Woe The Digital Sale: Dealing With Scorched Earth

Question from a seller of digital advertising: I've been selling advertising with my company for a few years now. But at some point my boss made a sales call to a buyer (and closed a deal, BTW), but now that person refuses to see anyone from our company again. It's an important account for us and I just can't let it go away forever. Any suggestions?

Jason says: Do what the guys who cleaned my rugs did. Open another company in a different name and pretend you have never heard of your former self. I am curious as to what really happened here from a business standpoint, though. It is not uncommon for two individuals to see things differently, in life and in business. However, you don't want to be swept down the rabbit hole without a fight.

In my 13 years of managing sales teams, there have only been a handful of times buyers have said, "Don't send that person in here again." But never was it a moratorium on my entire staff, just a personal thing that occurred in the course of business. It has even happened to me once. I know. Whaatt?? There is a fairly influential entertainment client on the West Coast who absolutely refuses to take my calls, (MY calls!) after what was a perceived misrepresentation of facts. And this was ten years ago! I still call this person once a year to do a reverse "heat check"  and I have yet to break through. Yet, even in my own situation, my now 10-year stint in the penalty box has not stopped our organizations from doing business with one another. This person can hold a grudge for sure, but it has been contained only to me and does not touch our respective business goals.



In your case, after all the normal groveling and boot-licking proves ineffective, here's your game plan: 1. Your boss needs to come completely clean with whatever transpired. You need details at least from this side. Remember, there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and the truth. So just get the facts. 2. Do your best to find out if the person on the other side suffered real harm. If he or she lost credibility, internally or with their client, you will need to address that. 3. Get extremely creative in overcoming whatever happened to this person. Find some nugget in the business that you know will get this person to pay attention. 4. Most importantly, make sure you have a GREAT idea to sell them. Don't do all this work just to get back on the RFP distribution list. 5. Or you can simply bribe them with an iPad, which seems to be the way to go about getting on someone's calendar these days.

Let's be realistic. If nothing will make this go away, then you may need to just write it off (as I have, wink). And importantly, make sure your boss removes this potential business from your target goal. As they say, "stuff rolls downhill," but you don't want to be the one who suffers.

So, Amy, has the Queen of Hearts ever rolled any heads and banished some poor soul from the hallowed halls of her media-buying empire?


Amy says: As far as I know, I've only made a seller cry once. I think my nickname was "The Enforcer" in the early aughties for a short time. But since my early days, I've really tried to put forth the effort to treat vendor partners with respect and be as honest and transparent as I could, especially when the business process breaks down or mistakes are made.

Overall, I think the seller/buyer relationship in the digital space is a bit more contentious than in other media. The complexity of planning and executing digital advertising campaigns requires a combined effort of about a dozen people of varying levels of skill and enthusiasm. It's quite possible that one bad apple can ruin the relationship over something that may or may not be important in the grand scheme of things. Also, as we know, one wrong key stroke can jeopardize a major launch/homepage takeover placement -- and when a client is unhappy, we know that buyers may transfer that anger onto vendors. That's just one of the flaws of being human.

Rebuilding a relationship is possible, but I think time is the only cure. Moving to a different property would probably help a seller reopen the door with a key buyer. But if you love your job, I agree with Jason that you just have to move on from the offended party and get their agency off your list.

If that's not possible, recruit help from other sellers or account managers within your organization. Have them reach out to the offended party (or their boss) and begin a dialogue. The peace-seeker can act as a mediator of sorts, finding out what the problem was and asking what the buyer thinks would fix it. So then with the right approach, genuine remorse, and an iPad/spa date/dinner at Masa/evening at Scores, etc., you may be able to bring the magic back and start grinning like the Cheshire cat again!

1 comment about "Woe The Digital Sale: Dealing With Scorched Earth ".
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  1. Ned Newhouse from, November 11, 2010 at 9:50 p.m.

    As a sales director I got a bit peeved with sales people that did not want to give up a client they could not crack, werent seeing them or having a formal conversations with. For the good of the company and your fellow colleagues whats the point on holding onto someone that you and not going to get any business. Turf ignorance or arrogance?

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