Ideas and discussion from BxB2010 Summit

Howard Owens: Art of Selling Advertising

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By Suzanne McBride, Chicago Talks and Austin Talks

Howard Owens’ goal was clear: Sign 40 advertisers in three months, before his family’s savings ran out.

Owens, the publisher of The Batavian, had just been laid off from his job with GateHouse Media, so he didn’t have much time for his new web site in New York to turn a profit.

Owens met his goal, but it wasn’t easy.

He made 300 media kits and went door to door in Batavia, then drove throughout Genesee County. He scoured the penny saver and listened closely to radio spots to come up with the list of his best prospects – businesses that advertised everywhere else.

“I didn’t get a lot of sales at first but got a lot of invites to come by,” Owens said during his “The Art of Selling” session held as part of the Block by Block conference.

Besides focusing on the “high” targets, he also approached well-established businesses, even dropping rates to entice them onto The Batavian.

“It’s important to get businesses that people pay attention to on your site,” Owens said.

It’s also critical that business owners see you as a local business, too, he said.

In the beginning, Owens’ sales pitch went like this: “What do you know about The Batavian? I’d then tell them the history of the site, that I was the business owner and that this is the sole source of income for me and my wife.”

His pitch still emphasizes the importance of being local: “When you shop local, more of the money stays in the community,” he tells fellow business owners. And he notes that The Batavian doesn’t accept national advertising.

Early on after the site’s May 2008 launch, Owens would call on businesses listed in the local chamber guide. He would try to make 15 appointments a week, or three every day. When setting up the appointments, he would ask, “Can I come in and tell you about how The Batavian can help you with your business?”

“It’s all about relationships,” Owens said, noting that for a long time, he hand-delivered invoices each month so he had face time with every one of his advertisers.

“I’m really trying to build a business for the long term. … I don’t want to put a computer between me and a business.”

Owens’ business now has more than 80 advertisers, some who’ve signed contracts for as long as a year; 5,000 to 6,000 unique visitors come to the site each day, while there are about 63,000 unique visitors a month.

Although selling ads is easier now than it was two years ago, Owens said it still can take time to get some businesses to sign a contract. If someone doesn’t sign on the first visit, Owens keeps going back.

“Some of my advertisers took eight visits to sign. It’s worth it to invest the time to build the relationship,” he said. “You’re selling yourself as much as you’re selling the site.”

Closing a sale takes practice, but Owens said if you can get a business to agree to meet with you, “it’s very hard to not sell the ad. If you walk away without a sale, then you made a mistake.”

Always be listening for the chance to close the deal, he advises. A typical “buy” question is, “Do I have to pay extra to have you link to my site?” or “Do you design the ad for me?”

“When you get questions like that, people are already envisioning their ad on your site.”

Don’t use words like “sign” or “contract,” he said.

Make sure you set realistic expectations with your advertisers
, Owens advises.
He tells business owners, “I can’t promise that someone is going to come in and buy shoes from you. But what I can promise is you’re going to have some engagement” – 50 to 60 clicks to the business’ web site.

Owens offered several other tips during the hour-long session, including:

1) Set aside time every day to make sales calls.
2) Don’t let businesses forget that you’re a small business, too.
3) “You really need a vision, a strategy for your business.”


Written by Michele Mclellan

September 30, 2010 at 11:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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