On Dating Clients -- I Mean, Calling On Clients

I know you have been told by an advertising or media agency; “you don’t need to call on the client.”  They may have even said “the client doesn’t see reps,” or “you are not allowed to call on the client.”  So how do you reconcile that with your understanding of the way decisions are made?

The old saying “**** flows downhill” has a corollary in advertising sales; influence flows from the top to the bottom.  At every level planners and buyers want to please their bosses and ultimately their clients.  Plans and purchases are made to drive KPIs -- and to please the client.  And of course there are many possible “right” media plans for any given product or service.  While planners are fond of thinking of themselves as decision makers, they really decide what to recommend.  And they want to make recommendations that will be looked on kindly -- not questioned -- by their clients. 



Last week, Jason and Amy wrote about the importance of calling on clients, and how that might be expected to go.   So the question arises: What DO you say when you call on a client?  What are client’s genuinely interested in? 

Are clients interested in why you are better than your competitor?  No!  That is what they have the agency for.  Are they interested in details of your content mix, and your readers’ demographics?  I don’t think so.  Salespeople who call on clients often conduct a sales call like a bad blind date: “all about me (my property), all about why I’m great, so tell, me what do you think about me?”  Seriously, can you blame clients who say they don’t see reps?

So how are you going to turn that date into a relationship?

A sales call is like a date.  You want prospects to be glad they spent their time with you, and you hope to build a relationship.   Here is how to make that work in advertising sales.

At the beginning of your conversation, you need to show them that you care enough about them to know their business situation.  Tell them what you know, hopefully more than trivial information, and engage them in a conversation about what else you should know.  The more you can show them upfront that you are prepared, and that you genuinely understand their market and their situation, the more clients will be engaged.  Ideally you can bring information about their market that they don’t already know, but it doesn’t have to be original.  You simply must show you are-well informed.  This is not information about your readers, but information about the consumers or prospective consumers of their product. 

Leading media companies invest in original research enabling their salespeople to lead the market-situation conversation with their clients.  Meredith periodically conducts proprietary research on the women’s market -- and believe me, the senior marketing people and product managers at places like Procter & Gamble, with long-standing policies that they don’t see reps, are still interested in understanding the women’s market.  It opens the door.  ESPN conducted a survey of sports fans – not of ESPN viewers or readers -- to help their customers understand their market better.  Scientific American did one of the most interesting pieces of research I have seen to help its customers better understand the “college educated” market, leading the conversation with their clients about the importance of a sub-section of a key market.  The magazine simply re-contacted the MMR survey-sample to ask what they majored in at college.  Data showed that science and engineering majors are demographically distinct.  They think and buy differently, and they make up almost 1/3 of all college educated consumers, a key target market for many companies including the big spending auto manufacturers.

You don’t need original research to know the client’s situation. You could simply read its annual reports, and view the investor presentations available on all public company websites.  Of course, reading lots of trade publications in print or online will help you know their situation too, especially for private companies, and for companies like P&G that are too big to give you brandl-evel information of use in a marketing situation conversation.  But any non-trivial information is a place to start, including information about a client’s or prospect’s competition.

Your next step, after offering your understanding of the client’s marketing situation and getting them to tell you more about how they see it, is to transition the discussion to how that situation is changing.  Change is constant, and understanding how their market is changing is one of the key jobs of senior executives.  Are their customers changing their shopping habits? Are buyers changing the way they gather information to make purchase decisions?  Are digital technologies changing their world?  You should have a hypothesis about how things are changing in your client’s market.  Test your guess to see how it fits with your client’s view. 

At this point in your conversation with the client, you will have engaged them effectively and they may well start to ask you questions about your media property.  Then, bringing back the dating analogy, you can talk about yourself (or your property) effectively.  You might take the opportunity to tell them how your media is evolving to master those same changes that are affecting the client’s market.  At this point in the conversation you are making a sales pitch, in a way is likely to be interesting to your client. 

When you have made this sales call successfully, you will be able to follow up with the client, thanking them for their time, summarizing the key points you discussed, and carbon-copying the agency.  This will have the effect you need, creating clarity for the agency that the client will support you when they recommend you -- or even that the client will wonder why your property is (heaven forbid) not on the proposed schedule.

1 comment about "On Dating Clients -- I Mean, Calling On Clients ".
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  1. Jason Krebs from Tenor/Google, May 3, 2012 at 11:13 p.m.

    another piece of the thought process: when going into a client, have the feeling that you KNOW that you'll get a follow-up meeting. that will keep you from overdoing it and just talking about your company the whole time.

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