Woe The Digital Sale: Poorly Prepared Salespeople

Question from the mailbag: I work at an independent agency and consider myself more open than most to taking vendor meetings.  However, why is it that sales reps come in and ask "So, who are some of your clients?"  To add insult to injury, they share presentations that look like they were written by a first grader with no relevance to any of my clients' needs.  Why is it that my time has to be wasted by these ineffective meetings?  What happened to making a good first impression?


Amy says: This is a common complaint among agency folks.  Why does someone even reach out to you if they haven't a clue of what THEY are going to get out of it?!?  The way I see it, you are hosting the meeting so you can take the lead when necessary to make it more useful.  When you get the "who are your clients" questions, redirect the conversation to creating goals and an agenda for the meeting quickly that you both agree on.  Also, inform your "guest" what your time limitations are so that you can get back to doing what you need to do. 



Then the meeting can actually begin.  Share some top-level information about your client portfolio and be honest about how YOU see things fitting or not.  Regarding vague or general presentations, it is really up to you to make the assessment of relevance of the offering based on your experience.  By being unprepared, the sales rep really lost all advantage in the meeting. 

It could be that the person across the table from you is completely incompetent, or it could be that they just took the red-eye in from the West Coast and the printer at the business center at their hotel was out of paper.  But I'm sure they will be grateful for the structure you provide to make up for their lack of preparation.  And in the end, the meeting will be either worth it for you and your clients or it won't -- but at least you have made the effort to find out and move forward.

Jason, why, why must sales reps do this to us?

Jason says: Well, do you offer donuts at these meetings? I know I can't function without snacks. Seriously, while I can't vouch for the skill of all salespeople, let alone their reading and comprehension levels, I can offer an offensive plan to avoid these problems in the future.

Allow me to officially and unequivocally set the process down in stone for how ALL such meetings should take place from this day forward in our industry. If you work at an agency and a vendor contacts you to schedule a meeting, tell the seller:

a.     The client(s) with whom you are actively working.

b.     The timeline you are working under and at what stage you are in the process (e.g., goal-setting, discovery, brainstorming, active planning, launch, post-mortem).

c.      The goals this client wishes to achieve for this campaign AND their overall business, including the target audience and their psychographic variables.

d.     The work your agency has been contracted to perform (media, creative, planning/buying, PR, special events, etc.).

e.     How success will be measured.

f.      Any overarching, "don't even think about asking us to work with _____ (insert your offensive noun here)" factors that may exist.

By the way, this should be the format used not just in an agency/publisher meeting, but in any buyer/seller transaction where, for example, software or services may also be pitched.

In reference to our question, it doesn't sound like any of the above is being accomplished ever, let alone at the time these meetings are set. I might ask the questioner why you would expect someone from another company to come into a meeting knowing your clients' objectives if you (the person who owns the client relationship) did not share those objectives with the rep. OK, perhaps they read in MediaPost or Delaney that the client wants to reach X and Y, but is that really sufficient to build a credible idea or proposal?

In fact, how was this meeting set up anyway? If the seller made the contact without ever knowing who the client was, that is some magical phone or email sales work. Or did your assistant just put them on your calendar blindly after being cold-called? If so, I would talk to your assistant and re-set his/her job responsibilities.

Alas, this is not entirely unfamiliar territory for those on the sales side. In this business, it is often difficult to ascertain who exactly is doing the media buying for a certain client. It is imperative in this economy for digital sellers to be exhaustive in the search for advertising dollars. Over the years, I have had salespeople garner digital advertising revenue from budgets originally intended for magazine, TV, outdoor, and PR. So please try not to blame the salesperson for sometimes casting a wide net in their efforts.

In short, it is your fault. (You didn't actually think I would take the buyer's side here, did you?) I kid. Both sides need to work together to plan an efficient, mutually beneficial meeting. As my wise Uncle Steven oft told me when I was new to the business world, "Remember the 6 P's: Proper Planning Prevents P*&% Poor Performance." And donuts aren't a bad idea either.

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We want to highlight what's going on behind the scenes in the community of ad sellers, media buyers, technology vendors and buyers.

Over the years we've come to see that truth is certainly stranger than fiction -- so we want to hear from YOU. Please submit your true stories of the good, bad and ugly that fill our days and nights. The ground rules are simple: you tell us the truth and we'll never reveal you. Submit your story to, but don't include your name or company or any overly identifying features of the real characters -- just whose team you play for (buyer or seller of technology or media). Only Amy, Jason and our editor will see the stories.

4 comments about "Woe The Digital Sale: Poorly Prepared Salespeople".
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  1. Erin Ulicki from Centro, September 11, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

    Thank you for this column, and Jason, thank you for sharing your insight.

    While there are poor salespeople out there in every industry, there are those of us who are passionate about our products, want to use them to solve a problem for the client, but don't want to waste our time or yours.

    How could we possibly have a valid, useful proposal for a meeting if we haven't learned about the clients needs in advance? That's like a car salesman selling me a minivan when I walk into a showroom with a kid in tow, when maybe I wanted a convertible for my work car. Salespeople can't customize our solutions for the client if we don't know what problems we're solving. You have to ask questions, get answers and then solve problems.

    Every agency partner we have worked with that has provided us the information Jason outlined either in a 10 minute phone conversation or a brief email has allowed our team to come in with strong, relevant ideas to solve the client's problem. If that information cannot be gleaned from the agency representative prior to the meeting, then that is what the meeting is used for.

    I agree with Jason, for everyone to be more effective, follow the outline above and you'll have useful, informative meetings.

  2. Wendy Hidenrick from AwesomenessTV, September 11, 2009 at 2:21 p.m.

    I definitely agree with Jason on this. But of course I would, I am a media sales person. ;)

    If I am completely clueless, I'll look at the agency's case studies and in the trades. BUT that does not always give you the entire picture.

    In a time when quantity over quality matters (i.e., many small media campaigns versus few large ones - as it relates to our current economy) you do have to cast your net wide. And realistically a sales person can't spend hours every day learning the 100+ clients in their territory inside & out just to set a meeting to figure out whether there is a fit.

    This is where the agency contact who spends hours a day learning their client's business inside and out, should take the lead and let you know where they see a fit. It's a better use of everyone's time. Finding media which has synergy with yours client's needs is not an easy job. Sometimes you kiss a few frogs to get to a Prince, right? :)

    I see nothing wrong with setting a 'fact finding' appointment.

  3. Nor Rafferty from Fordham University, September 11, 2009 at 3:24 p.m.

    I agree with Jason; both the seller and the buyer need to be clear on expectations for the meeting. The seller should have done due diligence and verified what they would be covering on the call and the buyer (or planner) should lay the ground rules for the meeting. If digital companies hired experience sales people (and there are many available with layoffs at publishing and cable companies) this would be avoided.

  4. Denise Oliver from Oliver Media Ltd., September 11, 2009 at 5:33 p.m.

    All good points. I'm neither a buyer or seller but have a lot of experience working with broadcast sales people. From my perspective, these problems are exacerbated by a lot of turnover on both sides.

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