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How important are sales skills in PR?

You probably didn’t come into PR because you wanted to be a salesperson, but as well as being a great communicator, fabulous content creator and all-round creative, it seems that to get ahead in PR you must be able to sell. Senior communicators explain why sales skills are invaluable in PR and offer four top tips for developing them.

Why you need sales skills

“From the outside, public relations may appear to be a creative function, but in reality, it’s a much more strategic, calculated and measurable discipline,” says Charlotte Stoel, senior account director at communications agency Firefly, in her analysis of why a good PR person is also a good salesperson. Stoel continues: “As the industry continues to change – with increasing demand for accountability – it’s clear that PROs need to align their skills much more closely to the sales function.”

Describing the range of sales skills you need, Stoel says: “In the traditional sense, sales skills are critical for pitching PR services to others as well as selling stories to the media. Both demand the skill of understanding the mindset of the person you’re selling to, pinpointing an area that would pique their interest and negotiating to achieve mutual benefit. With emphasis on accountability, PROs are also required to understand the sales function for their own business and that of their client. That’s a skill in itself. PR must know which industries the sales team are targeting, what image of the company the sales team is projecting, when they are being successful and when they are not. PROs can then craft programmes to support the sales push, which in turn has more influence on the success of the business.”

Another who is convinced of the importance of being able to sell in PR is Danielle Bassin, director of client services at communications agency TVC Group, who says: “whilst you don’t need to be a great salesperson in the traditional sense, the art of PR does involve sales, every step of the way.

“We have to sell an idea, an approach, or a story to the client. We then have to persuade journalists and influencers to work with our brand, before selling in our footage to broadcasters and web sites, and creating something that is credible and shareable across platforms.”

As well as clients, media and consumers, other audience PROs have to sell to include printers, designers and other partners. That is why it is so important to perfect your sales patter. Below, we offer you four approaches for winning over your customers, your clients’ customers and your suppliers.

Four winning sales techniques

1. Go above and beyond

TVC’s Danielle Bassin: “Enthusiasm, empathy, positivity and persuasion are some of the hallmarks of great sales people. And what’s more, when you do a great job and consistently go above and beyond what the client expects, whatever industry you are working in, you are effectively selling your company and the people in it.

“So my advice is, don't worry about fitting the traditional salesperson mould. You don’t have to be able to sell ice to the Eskimos, but you can sell yourselves to present and future clients with your enthusiasm, your understanding of their needs, effective communication of your ideas and most importantly, by doing an amazing job.”

2. Be commercially and technically savvy

Tom Leatherbarrow, B2B director at agency WPR: “The traditional sales skillsets of confidence, presentation skills, resilience, persistence and a positive enthusiastic personality are highly relevant to PR, but they are not enough on their own. They must be allied to commercial awareness and technical capability, particularly digital marketing capability. What clients are looking for is a strong sense that the people sitting in front of them understand their markets, business plan and sales process and can use that knowledge to confidently deploy a solution that will deliver genuine connections, engagement, advocacy and sales.”

3. Get into your customer’s mindset

Alyson Roy, co-founder of agency AMP3 PR: "The good news is that sales and pitching the media have a lot of parallels. When pitching, a great PR person has a genuine knack for pulling out a client’s most compelling story and effectively communicating it in a concise and engaging way. Just as a salesperson is expected to know their product inside and out, a PR professional should be able to clearly explain the strengths and points of differentiation of his or her firm, and be able to sell why said agency is the right fit. To develop these skills, it's important to get into the mindset of the consumer and what it is they’re looking for. Role-playing exercises can help you to uncover questions that might arise in a sales meeting or identify problems your potential client is looking to solve. If you can kick off a sales meeting by answering your future client’s concerns before they even ask them, you’ll find yourself off to a great start.”

4. Make your approach bespoke

Mika Bishop, account director at agency Custard Communications: “The approach must be bespoke, for example, every client has a different understanding of PR and different demands, and tailored media pitches to individual outlets and journalists have a better chance of being used than blanket email content. Just like a salesperson should do, we must know who the audience is, what makes them tick, and how to reach them. Versatility and the ability to think laterally are important. Also essential are good people skills. We strive to win friends and influence people every day. Sales requires confidence – without belief in yourself and what you’re selling, you’ll struggle to win. Being knowledgeable is vital to building inner-confidence, and putting into practice what you know will help develop skills. Pitching becomes easier the more you do it.”

The art of any sale lies partly in the delivery, but mainly in the preparation. And there is no reason to feel that developing your sales techniques will be at the expense of your communication skills, because both follow many of the same key rules, namely, know your customer and give them what they want.

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