The emergence of marketing communication and branding as the core of what drives business success has placed great responsibility not only on creative agencies, but also on those accountable for providing front-line exposure to the myriad of solutions in the marketplace, namely (for the purposes of this article) the agency's salespeople. Now, there are several types of salespeople, but as a consumer and as a sales professional I believe that the best people to do business with are those who truly care about the success of their clients. This means to always do what's right for the client and act as a trusted adviser and source of information.
The stigma certainly exists of salespeople having a self-centred agenda and are seen more as a nuisance than anything else. It's an unfortunate label that effects the true sales professionals who desire to be a part of generating solutions to complex business challenges.
A true sales professional seeks to maintain relationships where they add value, even if their product or service offering is not within the scope of a clients' immediate needs. The question on the mind of these sales professionals shouldn’t be "What can I sell you?" but rather, "How I can I help you achieve your vision?"
Knowledge as the core of the sales process
The best part of working in the creative industry is it gives you an opportunity to work with creatives, visionaries and innovators across all industries. In order to be relevant to these great minds, it is imperative that the agency knows the depth of their challenges across the breadth of their initiatives. This takes a tremendous amount of due diligence, combing through reports, news articles, case studies, customer stories, and research notes. If the agency intimately understand the challenges faced by the whole organisation - from marketing managers to Chief Digital Officers, then the agency can position themselves to offer them value. It takes great amounts of time, but it ensures the agency’s sales frontman/woman starts to truly become a trusted advisor for his/her clients.
It's all about THEM - not ME/US
Initial meetings should be solely about uncovering and understanding the clients' whole ecosystem and see whether there is a potential alignment between the agency and their business need. This meeting should really be about THEM and not become a platform for the agency to talk about how wonderful they are. Don't get me wrong, the agency’s brand identity and creds are great and are any agency’s pride and joy, but how would we know what to present if we still don't understand our clients’ business first? These first discovery meetings should be where the client explains their vision, their challenges and their priorities. It is here where the agency's sales front man/woman needs to ask themselves the question: Is it more important to understand the whole business ecosystem or should we just understand a particular brief or project? I would probably choose the first approach as this will lead the agency to be seen as a partner not a provider which should be the main goal in any interaction.
VALUE, VALUE, VALUE!
After the agency has the insight necessary to align what it has to offer, it has to be prepared to present this offering by customising the aspects of it that align to the clients' specific vision. If it doesn't add value to them either now or down the line, maybe it is best not to present it at all. If the agency finds that it cannot add relevant value to the client, it has to be honest about it and tell them who can (if you know), even if it's your competition. After all, one is there to be a trusted adviser and help them with their challenges. If one has built good enough rapport, tell them where the agency's offering would work and ask if they know anyone in the company who is working on something where the offering may be relevant.
Aligning the agency to client needs
The agency must thrive to try and help achieve the clients' vision. As the agency's customer facing sales professional, one should represent the creative vision and agency we work for; however, first and foremost, the sales professional represent themselves. People buy from people. I always try and consider every relationship I have as a lifelong relationship. Making sure one really cares about that existing relationship and one is prepared to aid them and their vision will probably guarantee a mutually beneficial future.
So the sales professional as the first point of contact for the Agency has a choice to make:
Do nothing…Keep on working on a brief by brief/project by project basis with the insecurity that you know your client will bump you any time as there is no real sense of partnership between you - they will keep on seeing you as a provider and nothing more.
Jump on the bandwagon and say you want to truly understand your clients' needs but slowly revert back to you old ways
Be a part of the "It's always about THEM not US transformation movement" that is designed to help us carve out a competitive difference at a time when a competitive difference is hard to come by. We can do the work needed to build that holistic partnership that makes our clients feel good about the agency, their brand, bond with us emotionally, and come back for more.
What will you choose?