At every marketing agency there’s someone like me — the gatekeeper whose job it is to vet and manage the vast array of vendors we use to service our clients. Working with all these third-party reps can be rewarding as I meet new people and learn about marketing innovations on a near daily basis. That said, there are many things I see vendors do each day that unintentionally sabotage their business. I used to joke that when I retire, I’d go on a speaking circuit in which I offered these salespeople advice on how to do their jobs better when calling on ad agencies. But, well, I’m a long way from retirement, and these lessons are worth sharing now. So here it goes.
- Be respectful of people’s time: Agencies are busy (often chaotic) places with most everyone juggling multiple projects and deadlines. Few of us have the free time that vendors would like to discuss their product or services. As a salesperson, you need to be cognizant and accepting of that. If not, it’s going to hurt your chances of winning an account.
- Think of the customer first: You know those late-night TV commercials in which a used-car salesman barks at the camera about how the “customer is always king”? Well, few of your customers are expecting you to roll out a red carpet, but some simple courtesies would be nice. For instance, when setting up a calendar invite, how about including details of the meeting other than just the name of the company whose business you want to win? Or when you first talk to the customer, how about quickly telling them what you can offer before fishing for details that can benefit you?
- Learn to take cues: This ties in with the first two points. Good vendors (one that customers actually enjoy working with) know how to take cues. For instance, if the customer chooses to correspond mostly via email, then you should follow suit. Or if the client rarely initiates idle chit chat with you, then don’t spend the first few minutes of each conversation asking them about the weather or their weekend plans.
- Research the client before initiating contact: This sounds unbelievable today with so much information available at the push of a button, but I’m still taken aback by vendors who’ll contact me knowing nothing about our business. This despite the fact that we have a website that lays out in detail what it is we do and who many of our clients are. Conversely, I’ve had vendors who obviously went to our website but didn’t read anything. They’ll contact me thinking that the name of our company is GoElastic because that’s the site url. Those inquiries quickly find their way to the trash can.
- Provide added value: It’s great to be passionate about the service you offer, but what else can you provide the client that might help them do their jobs? I’ve had sales reps who’ve sent me industry white papers or articles about our clients or our clients’ competitors that they thought I should know about. These communications weren’t intended to sell me anything, but they did go a long way toward helping me sell in their services to our clients.
- Talk yourself up, but don’t trash talk: Again, it’s good to be enthusiastic about your business. And it’s OK and helpful to provide information on what differentiates your product from the competition. But dissing the competition rarely makes you look any better.
- Continue the relationship after the sale: Don’t you hate it when your server brings you your meal and then never checks back with you as you sadly eat your French fries without ketchup because WHY IS THERE NO KETCHUP ON THIS TABLE!? Ahem. The same goes with sales. It’s not enough to just win the sale. You need to check back to make sure your product is serving your client’s needs. And when it comes time for a renewal, you better make sure that the contract still addresses everything the agency needs. Because let me tell you, agency needs are constantly changing.
- The moral of this story: Help me sell you: I started this article by stating that I am a gatekeeper. I’m not the ultimate decision maker as to whether or not we purchase a product. At our agency (like most) there are often multiple people who need to sign off on a purchase, especially a major one. Where I do have power, however, is that I am the person who has likely interacted the most with the vendor. And if a salesperson follows all the points I’ve listed here, chances are he or she is the one I’ll be recommending for the sale.
I hope this was helpful. If you have any of your own advice for vendors, I’d love to hear about them.