Commentary

Woe The Digital Sale: The Badgering Salesperson

Question from the mailbag:

Do salespeople know the definition of badgering: "to harass or urge persistently; pester; nag" on dictionary.com?  None of those words describe anything positive, yet recently my team was badgered by a salesperson who just would not stop.  Even after hearing the specific rationale of why the site in question was not appropriate for our client, the salesperson still called team members one-by-one and over and over.  I brought this to the attention of the sales director and got an apology.  But the apology wasn't for the salesperson's badgering, it was an apology that the salesperson went too far and pissed us off.  I don't want to say we are now blackballing this site and salesperson -- but we are on the verge.  What can I do to make salespeople understand that we know what's best for our clients -- and no amount of BADGERING is going to change our minds?

Amy says: We all know that Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Perhaps this salesperson was insane.  But seriously, I can empathize.  It's annoying, but more important, a waste of time for you and your team.  And you as the manager have to set the right example of how to work positively with vendors even if they don't seem to be able to do the same.

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I would expect that this happens mostly with salespeople who have not previously done business with your agency -- therefore, their knowledge of how you work and their confidence in getting business is low.  You may find success in tackling their badgering on a more emotional rather than business-rationale level.  By explaining to them the risk they are taking at jeopardizing the relationship right off the bat, you may be able to break through the full court press they are sending your way.  Since their sales director reacted as if this kind of behavior is business as usual, it doesn't seem as if the salesperson is going to get this kind of feedback anywhere else.  It may also be that they don't even realize how their overzealous approach and (probably) good intentions are really creating the wrong impression.  But is it possible that they can be so unaware?

Sales cultures vary from place to place. It sounds like this one that you were exposed to was a very high-pressure, low-encouragement place for the salesperson to work.  I'm not sure if this sales approach works and if salespeople realize how ineffective it is, but Jason is here to let us know.

 

Jason says: Funny you should mention it, because if you look up "salesperson" on dictionary.com there is, in fact, a picture of a badger.  Ambrose Bierce defined perseverance as "a lowly virtue whereby mediocrity achieves an inglorious success." However, our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge wrote, "Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." Good salespeople abide somewhere in between these two realms. 

It is reassuring to hear that the agency gave the salesperson the specific reasons that the site was not a good fit for the client's objectives. I have mentioned before the need for good, direct and constructive feedback. The most frustrating aspect of sales is not when you are unsuccessful at winning the business (OK, that ranks right up there, too), but when you do not get feedback on why you didn't win the business.

That being said, the fact that the salesperson continued to make calls to the agency during this cycle is reprehensible. Unfortunately, if the director did not understand the ramifications of his behavior, I'm afraid you may see this pattern again the next time this site doesn't get on the plan.

So how does this happen? Math. There simply are not enough good people to go around. When I was starting out in the media business, aspiring salespeople had to pay strict dues before they were allowed on the field. Someone would have to be a planner for anywhere from four to seven years before being moved to the front lines. This apprenticeship allowed them to gain knowledge and experience on how to do things the proper way.

Personally, I was fortunate to start young and work for some truly terrific TV and technology sales executives before getting to carry my own bag and hit the streets. However, over the past 10 years, there have been more media sales enterprises started than ever before. And these media businesses rely heavily on salespeople to drive revenue. No longer do companies have the luxury of hiring only the media elite to cover their front lines. Gone are the days when the only way to get stripes was to earn them over time. The need for people on the street has overtaken the ability to provide the proper training and expertise that is best garnered through experience.

The best way to handle this situation is to address it head-on. If there are people calling on you who are not treating you or your team the right way, i.e., in a professional, courteous and respectful manner, then let the badgering boob know the behavior is unacceptable and counterproductive. If that doesn't work, it is fully within your right to stop inviting them to the table, assuming of course that a badger knows how to check its email.

 What's YOUR Story?

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 onlinepublishinginsider@mediapost.com, 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.

10 comments about "Woe The Digital Sale: The Badgering Salesperson".
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  1. Chris Ryan from Burst Media, September 25, 2009 at 12:18 p.m.

    Great article and so true. I'm a salesperson myself and have seen this type of behavior more often than not, unfortunately. I try to take the opposite approach and "harass" people as little as possible. Unfortunately, there are too many Managers and Sales Directors out there that still think this is somehow the right approach and the only way to get an answer. These are also the same people that think "cold calls" are what gets business instead of building relationships and doing your homework to learn more about the agencies client roster so you can find where there are good opportunities to work together.

    There obviously has to be some follow up by salespeople when their company/site does not make the plan but you also have to know when to just let it go and find business somewhere else. It would be nice if agencies would let us know why you didn't make the plan on a more regular basis so the harassment would be kept to a minimum but that doesn't always happen.

    More often than not we do not even receive a response to our proposals telling us whether or not we made the plan which is a little ridiculous since we put in so much time and effort. This is probably another reason why sales reps continue calling until they get an answer because otherwise they think there still might be a chance. A simple email with a reason why we were not selected would probably satisfy most sales reps.

    Sometimes you just have to move on and stop wasting your (and everyone else's) time on an opportunity that is not going to happen. How many times has an agency decided to change their mind and include a company/site on their plan AFTER a sales rep's constant calls and badgering? I would say very few if ever. If that has actually ever happened, it was a very weak/young media planner or someone just wanted to get the sales rep off their case and decided that giving them a small piece of the business was the easiest way to do it.

    I wish more sales reps understood that all you are doing is pissing people off and hurting your chances of working with the agency on new opportunities in the future.

    Is it really worth aggravating someone to the point that they stop taking your phone calls or responding to your emails over one opportunity? Maybe that was a really big opportunity that you spent a lot of time and effort on and management is down your back to get an answer but who's to say you can't make up that revenue (and maybe more) with new opportunities down the road?

    If both sides communicated better and more often, maybe these problems/issues would be kept to a minimum.

  2. Jon Levy from Hype Circle, September 25, 2009 at 12:31 p.m.

    Guiseppe is so right on this. Clearly in this case the guy was completely overboard, and most likely inexperienced.

  3. Steve Noble from VideoAdMan.com, September 25, 2009 at 1:12 p.m.

    I am a salesperson and I agree that badgering to the point you describe is counterproductive. It also adds too much negativity to the salesperson's day. This is a good article.
    In any salespersons defense... I recently sold a video program to a major newspaper publisher in Canada that I had called on and tracked for 6 years. When they finally decided to move forward my contact said "your timing is great". I might have been considered pushy in the past on occasion but to be good in sales its all about walking the line and being persistent but polite.

  4. Stuart Long, September 25, 2009 at 1:13 p.m.

    Most sales training is awful and puts way too much emphasis on closing sales and not enough emphases on building relationships. Developing the skill of attentive listening is the key to developing relationships that are mutually beneficial and mutually lucrative. Had this salesperson been trained to carefully consider everything he was being told and the way it was being told; he would have moved to greener pastures before you could hang up the phone.

  5. Theresa m. Moore from Antellus, September 25, 2009 at 2:48 p.m.

    I used to work in what is called a "hot room", where salespersons would be given a list to call. The rule there was to "not take no for an answer". But once the call was made and the prospect did say "no", we were to respond with a polite closing and move on to the next number. Over the years I have always known that if you are pestered by someone over and above their calling limit, you can always go directly to their manager and tell them that you don't want to be badgered. When I have gotten snuff back, I then threaten to go to the manager's manager to get the issue resolved. It always works.

  6. Diane Osgerchian from Twelvefold, September 25, 2009 at 3:59 p.m.

    Excellent article! I couldn't have said it better!

  7. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, September 25, 2009 at 5:46 p.m.

    The key to sales, as it is in marketing these days, is to understand we're in the solution business. So rather than take the attitude of "What do I have to say/who do I have to talk to to sell this product to you?" the more productive stance is engagement..."What does a solution look like to you? Let's talk about how we can create it together."

    Such a stance may not create an immediate sale, but it likely will start a dialogue and make the salesperson smarter about the client's needs and priorities.

    http://www.quisenblog.com

  8. Theresa Gallo from BeyondROI, September 28, 2009 at 10:26 a.m.

    The badgering salesperson with no manners or courtesy is an embarrassment to those of us that consider our careers in sales to be something of great reward. The difficulty, and when I sometimes cross the line, is when you know, you know, by all of the data available, and by all of the clients you have helped in the past succeed, and yet the mid to lower level managers do not wish to engage.
    There are valid reasons for these types of managers to not bring you into the fold, I get that. But if it is fear for their jobs, or fear that you know more than them, they are ultimately hurting the company they work for. If you are a dedicated employee, in the position you hold because you have passion for what you do, then try to not alienate individuals that can possibly take your company to the next level. Open your mind, and allow yourself to be in the position of a business owner. If you were the owner, and you found possible revenue that you had not identified in house, would you allow this knowledge to go unchecked and investigated? I highly doubt it.
    So please excuse the occasional assertive sales person, they may have something valid to share.

  9. Diane Politi from Reel Centric, September 28, 2009 at 12:10 p.m.

    As sales professionals, we are always walking a fine line between persistence and "badgering". I've lost count of the number of times my persistance has ended in a sale, and a long-term business relationship. In fact, I've even had customers thank me for being persistent. If a prospective customer extends me the courtesy of letting me know they aren't interested in my product, I politely thank them for hearing me out and letting me know their objections. Where the are gets gray, is when the buyer doesn't take my calls, or return my calls. Then I wonder if they are just really busy, and I haven't contacted them at a convenient time....I certainly can't take a leap of faith that its because they aren't interested, or my 25 year career in sales would have ended long ago.

  10. Jim Burnette from FreeAllMusic.com, September 30, 2009 at 6:11 p.m.

    Great Thread!!! Badgering & Persistence are obviously two different things. Doing your homework before you call on an agency or client is rule #1.

    If the buyer/planner on account X has provided the salesperson with a detailed reason why their site does not work for their client, fine. Obviously move onto client Y, Z etc. at the same agency. Calling a different group of buyers/planners at the same agency is what salespeople do everyday. Badgering people who have provided insight into their clients buying strategy and said your site will not work is not what salespeople do.

    Being Persistent is one of the top traits of a good salesperson. If I do not receive feedback from my emails or vmails, I will continue to follow up with the buyer/planner. Obviously I have done my homework and feel that their client is a good fit based on a variety of information. Now is where salespeople separate the good & bad buyers/planners. The Badgering salesperson has not helped our cause. We are looking for insight from the buyers/planners on their clients upcoming campaigns. The good buyers/planners will follow up usually with a quick email on the current status of their client. The bad buyers/planners will not and continue to receive my emails/vmails. That is NOT Badgering but Persistence. The main word here is COMMUNICATION.

    A quick email will solve many of the Communication issues. I understand that the buyers/planners are over-worked and under-paid, but good business is good business. Not following up with a salesperson who has tried connect 6+ times is not good business. If my team and I developed a media plan based on an RFP and does not receive a detailed follow up if we did not make the campaign, obviously not good business.

    Buyers/Planners please note that most of the salespeople who are trying to connect have done their homework. COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION. Those damn Badgering salespeople giving Good salespeople a bad rep.

    Enjoy the Fall weather.

    JB

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