One of the enduring truths about business is that successful managers must have the ability to retain two conflicting values in their mind simultaneously, and to balance them appropriately on an ongoing basis. Bankers must maintain depositor safety and loan out money to risky businesses in order to generate a return for the depositors. Manufacturers must balance the need to maintain or increase product quality while at the same time driving down costs. And successful salespeople must listen well to their clients, but also bring new solutions to clients that they don’t even know they want.
Nowhere is the need for balance more important than in how we approach selling to media buyers and the rest of their supervisory and client ecosystem. Many agencies and buyers will tell you that the client doesn’t see salespeople, or that there is no need to see their boss. On one side of the balance salespeople must maintain is respecting and building a relationship with that buyer. But there is another side of the balance that must be maintained, or shall we say juggled.
Good clients and managers do delegate decisions. However, planners and buyers want to please their superiors and their clients. And superiors do have opinions, sometimes strong ones. The main contacts for salespeople operate in a social-business environment in which they are naturally attuned to what their bosses or clients prefer. Ultimately, there is no substitute for salespeople reaching the top person to ensure their media has the support of the whole purchase decision-and-approval-chain.
Recently, Amy Auerbach and Jason Krebs wrote in this space about the issue of agency consolidation and how it affects selling. And there has been news about how rumored media rebates to agencies may be influencing media choices at the expense of buying what is best for a client. I agree with Jason that when agency consolidation slants the table your way because a planning or buying team you have a good relationship with takes on more brands, you should be happy and rake off as much business as you can. But remember, for every situation that works in your favor is working against another seller. And that seller’s job is not to surrender, but to fight to keep the business.
The surest way to win business, or to keep the business, is to have the client on your side. No matter how many times, or how many ways you’ve been told you don’t need to call on the client, it is the sellers’ responsibility to sell to all the influences in the media decision making and purchase process.
So what does this mean for actual practices of salespeople and managers who coach them?
First, always start at the top when you approach any account. Nothing is lost by doing so, and much can be gained by getting a referral from a top marketer or agency director to a lower level planner or buyer. And having started at the top, salespeople can keep their foot in that door with communication, carbon-copying initial higher-level contacts on emails during the sales process, or sending updates on their progress. Even if a senior executive refuses to see you, make sure she receives marketing communications on a regular basis.
Second, salespeople generally need to call on more influencers in the sales process than they typically do. One way to determine whom to call upon, is to learn who will be in the room around the conference table when the media plan is presented. If you know that, you know who needs to be educated on your media. Media planners and buyers want to make their presentation to the client with a room full of people nodding and smiling. They prefer not to be questioned on a specific property. If they think your media will elicit a question from a client that isn’t comfortable, it becomes more unlikely that your title will make it out of the pile of RFP answers and onto the plan.
Third, ask for and conduct group presentations. This gives a salesperson a chance to bring all the influencers into the room to communicate with them at once. More important, it gives a lower-level person a chance to see his superior liking your property. Well prepared and delivered group presentations can accelerate your sales results. Be sure you are optimizing them.
Finally, actively seek appointments with the top influencers and clients. When you get them, use the time to make “marketing-oriented” presentations, not an “all about my media” presentation exclusively about your property. Then make sure the client’s comfort with your property is learned by the agency.
In today’s time-pressured media planning processes, agencies don’t have time to make innovative media plans that require three revisions before the client is comfortable. Agencies or buying services want to propose what will be approved immediately. Only by laying the groundwork -- selling across all the influences -- will sellers maximize wins.