I've been working with a salesperson at a branded Web site over the past two months or so about an upcoming campaign. The process has been going OK, but the approvals for creative have been slow, so the launch date is a moving target. My client gave me a call, asking me about why I haven't included the site on the plan, after he got a visit from said branded Web site about how perfect their site is for our plan. I already knew that. I just needed to confirm the details. Why do sites feel it necessary to go straight to the client?
Amy says: In my salad days, I loved my clients so much, I didn't want to share them with anyone. When they needed something, they called me. When there was something important or new that my client needed to know, I was the one who was supposed to tell him. It was heartbreaking when I found out that my client had a life outside of me, when he was lured away by the siren song of the ambitious salesperson. Someone I thought I was in a committed relationship with, too! It was like everyone was plotting against me.
As I grew to understand the online ad business, I realized that my clients were everyone's clients. Sure it caused me a bit of inconvenience when my client met with a site I had already met. And I had to write a formal POV on the pros and cons on the site -- and how we should or shouldn't incorporate it into our online advertising efforts. And how I had to take another meeting with the site, just so I could comply with my client's request. And how I had to make note of said meeting on the status sheet so I could mark it as complete and move on with my life.
Relationships between clients and vendors are a necessary part of the media business, and a helpful part -- if you don't look it as tantamount to adultery or the biggest pain in the behind since billing reconciliation. Once a client meets with a site, he increases his awareness, which should make it easier for you to sell through on your plan. Also, clients get a look at the business from a different perspective, which helps them learn and potentially be more collaborative.
And let's face it, it almost never happens that a client says a site MUST be on a plan or takes from an agency budget to buy a specific site. So in the end, its's pretty harmless, although slightly annoying, when sites go straight to clients. The best we can hope for is that we know in advance and be prepared for any questions. I don't think Web sites do it to be malicious; it's just business, after all.
Jason, what's the real story here? Why do salespeople go directly to the client?
Jason says: Ever go to a car dealership and try to just browse? Before you can even step out of your trade-in, they are swarming like teenagers on a Jonas brother. As one of them pounces like a tiger and "claims" you, you half expect him to pee on you because don't even think about asking another salesperson a question or there will be dirty looks and disappointment on the face of your new best friend car salesman. I, for one, have never felt more like a steak. Well, in this industry, the client is the steak. And great salespeople are tigers. "Tenacious," "high-energy," "professional," "self-starter" are adjectives you will see on a sales job spec. Words you won't see: "passive," "introvert," "follower," "un-tenacious" (OK, whatever the opposite of tenacious is).
Here are a few reasons that a salesperson may feel the need to go directly to the client:
1. Steak is perishable: This stuff that we sell called advertising has a limited shelf life. Magazine editions close every week or every month. TV shows are airing nightly and weekly. A Web site's delivery audience is 24x7x365. Once that audience impression is delivered, so is that chance to make money. If an agency is dragging its feet, that chance goes right out the window.
2. A "steak" through the heart: How do we know you are being truthful with us? Unfortunately, sellers can often get feedback from an agency that is less than truthful. All you need is to have been burned once by getting bogus information and seeing that media buy go to your competitor and it's on -- forever. Sometimes information is best received from the person who is ultimately responsible: the client.
3. "Meat" in the middle: Let's face it, whose client is it anyway? The agency is the middleman, and agency/client relationships are more tenuous than ever these days. If the client is going to change agencies any time soon, with whom would you rather build a relationship?
4. Steak a la carte: When a salesperson sells an agency on an idea, that seller controls the process and he (or she) believes in his individual skill and technique. Once the agency person has to turn around and try to sell it to the client, then the seller has lost control. If there isn't the utmost trust there, the seller will likely feel that he can do a better job selling that client himself.
5. "Steaking" your claim: Sellers have heard many times that they are on the recommendation to the client. Then, weeks later, they find out that they did not make the buy. What happened? I have heard more than once that, if a powerful client questions an agency recommendation, that agency can fold quicker than a 3-card monty table. If you have a relationship with the client directly, you are more apt to hold on to the plan.
So if you are a media seller who likes to (or feels you have to) go to the client, follow this advice: Always, ALWAYS tell the agency contact that you are going to call the client directly before doing so. It is not underhanded, nor is it out of line. This way, you are not a cheater. You merely have an "open" relationship. As Michael Corleone said, "It's not personal... it's just business."