Sales. What a dirty word. No one likes to be thought of as a salesman, yet “selling”: the persuading-the-client-to-hire-us-rather-than-our-competitor (who is probably equally talented) is what we all have to do, in the constant battle between our wits and the client’s money, in order to thrive and grow.
Only if you try to adopt the honed tactics of, say, car salesmen, you will fail, because what they are selling and consequently how they have to sell it, is sufficiently different from our services to mean that an entirely different approach is needed. Fortunately, if you sell your services properly, it doesn’t feel like “selling” at all – to you or to your client.
Where there are similarities between us and our automotive friends however, is that clients are becoming increasingly demanding, technology is changing the shape of the market constantly, and competition is hotting up. So if you want to be one of life’s winners in this commercial world, you had better master the right sales approach, quickly.
The starting point is to really, truly understand what makes clients buy and what turns them away. Whilst theoretically this is something agencies understand better than almost anyone else, in practice too many either don’t, or do a good job of looking like they don’t. The result is that many agencies accidentally discourage clients from hiring them, right from the off.
The route to success, of course, is in rapidly getting to the heart of your client’s issues – including issues they had not realised they had – and then in demonstrating that you can resolve those issues better than anyone else.
Note that I said demonstrating. Not claiming. The world is full of agencies that claim their superiority over competitors, with the result that clients are faced with a wall of noise from agencies all shouting that they are distinctive and better, by bellowing pretty much the same stuff as everyone else.
Next, it’s important to go about selling in an organised, efficient and systematic manner. Many agencies are bad at this, possibly because they think “sales” is something other businesses do and, after all, the gifted-amateur-reinventing-the-wheel-relying-on-a-few-rainmakers-approach works so much better.
Finally, there are skills to be learned and then applied in this area. Many agencies have an “apprentice” approach – observe the expert at work and try to do the same as them. But that’s like watching Heston Blumenthal quickly whisk up a souffle and then getting the new boy to do it. Without a thorough understanding of the principles behind what happens and why and when; without learning and practicing the skills, it’s not likely to be a great success.
The great irony in all of this is that “sales” in an agency context is not actually difficult (although it is hard work); it is tremendously rewarding emotionally as well as financially; and it is a proven route to business success. You do have to be good at what you do in order to be able to demonstrate your superiority over competitors.
But if that’s a given, then coming along to the Early Worm Club on 6th November should help to start dealing with the rest.
Chris Matthews, Sutherlands Pugh