I represent a new, emerging media company and am making the rounds to media agencies. The sales cycle is much longer than I anticipated, and I'm left wondering why. Are agency folks really motivated to find and test new vendors? Are they happy to fill out plans with their usual "preferred" vendors, or do they want to try/test new, innovative things for their clients? What is the deal? I thought agencies wanted to be leaders.
Amy says: The most common agency defense for any complaint, whether internal or external, is that they are just too busy. Staffing has been cut around the industry, clients are demanding more with less, and consumers just keep on flocking to new-media outlets and evolving their media consumption faster than we can keep up. The life of a media planner/buyer is nothing if not hectic -- but how do they balance incorporating innovative thinking into their everyday campaigns?
Do the media teams you approach view innovation as their responsibility? Many agencies have some flavor of innovation or emerging media teams and you may have more luck trying to connect with those teams. This is an easier first step, I think, and creates goodwill in another department that can spread beyond just the media buyers who will probably be your ultimate client. Another version of this is to go to more senior agency management, not media, to show them your innovative solution. Executives don't have time to keep track of everything, so occasionally they will meet with a company they have read about it for their own knowledge-building. (Hint: When you are new, trade press coverage is really helpful.)
On a day-to-day basis, you are facing the challenge that no one ever got fired for buying AOL, Yahoo, and MSN. And as you know, with digital media, results speak louder than RFP responses -- so without a history of success against sites who do, it's even tougher. That being said, here are some ideas that may help in getting agencies to buy your new offering:
Agencies do want to try new things, not just new restaurants! They just need more help than you think in selling them through.
Jason says: Innovation. Leadership. It's good that you are familiar with these terms, as they get thrown around a lot in our industry. Agencies want to try something new like I want to try a new Ferrari every year -- a nice idea, but a luxury I cannot afford. As Amy detailed, with scarce resources, slim budgets and agency assignments that come and go with a quick trigger, it is rather tough from an agency's already tenuous position to experiment with something completely unproven. From what I read, the average tenure of a CMO these days is 15 minutes. In this environment, you can't blame an agency for giving the newbies the Heisman.
So I say, pack up your innovative idea and go away. Go far away. Stop pleading for face time with the big agencies when you are just getting started. Why deal with that rejection? Instead, go to a boutique shop. Find some independent agencies. Seek out freelancers. In other words, I don't think it's realistic for a modestly funded start-up to get into the buying cycle of the big boys (or girls) without having any real, concrete traction, credentials and results to share.
Additionally, you could go to the client directly and offer something for free. You need trial. ("Error" is overrated). Spend whatever money you have on creating a kick-ass sample or an actual live product and give it away to a client on your A-list. Typically, if the client likes the concept, once they hear the word "free," they will instruct their A-list agency to engage with you. Just make sure you retain the right to promote the results after you have proven your success.
Of course, at this point you will be expected to take the agency team out to a fancy lunch to thank them for believing so strongly in your idea and for their willingness to take a chance on an unknown. Frustration -- another term you will become intimately familiar with.
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Neither approach is mutually exclusive. Amy presents concrete pointers to help convince the agencies to buy your offering. Jason proposes taking a different fork in the road by fisrt seeking the boutique and independent shops. But why should it be one or the other - particularly given the long sales cycle into top tier agencies?
The shelf life of a moderately funded start up is organic, much like any fruit. If you don't pick it, eat it, cook it or otherwise do 'something' quickly with it, it goes bad and soon is wasted. So hedge your bets and drive forward on both fronts!
I dont know?
Adam- All good advice. However, I would secure IP prior to demonstrating idea, concept, new product. Have demo or initial product already hammered out. Don’t limit yourself to any agency hit them all, the ones that are innovative, out of the box thinkers, proactive, creative, know how to leverage risk reward and have their clients best interest in hand will emerge and show their true colors. The others can sit on the bench for showing up late to the game. If you are afraid of rejection you are in the wrong business.
Great article. We are doing all of the above and finding that letting agencies engage directly with our technology is the best way for them to discover its value. We feel that adoption most often starts at the executive levels, and planning/buying teams will start to embrace a new technology/service once they have the go-ahead. Of course, we are depending on many of our early adopters to spread the word to their colleagues. So far, so good! Thanks for a very well-written and informative article.
I say suck it up and get a better sales strategy, get more prospects in your pipeline so you are not putting all your focus in one place and by all means make sure you have all your bases covered. While it's fine to say I do not know about a certain situation inside of the organization you are mining it's not good to not have the answers about what you are trying to sell. Furthermore, rejection, sales cycles both long and short are par for the course especially if you are just starting out. As time goes by and your company and product become more known you will find your sales cycle will shorten due to referrals and your confidence in your product as well as being able to anticipate objections and know how to get around them. It's business baby welcome to the real world
There is no single solutions, here's my two cents:
Find people who have strong inside relationships with the companies you want to do business with, then wow them with your product. Allow them to present it to their clients, in partnership with you - their existing relationship will make it more likely that you can get a shot. If/when you do - gather all the testimonials you can and use the data to prove ROI. If your product is truly revolutionary, and you can prove performance with a recognizable brand, you'll have a much easier time selling to the next guy.
At the same time, get everyone talking about you - If your target clients have already heard about you before you call on them, you'll have a better shot. That starts with good PR and Marketing.
Will it be difficult - you bet! If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!