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Greg used to help his uncle sell and deliver firewood on weekends. No doubt, that influenced one of his first phone calls when he started selling advertising for his local newspaper. His prospect asked, “Why are you asking so many questions?” and he said, “I’m just trying to figure out if you need a full load or a half-load.”

Greg’s sales manager told me it was one of the most honest things she had ever heard a salesperson say. “He was doing the right thing by asking questions to discover needs,” She explained. “When the prospect wondered what was going on, Greg admitted that, yes, he was calling to talk about a possible ad campaign, but he couldn’t recommend anything until he learned about the prospect’s business.

“Although he no longer talks about full loads and half-loads, he still does a great job of learning about his prospects and how they need to market their products,” she said.

When you think about it, it’s easy to see that firewood and advertising have a lot in common. Both serve specific purposes and both occupy measurable space. A full load of advertising is a big campaign splash with a sizable budget, while a half-load is something less than that.

Let’s see where this firewood comparison leads:

1. What’s in the truck? In other words, know your product. In order to help your advertisers decide between full loads, half-loads, or other options, it’s important to know as much as possible about what you’re selling. If your prospects know more about your newspaper’s advertising products than you, you won’t have much credibility.

2. What do they want? It’s a waste of time to try to sell firewood to someone who doesn’t have a fireplace or a woodstove. And it’s just as wasteful to try to sell advertising to someone who doesn’t need it.

Know your prospect. Not everyone needs everything that is being sold. That is one of the biggest lessons of selling.

3. Deliver to the right place. At one time or another, everyone in the selling profession has made the mistake of talking to the wrong contact. While that person may be perfectly willing to spend time on the phone or in an appointment, he or she may not be in a position to make – or influence – buying decisions.

In order to find the right contact, consider saying something like, “In order to save time for you, I wonder if you can tell me who makes decisions about your company’s advertising?” Then… “What is the best way to get in touch with that person?”

4. Tell the truth. Don’t try to sell a full load to someone who needs a half-load. If they find out later that they bought the wrong thing, they’ll feel burned. Not only will they stop advertising in your paper, they’ll tell all their friends about it.

Like the old saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy.” That goes for selling firewood or advertising or anything else.