Radio, Beware the Sushi Menu Approach to Sales

Seth Resler

By: Seth Resler,
Jacobs Media Strategies

I first learned the art of eating sushi in the course of my first radio gig, working as the Imaging Director for 105.7 The Point in St. Louis. My Program Director, Allan Fee, was a big sushi fan, and we found ourselves dining out on raw fish frequently. If you’ve ever been to a sushi restaurant, you know the routine: the waiter hands you a slip of paper resembling a Yahtzee scorecard with a list of different offerings, and you enter a number next to the items you wish to order. Experienced sushi eaters like Allan are accustomed to this, but there’s definitely a learning curve to it. Back then, I didn’t know the difference between sashimi and nigiri, and when you’re uninitiated, ordering sushi can be an intimidating experience.

In this situation, a knowledgeable waiter can make a world of difference. If they ask the right questions and assess your desires — “Do you have any allergies?,” “Are you vegetarian?,” “How do you feel about raw quail eggs?” — it can make a world of difference. The wait staff at a good sushi restaurant knows how to tell the difference between a customer who needs help and one who can be left to their own devices. It’s the difference between being an order taker and a true waiter.

Often, when I encounter radio sales teams that are having trouble embracing the digital side of the business, it’s because they’re behaving like order takers at a sushi restaurant. Instead, radio salespeople should strive to emulate the most helpful waiters.Thirty years ago, radio salespeople had few things they could sell. It was pretty much spots, remote broadcasts, and the occasional event sponsorship. Since then, we’ve added many arrows to the quiver. Radio salespeople are now authorized to pitch an array of digital products to clients, from display ads in the mobile app to pre-roll spots in the audio stream to mentions in the social media posts. Today’s list of products resembles a sushi menu.

While some clients are digitally savvy enough to know exactly what they need, not all of them are. We routinely encounter local advertising clients who know that they need to be using digital channels to market their products and services, but are looking for guidance. Are your salespeople trained to offer that guidance? Or are they like the order takers who just drop the menu on the table and leave customers to fend for themselves?

Sometimes, our salespeople push a particular service because that’s the station’s priority, even if it doesn’t fit the specific needs of the customer. Incentivizing the sales staff to “push homepage takeovers this month” is the equivalent of the chef saying, “the mackerel’s about to go bad, push it on special” — it doesn’t prioritize the needs of the client, and it might leave them with a queasy feeling in their stomach.

Instead, more than ever now that radio stations have so many different services to offer, salespeople need to know how to ask the right questions, assess a clients’ needs, and assemble a program to meet those needs. Today, it’s a much harder job than simply asking, “How many spots do you want?”

The more digital services radio stations can offer their clients, the more skilled salespeople need to be successful. For this reason, the roll out of any new product or service should be accompanied by training. Salespeople shouldn’t be asked to sell something unless they are fully educated about it, yet managers sometimes skip this step. We are taught that are salespeople need to be out on the streets at all times, but it’s important to also carve out time for internal education. Every good restaurant takes time to teach its wait staff about the menu; radio stations should do the same.

If your radio station’s sales team finds itself struggling as the company offers more and more services to the menu, think of yourselves like a sushi restaurant, and empower your waiters to offer the best customer experience possible.

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