And You Are?

My all-time most embarrassing moment on a sales call was not the time I got the sweats in front of my boss, my publisher and a room full of Saatchi and Saatchi media buyers while presenting a custom presentation I created. The group was completely confused on the point of differentiation I was trying to make and the conference room turned into a steam bath. I am not talking mild, let-me-wipe-my-brow kind of perspiration. I was pouring sweat.

No, that wasn't the most embarrassing moment I had on a sales call. That came when my manager at Tennis magazine set up a meeting with the CEO of one of my largest accounts. He was a great boss who created a great opportunity I screwed up royally.

We drove over to the call together. It was yet another sunny day in Los Angeles, and we talked about our weekends, our tennis games and anything but the sales call we were about to go on. After about 30 minutes in the car, we pulled into the parking lot and then took a seat in the elegant lobby with a staircase winding down from the second floor.



The receptionist alerted our client we had arrived. After five minutes, a woman walked downstairs to greet and escort us upstairs for our meeting. I shook the assistant's hand and asked her her name. She looked at me politely but did not immediately answer. I looked over my right shoulder, saw my boss looking down at the floor, and immediately got dizzy.

Yup, you got it. The woman who came down to get us for the meeting with the CEO was the CEO. I spent the next 30 minutes listening to my boss, Tom, ask a few well-placed questions to get us through the meeting. I was too embarrassed to recover and said barely a word.

The good news is that face-to-face meetings are just one part of the continuous multiplatform conversation we have with advertisers and their agencies. These calls are important, but the importance of them taking place far outweighs what occurs when they actually happen. So even a "bad sales call" moves the ball up the court.

I've literally just gotten back from a sales call I attended with one of my clients here in New York. We met with an associate media director and a media planner and we stunk up the joint.

The lowlights included the associate media director kindly correcting us on our own composition numbers. The sales rep said "our reader was a 28-year-old guy" but apparently, according to our media kit, the buyer explained to us "61% of your audience is above the age of thirty-five" which ironically helped our cause for earning this campaign.

I was worse, asking questions for the sake of asking them with no design to help bring the buyers to a certain conclusion. We weren't bad on purpose. We were bad because we didn't prepare to be good.

You have to know your key audience metrics (we have discussed this in previous columns), though reciting them with confidence and accuracy is more important than the numbers themselves. But more important, you learn more when you listen--and clients feel better when they do the talking. So to ensure that a sales call goes well, prepare yourself to ask these open-ended questions below:

1. What is your perception of our property and the audience it delivers, and what can I share with you to validate or possibly change your perception?

2. What metrics and criteria will your success be measured on?

3. What competitors does your client keep a close eye on?

4. How would you sell my property through to your client?

5. If we were right for this campaign qualitatively, what would make our proposal rise above the pile of other sites that may also be right?

I hope you find these questions as helpful as I do. Now, I need to practice what I preach! Remember, the most important thing about sales calls is going on them. The more you go on, the better shape you are in. The fewer calls you make, the more you sweat when you're out there.

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