A Message for the Sales Folks - 2005

Once or twice in my publishing career, I've taken a moment to write from the perspective of a planner/buyer and let the sales people of our industry know what the agency folks are thinking. This topic inevitably gets the most responses on the Spin board (as well as some of the more heated ones) as some people think I can be a little tough, while others thank me for my honest approach. I've left the topic alone for a couple years now, but the new rush of entrepreneurial spirit is making me think it's time to re-address the topic in the light of 2005.

First of all, know your elevator pitch. If you call a media person, or any agency person for that matter, you have to know they're under the same time constraints you are. As I used to tell a friend of mine, you get three sentences to summarize your pitch and get me interested in hearing more. Those first three sentences, in an e-mail or on the phone, are the most important statements you can make. You need to entice me and tease me and leave me wanting to know more. It's like the old adage, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." If you miss that opportunity, you'll have a hard time recovering and re-gathering the attention of your audience. Be brushed up, be clear, and try not to mumble and slip when you speak because that conveys a lack of understanding from you, for your product or services.



Second, once you get past the initial three sentences, you need to listen first and speak second. The most experienced and effective sales people know that you let your audience talk about their needs, and what they're looking for, and then follow up with ideas tailored to their needs. The kiss of death for a sales person is to go on and on about how "cool" their offering is and lose the attention of the audience. What's even worse, make sure you know who you're calling! Believe it or not, I got a call last week from a sales person who launched into the elevator pitch for his company, and then followed up with the question, "What does your company do and what is your role in the company?" Suffice it to say, they did not get any business.

The third thing I'd recommend you do is be honest in regards to timing and availability. The inventory management systems of many publishers have improved from where they were in the early days, but we still run into issues where inventory we purchased is no longer available. There is nothing more frustrating than going through the process of up selling the client, getting them signed off, and discovering the inventory is no longer available. It can seem like a simple thing, but be upfront with us and let us know if we are in danger of the inventory being taken. Of course, don't use this as a sales tactic, but be honest with us. And, be honest in regards to lead times to get creative reviewed and posted. You're not doing us any favors by rushing through QA on your side, and you're probably making things worse in the long run.

The final thing I'd stress is to remember that it's about building a relationship. The relationships that we have are what drive us to want to work together. If you take the time to build a relationship rather than treat us like a number on a call sheet, you'll get much farther and you'll get more out of the agency. A personal relationship fosters an environment of trust and a willingness to go out of our way for you, and vice versa. Believe it or not, I still get voicemail messages from sales people who think I'm sitting around waiting to take their calls. They have no interest in hearing what we have to say or learn what our clients are looking to do. They simply want to get a name and a budget and get a sale on their books. That never works, and if you don't know that by now, then you probably won't ever figure it out.

Trust me, these all sound simple and obvious, but I get a minimum of 10 phone calls each week from people and companies who are not on the radar. Many of them have some great products and services, but a poor sales person will be detrimental to their cause every single time. If a tree falls in the woods, and there's no one there to hear it, a bad sales person virtually guarantees that no one will care.

What about you? Any advice or horror stories to share with the sales folks? Trust me; they love to hear about it.

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