Content Reboot: This classic column was first published April 26, 2012 -- Editor
Question from a buyer: My client complains that when they meet with a salesperson, they feel like their business isn't understood and it's a waste of time. What do salespeople think the benefits of these meetings are -- and why can't they be more impressive?
Amy says: Most publishers and technology companies seem to think it is essential to their business to meet with clients directly. As I understand it, the higher purpose of these meetings is to build relationships and evangelize the individual property. However, depending on the salesperson, this may not be the case.
Many times what happens is that the salesperson for the client isn’t the salesperson for the agency. The two may be located in different offices – and, depending on the compensation structure, the salespeople could be frienemies instead of true partners. That causes a number of problems in communication – like, there isn’t any -- and when a salesperson goes to meet with a client s/he may be clueless about what is really going on with the account. No big deal if you as the buyer aren’t interested in the publisher anyway, but annoying if it is a partner that you are running campaign with and/or trying to sell through on your end.
Usually your best media partners will inform you in advance and try to get your POV to inform the client meeting and make it successful. Also, it depends on which type of client the salesperson will meet with. A media manager is likely more informed and savvy vs. a brand manager, whose responsibility is broader and may not need as much information. To best serve your client, you could be proactive and check to see whom they are meeting with and try to brief salespeople on what might be a good approach for the meeting.
In the end though, the agency signs the insertion order and the clients manage their own schedules. Salespeople will do what they want and buyers have to prioritize how, when and if they get involved. Otherwise, it’s just a conversation about how to proceed with that particular partner -- and hopefully the client will be on board with your recommendations regardless of how their meetings go.
Jason says: There’s a reason advertising sales leaders constantly preach to their sales teams: “Go see the client.” It is the same reason my kids go right past me to talk to their mother. Salespeople (you may think of us as children for the purpose of this metaphor only) go directly to the client because they know who is the ultimate decision maker. This is not a knock on anyone at an agency, but rather, a realization of the nature of the business. Let me explain.
We watch as countless accounts change agencies after we work painstakingly to build the business at the incumbent agency. When the switch happens, if we have not made inroads with the client, we are back at square one, with a new agency asking us to move our rates backwards and/or telling us that we need to prove ourselves all over again. Often, part of the reason they won the business in the first place was based on their claim of “pricing advantages" over other agencies. Then, they come asking for blood (or in the case of my kids, juice).
All it takes is one positive experience for a salesperson to appreciate the value of a client relationship that eliminates these problems. If a client understands the value that has been delivered previously, she can easily eliminate all of the hassles that come with trying to prove one’s value all over again (which, for my kids, occurs on Saturday mornings when I make pancakes).
I teach my teams to be completely upfront about the intentions of a meeting with a client. A salesperson attempting to reach a client without informing the agency is an act that cannot be supported. Nothing good can come from a relationship that’s being built in secrecy. That doesn't mean that the agency has to be the first line of communication. If someone happens to be speaking with a client-level person first, that can be acceptable as well, provided full disclosure follows.
As to the legitimacy and talent of the salesperson in question, I have zero advice here. Bad salespeople are bad salespeople. Happily, Amy has given some sound advice about gaining insight into what the client may be looking for in the meeting. That is invaluable when making this approach a productive one. Salespeople, always ask your agency ahead of time the best tack to take when meeting with a client. That kind of collaboration should make all parties more productive. For me, this usually involves asking my wife where the jellybeans are.