Woe the Digital Sale: Navigating The Truth In A Tricky Marketplace
Question from a salesperson: I sell a fairly complex product in the "demand side" business -- and even though I think I know the space well, sometime even I get confused with all of my competitors' products. Some companies seem like they have only a business idea and vaporware with no real value proposition, but it seems like agencies are biting. So I've got two questions: How can I make sure my complex product is understood and believed amidst the chaos -- and how do agencies decide who has something real, when there doesn't seem to be any proof?
Jason says: Larry King may be a useful analogy here: 25 years of experience, at the top of his industry, yet oddly confused about every news item that passes his desk. There might be a few people in our neck of the woods who actually understand what is really happening out there. I want to say... six? Really, who can keep track with all the rich media, behavioral targeting, data analytics, DSPs, etc., all covering mobile, video and social -- and of course, it is all happening "real-time." On top of that, they say you should only believe 75% of what you read, see or hear, the other 25% being made up or simply incorrect. I might flip that around to 25/75% in the business of digital media.
Even when you can see the landscape, know all the players and envision what the game needs, there are dozens of companies who claim to be doing one thing while offering a far different value proposition in reality. That is the cause of most of the perplexity.
I am in the position to evaluate companies that want to partner with my company in one way or another. Many of them tout certain features they bring to the marketplace, yet when pressed, they eventually admit that they do something else entirely.
So when you are selling, try to see the most important trees rather than get lost in the forest. In other words, when confronting an ever-changing landscape with many players, focus your sales pitch on the one or two issues that your product solves. Then, identify anyone else who is saying the same thing. If such a scoundrel exists, you need to highlight your "special sauce" -- or, what makes your product truly unique. This will also help you focus on "the truth" of your offer and not "the promise."
Don't try to overshoot and show that your product can fix all that is wrong with the world. In that, you will surely fall short while adding to the mélange of confusion that existed before there was you. Larry King might take this advice. Just kidding, Sir. Happy retirement. You are retiring, right?
Now, as to how advertising agencies are able to manage the complicated processes of this business. Beats me. Amy? I would imagine that some of this is "buyer beware," but how do agencies decide who is being truthful when they tell you they can solve all of your problems before the day is over?
Amy says: Truth and advertising have always made strange bedfellows, so in the context of this question, I would say one man's truth may not be the truth of another. I have been the victim of so-called "truths" where even established vendors have overpromised the capabilities of their technology or service. The real problem is when agency folks present the "truth" to their clients when the vendor can't deliver. But that is fodder for another column.
With all of these new platforms, etc., I think the more relevant the offering is to meeting a client's needs, the more truthful it is. Agency folks want to find partners who can improve the performance of their campaigns and make their lives easier. It's like a wishful thinking effect: I need this product, so it must work -- and they are telling me it will work. Many vendors are aware of that, and I think your advice above is good to focus on one or two problems and try to make your solution work.
There is a bigger issue here, though: supporting innovation and moving our industry forward. Without start-ups and DSPs and whatever comes next, we will all be stuck with only buying and selling banners over the next 20 years. Agency folks need to give the benefit of the doubt that what a company is saying is true until proven otherwise. And they need to work with new vendors within the spirit of partnership and shared learning so that together, the industry can get better and better, and advertisers will continue to invest. Then we can, with confidence and truth, continue to build and improve our great online "advertising/media/technology/whatever you want to call it" business in which we are all dedicating our best years working.