Woe the Digital Sale: Let Me Entertain You
I'm a media buyer at a very large agency and I was recently given two high-profile clients with healthy media budgets. So as you'd expect, I get asked to go out very often by my reps; lunches, drinks, dinners, shows, ball games, etc. I have experienced a bit of that before, but never at this level. I am starting to feel weird about it. I know the people taking me out expect my business in return. Do I have to give it to them -- or should I decline their extravagant offers?
Jason says: You must be one of those people who actually "leave a penny" at the cashier counter. Should you accept those Knicks tickets? I think it depends on whose team you are on. Do you think you should spend your clients' money on the website or network that really matters to them, the one that can deliver the most important audience? Or, as has been suggested here, is it all about "building relationships"?
I happen to be shooting for content over concert, ability over ball games, and... one more, let's see...dollars over dinners. However, we all know that there is an incredibly overcrowded vendor marketplace right now. There are so many products and services that are similar, each looking to distinguish itself from the crowd. Sellers are asking, with so many proposals in play, all pitching the same business, how they one can stand out? The final impression a salesperson wants to leave is not merely a single price on a media buyers' spreadsheet. I get it.
We are living in an increasingly fluid transactional world while trying to jam a relationship in the middle. There are horror stories (which I won't repeat) littering the media world of client entertainment snafus. Well, maybe just one. There was a media supervisor who pleaded with a vendor to get the big boss onto one of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. The vendor pulled a rabbit out of her hat, and 18 spectacular holes were played. Then, the same media supervisor tried to cut the budget on that vendor. OK, one more. There was this VP of Media who asked for front row seats to an A-list concert for himself and his friends. After dancing the night away and hanging out backstage, said VP quit the agency -- and left the vendor to try and drum up a relationship with the rocker's replacement all over again.
Sellers, buck up. If this is the game you are asked to play, then you have little choice but to play it. Tell the loved ones you will be home late, call early for reservations to the hottest restaurants in town, find some tickets to a great concert or sporting event and ply your way into some RFP's! (For my mom, that's "Request for Proposal.") If it makes you feel better, I have been on the purchasing side of plenty of VIP tickets, extravagant spa trips and chartered jets, all toward the grand cause of booking business. We all want to have our ethical compass pointing true north, but we also do not want our bank balance going south.
Amy, I think we should get together for caviar and beer pong to discuss this. Are you, your friends and your staff free? I trust that you, as my friend, will ignore what I just said and give me the budget.
Amy says: Jason, I wish it were that easy to say just give me the IO and I'll sign it because we are friends and have a relationship. But relationships are a delicate thing in the online space because our relationship won't make your site perform better than another.
Building relationships is the cornerstone of good selling. So it is important for buyers and sellers to spend time together outside of the office. Please note that I said "SPEND TIME TOGETHER" -- not that sellers should finance buyers' social lives. Media agencies have different cultural mores about what is acceptable in receiving gifts, trips and tickets. (Although I can tell you in most agency human resources handbooks, it is pretty much prohibited.) A good rule of thumb is basically if you are offered something, you can take it -- but it is bad form to be sending out ridiculous requests.
In our young industry, this is a historic problem that originated in the dot-com heyday. Everyone partied like it was 1999 and the media folks who started their careers during that time figured that they were the kings and queens and sellers were the court jesters, around only to satisfy our every whim. Sellers were so eager to get any penny they could, they would do anything to get it. Hence the "media whoring" mentality is alive and well today.
Sellers will constantly struggle to get in touch with the buyers. And buyers will constantly feel overwhelmed and that they can't keep up with everything. I have spoken to TV sellers who complain that their buyers never call them back, either. Maybe we need to change our definition of how selling is relevant in our transactional-based business. Or maybe sellers should just go on strike, and buyers will realize how much they really do need sellers to perform their own jobs effectively.
The reality is that media buyers may not feel any value in, or ownership of, seller relationships because so much decision-making is based on campaign results. I may have gone to your wedding -- but when your site's cost-per-click is $80 and the campaign average is $2.50, it's impossible for me to convince my client to keep your site on the plan. I also agree that part of it is generational with the Millennials -- but how much longer are we going to let them use this excuse?
So for this media buyer with a soul, I would say: Share the wealth. Let your vendors know that you are grateful for their generosity. Give the vendor a chance to meet some of your other team members by inviting them along when you go out for drinks or dinner. Pass on the really good stuff to your senior agency leaders to gain some points with them. Above all, be honest about what is going on with you, your campaigns, and any future career moves that may affect the investment the vendor is making in the relationship with you. If we can all work on our communication skills and honesty, good relationships will follow naturally.