Is 'Trusted Seller' An Oxymoron?

A former media buyer recently quoted in a previous column said that 95% of ad sellers aren’t trusted. As someone who has been on every side of advertising, I’m forced to disagree: that 95% seems low.

Trust isn’t eroding, as the article purports. It may have never been present at all.

Power vs. training. Power tilts toward folks only a few years out of college who deserve far more training than they get. Buyers are rarely placed in an instructional setting learning how to mathematically set allocations, yet wield the power to choose them.

Too many options. Increased choice produces indecision. Like the endless buffet at Vegas, buyers have limitless options and a line out the door. Even the discerning buyer can struggle to tell the truth-teller from the charlatan. After all, they both wear the same clothes, speak the same language, and desire the same outcome.

Agency lens. Just a few months spent on the agency side creates a biased lens for evaluating sales reps, to say nothing of the impact a few years can have. Sellers have to battle that stigma daily.

Zero-sum game. An advertiser’s budget is inelastic. Sellers are essentially running a switching campaign, attempting to convince a media buyer that an investment with them is sounder than with another. Buyers know this and can possibly resent it, since reallocating is a mild admission of being wrong.

Transparency. Like a stand-up comic, the sales professional’s goal is well established before they walk in the door. At least buyers don’t walk in, order a $25 drink and say, “All right, funny boy, make me laugh.”

Stranger danger. It’s easy to point out that building a trusted relationship takes time, lest we forget Matt Straz' report of 30% annual agency attrition.

While sellers consider the significant challenges agency media folks have, buyers would do well to understand that sellers have goals, too. A seller’s organization is built on revenue forecasts just like agencies and their clients. When half your comp is commissioned on a personal run revenue goal, using any tactic at your disposal is understandable. 

Sellers forget that they are 10x more trained at their craft than their agency counterparts. There is an entire category of businesses teaching salespeople how to sell and countless books on the subject – while buying, largely, is learned from one’s team.

When none are to blame, all should feel responsible. But sellers should make the first overture to address it. The question is how.

A few thought starters:

Admit your mistake before others do it for you. If something goes wrong with a buy, get in front of it, and help agencies keep their clients informed. Tell them, “Here’s what went wrong, here’s what we’re doing, and here are the measures in place so it doesn’t happen again.” Establish policy in your organization: iI a client uncovers something amiss before you, consider it a failure. 

Don’t fake genuine, actually be genuine. When the person across the table expects you to be untrustworthy, establishing trust is a challenge. Like the poker player trying to figure out his own tells, this requires practice, role playing at sales meetings, etc. And never say, “When you do well, we do well.” While true, it’s an overused sentiment.

Work for renewal business, not just a single IO. If you convince a buyer to test you, make sure what they’ve purchased is precisely what you do well.

Avoid the need to always say “yes.” A friend of mine once devised ways to say “no” three times within the first 72 hours of dating someone to make himself more attractive – bizarrely, it worked. As a seller, you are taught to have a solution, overcome objection, and get the “yes.” Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Just do it when it makes sense, not randomly like my friend. It may actually make an impression.

Turn your weakness into a strength. While I was on the agency side, I never heard a seller say, “It doesn’t sound like your goals are a good fit for what we do well. If you were interested in ‘X,’ we’d knock it out of the park, but maybe not for this campaign. I’ll reach out in a couple months to see if your goals have shifted where we can really move the needle for you.” If a seller had said that to me, I might have jumped across the table and spooned him. Most buyers crave that level of earnestness.

Trust isn’t salvageable if it never existed. But counter sellers’ expectations by admitting mistakes, being genuine and only taking on business squarely in your wheelhouse, and you can create it.

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4 comments about "Is 'Trusted Seller' An Oxymoron?".
  1. Ari Rosenberg from Performance Pricing, LLC , March 13, 2014 at 5:16 p.m.
    Matt Weisberger, welcome aboard this was a great launch column and I hope you have more up your sleeve - this is fantastic, candid and authentic insight. Ari the guy who wrote the column you referred to :)
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 13, 2014 at 6:06 p.m.
    Wow, this is terrific !
  3. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct , March 14, 2014 at 4:57 p.m.
    Great column. I'd like to quibble a bit with how you use the idea of trust. What I've finally learned is that trust is always and everywhere qualified. A "trusted seller" absolutely exists if we remember that a trusted seller is trusted within a circle of influence. Push them outside that circle and they can't be trusted. But this is true everywhere in life. And life quickly shows us our error if we extend trust without remembering this truth. What I want to trust in a seller is that they will treat me fairly each time I buy - when fairly include my understanding their circumstance as well as my own. Because then I know what I can ask for and what I can expect in return. Sellers who are irrational, driven by their own vices or at the whim of an irrational operation are not to be trusted.
  4. Matt Weisberger from Travel Spike , March 17, 2014 at 12:14 p.m.
    Thanks for the comment Doug. By and large I believe sellers are trustworthy -- the challenge is proving it to a buyer who is conditioned to be skeptical. Given the motivation of a seller is indeed to sell, and a buyer doesn't always want to feel "sold," therein lies the conflict. As in life as you propose, I think there are two versions of trust. Offering it outright until someone proves unworthy. Or requiring someone to earn your trust. With buyers representing advertisers and their budgets, the latter seems appropriate.