By Laura Vandiver, TVG Senior Research Strategist
There are many skills required to be a fantastic PR practitioner. Great communication skills, of course, top the list. But it also helps to have social media savvy, be a crisis navigation expert, understand the media and how to deal with them, be a fantastic writer, and also be great at… sales? Yes, sales.
Anyone who works in a PR agency (especially a smaller one) knows that you have to regularly go out and get new business for the company. This involves a set of skills not typically employed by PR Pros on a daily basis. It’s not like we’re selling things, though. So, how does one go about selling ideas to potential clients? I found some answers in an unlikely place.
My husband and I were recently considering building a new home. We visited some model homes at a local homebuilder. That’s where we met Matt. Matt is in sales for a living – he helps people visualize their dream home, and he sells them all the features and components that go into that home. I think we all have an idea of a typical sales person in our minds: pushy, high-pressure, and sometimes make you wish you’d never inquired about their product in the first place. But Matt was different. He was extremely effective at sales, without actually making the experience feel like he was selling something. So how did he do that? Here’s what I learned:
- Listen more than you talk. Matt was an excellent listener. He would ask me a question about what I wanted in a new home, and he listened with his full attention. He would then reflect back what I had said, and made suggestions for all the options that would fit my request. When pitching new business in PR, this is the first thing we should do: listen to what our clients want, and then suggest solutions. It’s only by listening that we can have a true understanding of what our clients really want, so we can get it right.
- Make customer service a priority. Customer service is important to building a great client relationship. Matt demonstrated this by seeming to remember every person that walked through the door. I’m still not sure how he did it, but he had a gift for remembering faces and names, and he made each potential client feel heard and appreciated. He followed-up on requests via email promptly – within an hour or two. And he had an answer for literally every question I threw at him (which was a lot)! The takeaway: create a great rapport with your client by knowing your services forward and backward. Be prepared to answer any questions or concerns they may have. Know how to adjust your services to fit their budget and still get them what they want.
- Create a great sales experience. Being a pushy salesperson creates an unpleasant situation for everyone involved. Instead, just be there to help and answer questions when the client requests it. Let the potential client guide the discussion. After all, it’s not about what you want, it’s about what they seek to understand where they are coming from. What do they need help with? As a professional, you can make recommendations. The client will appreciate your expertise and advice. But don’t push a particular service on a client that they don’t really need or want. Matt knew that by creating a great experience for the potential client, they would be more likely to come back ready to buy a home from him.
While sales may not be the top skill PR pros use on a daily basis, it can be helpful to work on these tools on a regular basis. Practice active listening. Reflect back what you hear. Get back to your clients as quickly as possible. Know and understand the services your agency offers like the back of your hand. Create the kind of environment with potential clients that makes them feel welcome and heard. These may seem like basic business skills, but they really take some work to perfect. And, you may just get a new client or two out of it!