In June, I wrote a lengthy article about common mistakes that sellers make. Hopefully it was received with the friendly spirit it was intended. That article, however, does not tell the whole story. There are plenty of salespeople who are doing things well. They are establishing great relationships with the planning community and creating real value for clients. This article will address what many salespeople are doing right.
Over the course of a career, buyers might deal with sellers more often than they speak with their clients. While account managers are working with clients, we are interfacing with sellers. Naturally, we establish relationships with these salespeople. Sometimes it can become a truly good personal relationship that transcends business. Heck, some buyers even marry their favorite sales reps.
Looking back many years ago to my time in TV media buying, I recall an important learning experience. After a particularly dismal network presentation, my UPN sales rep counseled me not to buy something. He was quite candid that I should steer away from "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," possibly the first TV sitcom about the Civil War. The show was such a disaster that years later, when I met the sitcom's star, even he did not want to talk about it. The UPN salesman candidly said, "You will lose all respect for me if I try to sell you this show." This was the right thing for him to do. First, indeed it was a terrible show that was soon cancelled. Second, this conversation actually strengthened our relationship. It certainly made him a more reliable sales vendor. Until that time, I never understood how honesty was a foundational element in the sales process.
In grade school, our parents tell us that honesty is the best policy. As with so many other things we learned in kindergarten (thanks Mrs. Siegfried!), this remains sage advice. In order to conduct business, people must trust one another. Trust or, at a deeper level, honesty allows people to exchange money for goods or services. Without the expectation of delivering a promise, buyers would never put their money on the table. I am not preaching brutal, unnerving honesty like in a Jim Carey movie. However, I do think that building trust through honesty improves a business relationship.
Great sales reps hold themselves accountable for the good, the bad, and the ugly. They don't just take credit for successful efforts, but they also help clean up after failures too. If a schedule has done poorly, they state the obvious, "Yes, that schedule did not deliver like we hoped." This makes me want to do business with that person again. Honesty builds trust if not compassion. No one likes admitting his or her mistakes, but doing so actually moves a relationship forward.
Ongoing interest in the campaign
Buyers want salespeople to remain involved after the buy launches. Really good salespeople do just that. While the assistant or sales planner may take the lead in day-to-day stewardship, the salesperson keeps an eye on the campaign too. Moreover, buyers like it when salespeople check in during a campaign to make sure everything is going well. It demonstrates a level of interest.
Recently, my team completed a massive global media review for one of my clients. Our media partners were very helpful, not only meeting with us to discuss the project at length, but also preparing thorough research. They listened closely to our request for information. Importantly, they designed the information to help me present this information to my clients. The presentation was filled with tables and graphics that could easily be exported into my presentation.
Information in bite-size chunks
Help me explain your proposal to my client, and I will be a happy camper. No one knows a media property better than the salesperson. However, it is up to the buyer to sell it through to the client. Present information in bite-size chunks. Think chicken nuggets rather than a whole chicken. It helps immeasurably if we can lift charts or salient points directly from the sales materials. Recently one super helpful rep volunteered to have her graphics department help me create infographics for a presentation. (I respectfully declined.)
Tell me about your property or plan in simple language. Make it easy to understand your proposal. This is especially important as media buying grows ever more technically complex with audience targeting, algorithms, data mining, and other fancy terms. By avoiding jargon or offering specific examples, I can more easily translate the idea for my client. Buyers inevitably need to upsell sales proposals to our own clients. Avoid jargon especially for technical solutions. The more complicated a technical solution, the more scrutiny it draws.
I would love to develop custom assets for each website. Unfortunately that is not usually feasible. All but the largest campaigns create one set of banners and mold the media to fit those sizes. We need to draw from a single pool of assets. Therefore, try to propose sales solutions that I can readily implement. Consider the existing creative, standard ad sizes, and the time frame until the start date. Think the media equivalent of shovel-ready jobs -- plans that can almost immediately go live. Smart sale reps ask if a custom unit can be made. Certainly, if it is a uniquely worthwhile opportunity, a client may want to fund extra production. Therefore, ask which sizes are available if they are not listed on the RFP.
Insight into how media performed
At the end of a campaign, salespeople can help by offering insight into how the media performed. Recently, a few salespeople have helped me compare my results to site averages. It is always great to compare our results versus others. Marketing, as a craft, is very concerned with comparing quantitative data. As such, marketers want to compare their results with those of other advertisers. This demonstrates success from an unbiased perspective. Benchmarks are helpful ways of putting a campaign's efficacy in perspective. These are subtle ways that we can mutually create value for the client. If the results are strong enough, hopefully it encourages repeat business.
The secret of success
My friend Andrew is a successful salesman. When asked about the secret of success, he states, "I simply make it easy for buyers to say yes." This makes sense; in a business of fungible offerings, he tries to stand out by being the easiest with whom to work. He anticipates what buyers will ask for and prepares those materials in advance. For example, helpful sellers can proactively send screenshots without being asked. One common problem for buyers and sellers alike are ad serving difficulties. I am always grateful when a sales rep identifies a technical problem and offers a solution in one fell swoop. That really helps. Readiness to participate in the stewardship of the buy generates more business over the long run.
Andrew Ettinger is the director of digital planning and buying at Doremus.
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