Last week I found out that a person whom I’ve been calling on and speaking with about a deal for months at an agency has left the company. I know nobody else there and I dread starting over. As if selling advertising right now isn’t hard enough. Any help?
Salesperson from a large digital media company
Jason says: “Undeliverable: your message did not reach the intended recipient.” The dreaded email bounce that no salesperson wants to receive. I have heard friends joke about rare business card collections, likely printed on heavy stock with embossed lettering, of colleagues at companies long since departed from the first dot-com bubble. I am not sure it has changed much among the ad agencies today.
It seems you can’t take a double mocha latte break without key people going missing. Certainly, we all know a few people with real longevity but they seem to be the exception. This is not necessarily a bad thing. People moving from one company to another, in its best form, means that talent is in demand, business is growing and people are willing to make moves that keep them upwardly mobile, professionally and economically. This is good news, especially if you are on your own ladder.
Now, what to do about it when you are on the other side and need to drive your business and keep momentum. There are a few things you should always keep in mind when calling on any prospective client, be it an ad agency, media company, manufacturing client, etc.
1. Always try to get the lay of the land of that company and the division you are calling. Find out who the key decision-makers are and the organizational chain. Do it respectfully. Do not lead with, “Hey, so who’s your boss?” Before the meeting, do your homework and be able to speak intelligently on who’s in charge, even if it is the CEO. Say to your contact, “I want to make sure I am delivering on the needs of your company. Do you report to John Smith? I read a speech of his the other day,” etc. Then, lead naturally to whom your contact reports as well as counterparts in the department.
2. During the course of your attempts to win business from this person and the company, you should be asking questions about who else needs to be involved in order to make this proposal/deal a reality. If you do this with subtlety, it will be seen as a win for both sides. Presumably, this person likes to look good in front of her colleagues as well as her direct report. More importantly, you will be a step ahead should this person decide to leapfrog her way out of your life -- perhaps doubling her salary, but causing you heart palpitations and an annoying shuffle to your contact list again. However, at least you will know who else is there and in what roles.
3. Now that you need to start again with another person, you are fully entitled to bring that person up to speed on the level of conversation you have had. Your project might have legs or it may truly be at stage zero. There is only one way to find out and that is to give it a go. That is what good salespeople do. Until next month…assuming I am still here. Over to you, Amy. Amy?
Amy says: Job-hopping, voluntarily or involuntarily, is a reality of the agency business. I know it can be a big stumbling block in the sales process. This is a version of the cautionary tale of "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." Below are some of my thoughts of how to protect yourself so you can keep things going and keep in touch with folks who are now probably your clients at another agency.
1. Building an agency relationship is measured in many steps. Getting a buyer's instant message or becoming their Facebook friend is a great way to ensure that they will be your contact for life. This kind of intimacy doesn't happen overnight, but it is something to shoot for. Then, when they do move on, they should be willing to throw you a bone and share contact information of their replacement or the team members they left behind.
2. Always ask for an org chart of the digital media department or a list of folks and their associated accounts. I know, I know, you are thinking it will be easier to get BigFoot to join you for a cocktail at the Royalton Hotel but it is worth a try. Most agencies are wary of providing contact information for the whole team, mostly because recruiters love to have this information. But as long as you promise to use it for good and not evil, you should get some of the emails and phone numbers you need.
3. Look out for clues that your key contact may be interviewing. Have they stopped responding as quickly? When you see them, do they have the most stressful look you’ve ever seen? Do they say "I'm not happy here, I think I'm going to look for another job."? Encourage them to vent to you. Find out who else on their team is helping them or making them miserable. These folks will be your safety net when your contact leaves and your proposal needs attention.
4. After your key contact has left, you need to put on a full-court press to share the information that went with him. Try reaching out to other folks at the agency, beg your sales friends who also work with the agency to give you the lay of the land and put in a good word for you, or call the switchboard at the agency and see if the receptionist can give you another name, even of a traditional planner, who can help you out. But be honest, is the proposal really something that was moving along and likely to close? Or are you just grasping at straws and risking being viewed poorly?
The key is to really look at the agency as a whole, view a proposal as only the beginning of a relationship, and to build contacts at all levels. The assistants of today are tomorrow's directors. When a SVP of sales showed me my old assistant media planner business card recently, I realized how important it was to have relationships for the long-term.
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