforced behaviors will begin to fill the pipeline with “suspects” (the pre-prospect stage for potential customers). The best way for sellers to move a suspect to a viable prospect is to do Google search research, gathering enough information on them to create a valid business reason for the business to choose you. Besides being in agreement on the need for regular activity, measurable accountability, and pre-conversation research and preparedness, the presenters all encouraged role-playing as a powerful tool for seller effectiveness.