Appreciating Sales SkillsIf you were to conduct a poll asking people what they believe to be the most exciting method of marketing promotion, nearly all will select advertising and not sales promotion, public relations or personal selling. The reason advertising would likely be the overwhelming selection is because it is the most familiar form of promotion. Thanks in large part to our frequent exposure to ads (possibly hundreds a day) and also the entertainment value ads can present (e.g., Super Bowl ads), it is easy to understand why advertising would rate as the favorite promotional method.

However, while most people may favor advertising, it would be a wrong to say advertising is the most important method of promotion for all marketers. The fact is, in many marketing organizations and especially those in the business-to-business market, the most important promotion exists with the sales force. Without effective salespeople, it would not be realistic for these organizations to operate a viable business, no matter how much is spent on advertising.

In addition to appreciating what salespeople do and the contributions they make, understanding certain skills that lead to sales success can benefit all marketers. In particular, as we point out in The Selling Process tutorial, the process salespeople follow to make a sale may be "beneficial for many others who do not view themselves in sales roles."  This is particularly true for anyone who finds themselves in a situation that requires they persuade others to perform some action (e.g., convince boss to provide more funding, get staff-wide buy-in on new product). In other words, selling an idea or action rather than selling a product.

With this in mind, this story from Entrepreneur Magazine discusses ten mistakes salespeople regularly make that can lessen their chance of generating business. The mistakes include not asking the right questions, missing buying signals and not understanding key influencers. While the message in this story is clearly directed to those who sell, the insights provided can apply to anyone looking to improve their persuasive communication skills.

Throughout our Principles of Marketing tutorials, we make a strong effort to point out how marketing is not just something that is only undertaken by for-profit companies; not-for-profits must also direct attention to developing a strong marketing plan. While both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations must engage in marketing activity, when it comes to the advertising side of marketing, it would appear there is a major difference between the two groups in that for-profits are by far bigger spenders. This is easy to see when watching television. It seems nearly all ads that appear are for products and services offered by for-profit companies.

But while ads by for-profits overwhelming dominant television, not-for-profits also use television ads to get their message out. In fact, because not-for-profit advertisements are less frequently presented compared to ads that promote products, advertisements by not-for-profits may be more likely to catch audience attention because they are often considered to be different. In the U.S., the most famous not-for-profit television advertisements have been developed by the Ad Council. Since the 1940s, this group has produced many legendary public service advertisements covering such issues as wildfire prevention, anti-pollution, crime prevention, autism awareness and many more.

While the Ad Council and other not-for-profit groups, such as charities, medical support groups, rights groups and environmental groups, focus on creating public awareness of important social, health and environmental issues, not-for-profit trade associations primarily use advertising to create public awareness of its members. Some examples of trade groups frequently promoting the services of its members are National Association of Realtors, with their message of how realtors can help; California Milk Processor Board, with ads encouraging milk consumption; and the American Petroleum Institute, with ads supporting energy independence.

We can now add to the list of not-for-profit trade groups who spend large sums on advertising, the American Institute of Architects (AIA). As reported in this AdWeek story, for the first time in its 157-year history, the AIA has launched an advertising campaign with the goal of building awareness of what architects do. Apparently the motivation for this comes from research suggesting, that while architects are well respected, the tasks they perform are not well understood. While the amount of money being spent on this campaign is not known, the group does indicate this is just the beginning of a three-year campaign, suggesting they have budgeted several million dollars to get their message out.

When we look at the wide range of activities that fall under the area of Marketing, there are a few that sometimes lead to questions of whether these are truly part of marketing. This is often due to the perceived separation that exists within many companies. Probably the most often cited example is the personal selling function. Many companies separate Marketing and Sales within their organizational structure, even though the activities performed by salespeople are clearly part of how we define Marketing.

Another area that is often considered a separate entity is Public Relations. As we note in our Public Relations tutorial, while PR is part of the promotional mix, what PR people do is not always well understood.  The experience some have with PR is that of it is more focused on being relational rather than promotional. For instance, PR professionals are often a key link between the company and its investors, and communicate with their investors through frequent press releases. However, relationship building with investors is only a small part of what PR professionals do; they can also be very effective in carrying out promotional activity. We note many of these activities in our Types of Public Relations Tools tutorial, such as building relations with the news media in the hope of getting a favorable story written about the company.

There is also a rapidly evolving outlet for public relations that is shifting PR even more toward the promotional side. This outlet is social media. For instance, posts made to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are generally categorized as public relations as these postings do not require payment for placement, and the message is totally controlled by the promoting company. The same applies to videos posted on YouTube. While many company-posted videos may seem like advertisements, the condition that no payment is made for the posting would then led these to be classified as public relations.

Unlike more traditional PR outlets, social media can be a much riskier place to communicate a message. The biggest risk is that any mistake or misunderstanding that occurs can be rapidly spread and possibly result in bad PR for the promoting company. A good example can be seen in this story from ClickZ that discusses a PR problem experienced by Pizza Hut in Australia. The company posted a video on YouTube that included the name of a product (Vegemite) that is owned by Mondelēz International (formerly part of Kraft Foods). Unfortunately for Pizza Hut, the Vegemite name is trademarked by Mondelēz, which did not give Pizza Hut permission to use the name in the video. This forced Pizza Hut to pull the video but not before it caught the attention of the news media.

We are in no way surprised to hear of the bankruptcy filing by retailer RadioShack. It was something that many saw coming for several months, if not years. What will be quite fascinating to watch over the next year or so is to see how thing shake out with this backruptcy. In particular, there are issues with branding and franchising that will continue for some time.

On the branding front, as mentioned in this USA Today story, despite the bankruptcy the RadioShack name still holds tremendous value. As we note in our Product Decision tutorial, the monetary worth of a famous brand, such as RadioShack, may be quite substantial, possibly in the several million dollar range. There is no doubt some company or investor will want to purchase this name and continue to use it in some fashion. We have seen this many times with other well-known brand names that went out of business.

The second issue to watch is what happens with retail outlets operating as RadioShack franchises. According to this CNN Money story, up to 1,000 of the 5,000 stores operating under the RadioShack name around the world are independently owned franchises. Moreover, a large number of these stores are doing quite well. While it would appear bankruptcy will dissolve any franchise agreement, these stores could still survive under a different name. Alternatively, maybe, they could purchase the RadioShack trademark name and continue on.

When it comes to finding products on an online retailer's website, a customer's shopping method can likely be classified as being either a browser or a searcher. Browsers are best thought of as those that like to locate products by entering a site and then taking time to look around by clicking down many levels of a product category. For instance, if someone goes to the Target website looking to purchase a toaster, they would start their shopping by clicking on the general Home, Furniture & Patio top level category then follow a click-path that takes them through the Kitchen->Kitchen Appliances subcategory and then into the Toaster sub-subcategory. Depending on how well a retailer's site is designed, the browser method for finding products could take some time.

Searchers, on the other hand, take a more direct approach. They simply enter a search term into a website's search box and are presented with results matching their search query. This shopping method generally obtains information much faster than using the browsing approach. But, for searchers, there is often a problem with this way of locating information. Namely, the results to the search can contain irrelevant information that does not match what the searcher is really seeking. For instance, for a customer that is truly interested in a regular toaster, the results page of a "toaster" keyword search may include not only regular toasters, but also toaster ovens or even Toaster Strudel (food item). It is because of such ineffective search results that many customers find being a searcher is actually more time consuming than browsing. This may especially be the case when customers use their mobile phones to find products as the small screen space often restricts shopping to using the search method.

Now it appears search results at online retailer are getting better. As discussed in this Internet Retailer story, several companies are promoting search software that is much better in pointing customers to the products they are really interested in seeing. As noted in the story, the new technology often presents searchers with what the software predicts to be the best match to a search query. Thus, in some cases, instead of seeing multiple pages of products, the searcher may only be shown a single product that the search technology estimates is the best match for the query the customer entered. How can search technology know this? Primarily by using "learning" methods that evaluate hundreds-of-thousands, if not millions, of search queries to see how customers behave.

The story presents the site search experience of several retailers, including one retailer who believes it has helped increase sales by more than 20%. The story also discusses the companies offering advanced search technology.