Ever had a duck as a prospect?

Ever had a duck as a prospect?

We sell X.
Oh we want Y.
Okay, shame, bye.
Couldn’t you do Y for us this once?
No not really, no.
Oh please, it will only take you 5 minutes
Okay then just this once.
Humm… we don’t like Y could we have X now?

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Oh how times have changed. Merry Christmas.

I thought I’d share some Christmas TV commercials from ages ago.
Oh how times have changed.  Enjoy your Christmas whatever you choose to do.

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Do Marketers buy Playboy burgers?

Yesterday I was kindly taken out for lunch. We went for burgers.  A gourmet burger from Byron Burgers,  I expect you’ve been. It’s a tasty burger and the service is great.

The growth of US style food joints is of the recent trends that actually pleases me, against the flow of eating healthy. About time you could get a decent burger in the UK , where you can actually state how you’d like the burger cooked. If you can’t get it done medium rare why bother. Seriously why? And with a beer at hand is a must too.

It got me thinking on the way home about where are the best burgers to be found, who makes them and how much they cost? In fact it’s something I consider a lot.  The search for the best cheeseburger continues and I am not alone.

There are quite a few blogs dedicated to advise you on your search. See Burger Addict here, Young and Foodish with their Burger Monday here, Burger me here and Shortlist here.

What’s noticeable from these lists is who is not on there? No prizes for guessing.

So I began to think about the cheapest burgers in town and who makes them and what they are like compared to the best ones (according to these blogs and my experience) and who makes them.  And is there a comparison with agencies?

The best burger in London is often claimed to be a Lucky Chip burger or a Bear burger. You can buy the former in a burger van in a pub car park in E2 here, or the Bear burger found here in a food stall nr Old Street some days and others else where.  You have to check their twitter to be in the know, in fact the man behind them Tom, flips around and has great trade where ever.

So what is procurement and marketing heads looking for in burger terms, a gourmet £6.50 – £1o one? Or a Mc D’s cheeseburger at 89p or  £3.79 Big Mac? And which are they buying? Maybe they want the gourmet one at the cheaper price.

Is there a site where you can truly compare people’s experience with agencies? Do procurement solely buy on price?  Is the quality analogy even fair?

There are anomalies here and one that suits the advertising world better, because in fact brands appoint agencies that don’t deliver.  We know this because of the poorest record in history for retention see my article here.   Someone must be hiring badly right? Else why the hire and fire every 2 years 6 months? But they are not hiring cheap necessarily.  It’s not like they are buying the cheapest burger and suffering the consequences, it maybe worse than that.

Enter Playboy’s Hef  burger at £40 before toppings, it could fetch £45 , you know after more post production, adapts and research, sorry I mean cheese, bacon or avocado. See the review here from probably the best food blogger around Cheese and Biscuits, he wrote –  ”Now, I hardly need to say, the Hef burger is not the greatest burger in the world. It’s probably not even the best burger at the Playboy club. ” (1/10)  Just for comparison the same reviewer on Lucky Chip was 8/10 review here

Okay, so you get bragging rights that you had a burger at Hef’s place but at £40 plus,  you have paid circa 5 times more than the best burgers in town.  Is this merely speculation, I am not convinced it is, are you?.  Like the big agencies you are paying for ‘other activities.’ i.e. experience. Which is all well and good to some extent. But style over content?

What Playboy Club do is give you an experience that has no purpose to the goal, make the best burger.  You instead get and pay for bunny girl waitresses, nice environment, bar service and a choice of other food stuffs. Also not very good I might add, see C&B’s review.  When you don’t specialise you get dross, they don’t do good starters, main courses or desserts. They do smiling and looking pretty. Their purpose is to make money largely from gambling I might add rather than cooking food. And so in lies the issue.  What is the purpose of their restaurant?

Who runs the tastiest burger stalls in town? Burger makers that’s who.  Who runs the largest agencies in town? Accountants that’s who.

Is Playboy Club and it’s burgers like big agencies today?  They have the atrium, with comfy chairs and break out areas for ideation.  Do everything. You are pampered. They’re too often run by bean counters. And yet it misses purpose, creative advertising.

Lets suppose for a second there are some gems of agencies out there that can produce superior work to the larger agencies with out the falafel (couldn’t resist), how would marketing directors find them?

I’ve met plenty of great small agencies that punch way over the weight that are run by creatives.  They are like gourmet burgers, and actually don’t charge enough in all honesty.  In fact they may putting marketing directors off who are used to buying Hef’s burger. Because they charge Burger King prices for Gourmet.

Some research here from The Art of New Business tells us that marketers don’t like being cold called and they bin most DM and delete e-mails. At previous TAONB events we have heard that many marketers don’t read trade press. Which hardly shows them in a favourable light does it? How will they find the tastiest burgers in town? It’s off to the Playboy clubs I expect.

There needs to be a trend change.  The tasty burgers exist I am convinced of that.  The marketers have to be prepared to go look for them because they can’t come to you it seems.

The brokers are unlikely to put gourmet burgers forward (although a few sneak through) because they are owned by the big burger makers and make more money when relationships break than work. At least they come back every 2 -3 years.   Procurement rarely have a real interest in the leg work, they deal with what is put on the plate in front of them. And often they think it’s all about either relationships  i.e. the experience and not the meat (the purpose) or money So bring in the smilers, bunny girls and client services.

If you want to find the best burger in town you got to go look for it and ask around. If you want to be the best burger maker in town you have to keep making them, if you make them they will come.

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Do you know what bothers me? TV ads.

My wife said to me the other day, “Why do you and your mates always say that?”
“Dunno, just do.” I said.  Then I remembered it was from a TV ad.

It got me thinking the amount of TV ads that have influenced me and that I quoted in certain situations.  In fact some became catch phrases amongst me and my mates. Like people quote films lines,  ”You can’t handle the truth.” and so on.

Below are the ones that I most commonly either sing in more head or God forbid, sing out loud.  Now I think about it, I reckon I sing some of these daily!  They don’t make ‘em like they used too.

The one my wife was referring to was the don’t drink driving ad above. We often barked at each other the line, “Do you know what bothers me?” then that person would have a good old gripe about a boss or someone annoying,  eventually someone would say,  ”I dunno how he’ll ever live with himself.” If you could muster a slurry Scottish accent bully for you. Yeah, I know, we were nuts.

There were two more ads that were often quoted but I can’t find them.  A Volvo ad, I believe directed by Tony Kaye when a Volvo is driven over a canyon on rail tracks.  Before the cool guy gets in the car he does some gymnastics and there is a voice over that included the line,  ”I’m a control freak.”  When things got tense in a pub conversation (argument) someone would let rip an intense “I’m a control freak.” It soon calmed people down. It wasn’t all fun hanging out with us.

The other ad I can’t find was for Findus crispy pancakes that had this line in it, “Yeah, but will I still like it?” Said by a boy scout returning from camp.  That line got trotted out when someone accused you of doing the same thing repeatedly like always ordering the same food etc, accusing you or being boring or predictable. We were crazy, right?

Will people in the future have favourite banner ads or favourite social media programmes? “Oh I remember when I once up-loaded a picture of me eating bangers and mash, I still think about that jpeg, happy days.”

So here are the ads that pass through my frontal lobes the most.

I still sing this before meal times. I know it word perfect. Will it be chips or jacket spud will it be salad or frozen peas.  Will it be mushrooms fried onions rings, you’ll have to wait and see. Hope….

The line we used to steal is, “Yes, I think you probably do.” Used in various situations.  I always think of the ad whenever anyone even says the word Moscow. Jesus, that’s mental I know.

No prizes for when I sing this, the kids hate it, ‘Daddy don’t sing it every morning…”

My kids knew how to answer this question early doors. The even tease me with the question when eating them and they have never even seen the ad.

If my Mum wanted to call us from the park, she wouldn’t shout, she’d make the OXO hand gesture and we’d run for food.  There were so many great OXO ads to choose. That was my family, right there.  I just watched 10 of them, each one  brilliantly observed.  I choose this one it being a day after bonfire night.  ’Watch out bangers!’ I think my Dad still says it.

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New Business stats that may soothe your head

There are some interesting stats in here if you are a new business person.

Some are worth commenting on others less so.

Slide 19 - 91% of customers say they give referrals. Only 11% of salespeople ask for referrals.  This is madness folks.  Our easiest wins and best wins  are from referrals.  Agencies are built on referrals.  Stop being such a scaredy cat and ask for a few. Customers are generally cool to give referrals and yet 89% of us never ask.  Crazy aye?

Slide 20 - 70% of people make buying decisions to solve a problem and 30% of people make decisions to gain something.  This stat is interesting because many agencies talk about how happy the prospect will be should they employ them.  This is gain.  This means you are playing against the odds.  We should spend most of our time asking about their issues and listening.  And importantly what caused their problems and why won’t they come back again?

Oh and a stat that is not there is that you should be spending more time listening than you do talking.  70/30 is the often quoted stat re listening and talking. So in one hour should only really talk for about 18 mins and the rest should be listing.  When you are talking you should be asking question or offering insights.

There are loads of stats bounded around in new business today and it is tough to know if they are legit or not.  But it is worth knowing if you are banging your head against a brick wall  when you could be taking  a path of less resistant.  Those that bang their heads regularly end up going from job to job without a pay increase.  Now who wants that?

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Selling – It’s not about relationships or chemistry

If you’re in new business you really should listen to the whole of the video and think about its findings.

I hope you learn something and are able to change the way you go about doing new business.  If you only change intellectually rather than behaviourally, well what’s the point?  You’ll end up in Einstein’s insanity loop. Can you change what you actually do and say or present in face to face meetings or indeed on the phone is key.

This is some excellent research regarding what makes a top performing sales / new business person from a book called The Challenger Sale by Matt Dixon and Brett Adamson buy it here….and I have written about this book before here.

The research is substantial,  fairly new and not what was expected and I am still learning from its findings. It not all what we wanted to hear in some ways and confirmed some doubts too. Nothing beats evidence does it?

One of the key findings is comparing what they call a Challenger Sales Person with what they call a Relationship Builder. In the world of creative services we are told over and over again it is all about the relationship, chemistry, chemistry, chemistry.

And yet as per the ISBA findings agency turnover is at an all time high.  So despite agencies spending all their time in chemistry lessons the facts speak volumes, agencies life time with a client is shrinking see findings here. Too much chemistry and not enough development?

The relationship sellers is the most commonly found sales person yet the least likely to be a high performer, they will be an okay performer but not a higher performer. That’s worth talking about surely.  Lets say it again.  The relationship seller is average not best. In fact the relationship builder is least likely to be a high performer, 7% chance.

Note – The Challenger is not a jerk, far from it.  He is not anti-relationship he knows how to get on with people but it is not his raison d’etre. Where as for relationship builders it is.  Look at many happy clappy account managers in agencies who end up running around after clients demands because they aren’t able to push back or challenger the clients demands?

What is being pushed by the chemistry and ‘relationshipologist’ is that prospects are mostly likely to hire an agency when there is good chemistry. Whatever that means?  Perhaps getting on well?  Have interests in common?  People are more than capable of making decision very quickly indeed based on chemistry that is true, Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book Blink.   Chemistry can be noted in seconds and decisions can be made on that chemistry alone.

The problem is as Daniel Kahneman notes on Thinking Fast and Slow  this blink thinking leads to mistakes more often than not. Chemistry is noted using system 1 thinking or fast thinking.   It kind of just happens to us, “I knew straight away we’d get along”, bingo press the button another hire is made.  We should all be aware that we are like this in many circumstance making quick judgements based on our biases / prejudices. We are human, we err, behavioural economics is mad for this stuff.

The problem is our biases and prejudices are just that.  System 1 or fast thinking is prone to high failure rates. So Kahneman’s findings were that relationships or chemistry in fact take time, time to get to know each other, understand each other and get along. More like “‘We didn’t click at first but…”..”We’ve had our ups and downs but..”.

Interestingly the findings by The CEB which is the back bone of the Challenger Sale book regarding types of sales people and in particular their behaviours show that the relationship seller in a complex sale perform worse of all, in fact they are diabolical.   Have you noticed how quickly new business directors swap from one agency to the next, quicker than Premiership football managers. They are probably the self-confessed relationship builders.

The Challenger sales person performs best by far in complex sales. The key behaviours that were found was that they were able to Teach, Tailor and Assert/ take control.  Challengers are good debaters.  They are able to ‘read’ people and are able to take control of a situation.  Sounds a lot easier than it is.

They come up with different ways of looking at situations based on they understanding of their prospect’s world. Teach the prospect something they really didn’t know.   They are really challenging the way the prospect sees the problems.  Not thoughts that confirm what the prospect thinks but really turns their world upside down and although they may agree with the problem that the prospect has identified. they may disagree with the magnitude of it or a mis-calculation of the knock on effect of not solving it.

They don’t roll over easy when it comes to talking about money or agreements. Where as the relationship builder is a people pleaser and acquiesces easily and will always meet the prospect half way.  The challenger doesn’t do this so easily and demands some respect.

One of the key problems I have noted from astute owners of agencies is that they have realised that they’ve become free consultants.  This is because as the video states most of a purchasing decision has been taken in the modern world before a marketer gets to meet agencies.  A bit like the change in selling cars today.  A buyer can find so much info on-line when he goes to meet his potential car dealer he is most of the way to deciding.

Sales people aren’t the font of all knowledge like they were, see potted  history of sales by Dan Pink in To Sell is to Be Human here.  Buyers along with procurement are way down the line of diagnosing their problem and now they just what the fixer,  will it be agency a. b, c or d.? Who to choose?  And if they all look the same, what now? Play them off on price maybe?  Ring any bells.  And if you find yourself in this situation and you are relationship builder, afraid to confront a prospect you may pick up some weak business. Just sayin’.

I hope you enjoy the book and the video and I hope it makes you less afraid to speak up and have debates with prospect on an equal footing, rather than feeling you have to be a happy clappy smily faced clown.  You’ll be more successful challenging prospects’ thinking and you’ll feel better about yourself too. You may even be the prospects equal? Now there’s a thought.

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New Business – Art or Science?

pop psycologyI am a big fan of a blog written by Bob Hoffman called the Ad Contrarian. He has a passion for calling bullshit on bullshit.  How hard can it be these days to do tha?  Yet he does it well and should be applauded.

In his crosshairs often appears social media bunkum, ad agencies hyperbole, the delusions of psychologists and the utter confusions of anyone he thinks talks the bull.  It really is a brilliantly written blog with loads of followers and occasionally the comments section creates a debate which makes it what all great blogs should be, a forum.

His recent post, ‘Is it Art of Science?‘ smacks about the philosophical question of whether advertising is art or science? A favourite pub debate I am sure of many a watering hole in Soho.

Science has come on leaps and bounds over the last 100 years let’s make no bones about it. It doesn’t take much to notice even in the last decade the uses of scientific discoveries in everyday technology.  Although it is debatable whether some technologies have altered our daily lives for the better, a great essay here by Rebecca Solnit, lamenting the loss of the post of what the digerati call snail mail, she writes beautifully..

I live in the heart of it, and it’s normal to walk through a crowd – on a train, or a group of young people waiting to eat in a restaurant – in which everyone is staring at the tiny screens in their hands. It seems less likely that each of the kids waiting for the table for eight has an urgent matter at hand than that this is the habitual orientation of their consciousness.

At times I feel as though I’m in a bad science fiction movie where everyone takes orders from tiny boxes that link them to alien overlords. Which is what corporations are anyway, and mobile phones decoupled from corporations are not exactly common…”

Has Art improved? I should probably tread carefully here. Err, No! Are we living in a culture with high opinions of humanity anticipating progress? Or has everything become a tad dumbed down and conservative? Good we agree.

Let’s move on… my interest in the debate is to replace advertising with sales or new business as we new call it.  Art or science?

Science likes evidence, and while much of what makes a good sales person lacks evidence, the best we have I believe is wrapped up in The Challenger Sale. I am not saying there is anything ground breaking here but it does provide much needed evidence and is contrary to what many new business people do today.

It at the very very least shatters the myth with evidence that a great sales person has the gift of the gab, or focus primarily on forming relationships, is tricky, or is the hardest working person in the world.

Have you notice the mantra in new business these days, it’s all about the art of relationship or chemistry?  Well you need to define what makes a good relationship or what is chemistry or the sort of chemistry you are looking for.  I have heard the riposte “well we need to get on well?” And of course clients and agencies do need to get on and I reckon we have known this for a while at least since How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie first published in 1936, yet tenure rates have tumbled to an all time low, in just the last 20 years.

So despite more effort being put on the art of chemistry and forming relationships, Marketing Directors  tenure has declined some say to 18 months  and ad agency tenure down to just 2 and a half years according to this article here on Brand Republic. I have no way of telling the credibility of these numbers  by the way in fact they seems harsh to me, even if they prove my point.

So despite much effort going on in agency land in particular to forming better relationships with clients tenure has gone down.  Many agencies have looked at how to get on better with their clients I am sure, be it via NLP, Myers Briggs (it’s a bit like horoscopes but with boxes to tick – see here) and so on. Are ad folk or psychologists any closer really to understand what is it that makes us so?

Psychology still lacks the scientist foundation it so dearly desires, despite its banal experiments of human behaviour. There is a great book by the late psychologist Robyn M Dawes called The House of Cards, psychology and psychology built on myths which deals with this with over 293 pages of evidence. Dawes points out…”we have all been swayed by the “pop psych” view of the world–believing, for example, that self-esteem is an essential precursor to being a productive human being, that events in one’s childhood affect one’s fate as an adult, and that “you have to love yourself before you can love another.”

So let’s go back to some basics to see if we can build on some firm foundations.

Why does a client need an agency?  Well because they need their skills to help them advertising their product so they will grow revenues and profits by selling more. Skills they don’t themselves have in-house.

So once  a client has selected an agency why does it feel the need to change, ever?  I think there are a few reasons and one of them is NOT because the relationship broken down, the more you stare at the idea of ‘relationships’ without definition the more you can see how vacuous that is. The phrase ‘a break down in the relationship’ which is straight out of the PR manual for spin is a symptom and not a cause of break-down.

People buy stuff for a purpose.  And clients are no different.  If that purpose doesn’t hold true or the problem remains then the client has to decide why? Let’s say the problem is that they are not shifting as much stuff as they thought they would.  Targets not being met, can be a source for many a stressful client meeting with much head scratching and blame passing too I’m sure.

Before a client decides to send the Dear John letter or e-mail to his agency surely they would attempt to rectify the problem via a kick up the arse.  This is what we all do give or take with a problem, can I fix it with what I have? Let’s not throw baby out with water.

If the kick up the arse fails then we have to ask do I fire the agency and start again?  If this all happened in 2 and a half years the question has to be how far off the deliverables are agencies these days and if it is considerable, why?

Did the client buy agency services on price?  Perhaps they (procurement) pushed them so low on price an agency thinking they were being canny, took the job on the premise some money is better than no money (we’ve all done it) and you never know what may happen.  Although not being able to allocate resource to do the job properly failure loomed and so the agency has a client loss notched on the bed post and the Marketing Director has to start over again.  Interestingly the Marketing Director and procurement may look for something even cheaper why waste money on advertising aye, it never works in his experience anyway. Repeat till fade.

Another under lying reason why the relationship failed could be that the expectation was un-realistic. Which I think is a common issue in today’s market place. Marketing starts to develop the same issue which sales traditionally has, which is chasing a target (KPIs) that has been arbitrarily set by the C – suiters.

Of course advertising is to help increase sales but also to build brand value for the future. As Mel Cruickshank CEO at Wunderman notes here – “While it is important for agencies to demonstrate transparency and effectiveness, it is also imperative that marketers are honest about their ambitions and challenges.” Similarly Steve Aldridge Creative Director at the Engine Group notes “they (clients) are looking to make a faster impact and, if that doesn’t happen immediately, then they are more inclined to switch agencies.”

The problem here I suggest is that advertising works on theory albeit a stong one, the more we advertise the more we sell, (see Ad Contrarian blog here) advertising that attracts attention works better and so on. However time frames are an issue.  And so advertising is more like exercise you have to keep doing  it(that was from Bob Hoffman) for it to pay dividends.  Why would changing so often help and why would changing and replacing an agency generally like for like help at all. Surely the some problem just re-appears?

Unless agency B goes about the work in a completely different way the problem will just re-surface.  If the client uses the same selection process i.e. the pitch, then surely they are just likely to re-hire give or take the old agency see my previous post here.  Also if the client doesn’t change its purpose and targets then it will succumb to the same issues as before i.e. hiring cheap or hiring to hit what is unlikely to be achieved and so setting itself up for failure.

So with this in mind what is the role of a new business person in an agency?  Could it be that rather in bringing in clients that revolve in 2 and a half years and chasing pitch lists to talking with prospective clients about alternative ways of working and to educate clients about the need for long-term relationships and longer term goals of brand building which is in their interests and not just yours?

Easier said then done, right? Faced with a Marketing Director who has a sizeable budget that would help the New Business Director hit their internal agency target, is it possible to be brave enough to push back on simply joining in the pitch process and instead discover the reason the last agency failed i.e. price or target chasing to address the real problem and not just ‘the relationship didn’t work.”  If this is not done, surely the status quo remains with revolving clients putting agencies under increasing pressure of working with tight budgets and hitting arbitrary sales targets.

So rather than the relationship between client and agency being about ‘do we get on” being about equals where an agency can question in an adult manner the prospects real issues at an organisational level. So something is actually changed.

The more successful new business person as identified in the Challenger sales person instead questions the prospect and pushes back on flimsy budgets knowing their problem will re-surface if these factors are not addressed.  The Challenger sales person is able to talk about alternative ways of working together and is un-afraid of some confrontation in the new business process. The very thing the relationships sellers avoids at all costs. The ubiquitous ‘relationship salesperson’ is busy trying to ‘get on with’ the prospect at some psychological level. This in no way means the challenger doesn’t know his or her manners and how to be polite.

The consequences are Relationships Sellers often find themselves busier with pitches and proposal then  the Challenger. Although the challenger new business person out sales them massively in what the book calls complex sales, which advertising is.

I believe new business in this fashion is a learnable skill, art and science just confuses the issue somewhat.  Most pop psychology adds little to our trade or indeed our lives with its delusional quest for constant happiness over purpose and it narcissistic focus on oneself.

What also make our trade harder is the same issues the Marketing Director has, it is the internal targets of chasing x amount of pitches and sales targets see guest post here re. targets deconstructed. So the sales person behaves in accordance with targets and not with clear purpose and quality of prospect.

Posted in new business agency, Sales, System thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

We don’t pitch, bitch or moan. (1 of 4)

stop complainingWhat’s in it for the prospect to appoint an agency without a pitch?

Once you look at the issue from the buyers angle you may be surprised.

Firstly, what is the pitch good for?

Well, it’s good for finding out which agency will charge the least.
It is good at attempting to make all agencies look the same (despite the fact you want different). Or better than last time.
It is good at using up huge amount of client time and money running the process.
It is good at lining the pockets of the brokers.
It is good at getting non-marketing people involved in the process.
It is good at using up agency time and money especially of the silly agency that will never win but begged their way in (Please don’t tell me your wild card story, I am well aware).
It is good at selecting an agency based on an idea or creative concept that will never see the light of day.
It is good at getting agencies to be deceptive about they way they work and who will work on your business…in the real world.
It is good at getting people to repeat clichés like – “at the end of the day it’s all about the people”; “when push comes to shove it’s all about chemistry,chemistry, chemistry”; “it’s a numbers game” and “you have to be in it to win it.”
It is good at forgetting it’s actually mainly about creativity, sales and budgets.

It’s perfect,  at selecting an agency exactly like the one you just fired! Doh!

A 2010 ISBA survey found that only 8% of clients found pitching an effective process. see here

So armed with all this ammunition and ability to talk, boy can agencies talk, can’t we help prospect’s make decisions not to pitch in fact appoint with a pitch.  I am going to publish a few polemics that I teach agencies when having  face to face conversations with prospect.

They will 100% appear a tad harsh as I can’t show you tone of voice or body language without constantly putting in *pauses and looks upwards as if thinking*. If you want that call me and I’ll teach you the whole nine yards, *smiles to himself*.

These conversations are not for everyone, if I have said that once…And I’m not going to do the old, ‘they are only for the brave’ etc that would be trite of me. They are not for agencies that have pitch targets to hit.  If you have an annual pitch target sent down from the Gods then this ain’t for you.  You need to cram onto any pitch list you can find. They are not for agencies that rely on tender wins to grow their business either.

This is more likely to be for independent agencies that are full of self belief and are getting a tad pissed off with pitch process. Who are annoyed at being taken for a ride and feel confident they could do what the prospect wanted better than the agency who actually got the job.

Remember put in the pauses, uums and arghs, smiles, says gently, etc. yourselves. Also note there is some (loads really) confrontation in this conversation.  My thoughts are that ‘business relationships’ aren’t entirely about sucking up and currying favour with prospects.

The goal in fact is to be respected and trusted as well as liked.

Conversation #1 

(Agency and Bob the prospect)

Agency: “Thanks for coming in to see us today Bob, what made you consider us as a potential agency for you?”

Bob: “Well, I have heard good things and thought It worth coming to see you to find out more.”

Agency: “Makes sense to me.  So what is it you’d like to know?  Oh, and who told you the good things? Be good to know so at the very least I could thank them.”

Bob: “It was Steve Jones he used to work for us and now works at ABC Ltd and he mentioned that you were doing good work for him.”

Agency: “Steve Jones no less, I shall pay him later.  How long have you known Steve?

Bob: “At least 5 years, a good bloke is our Steve.”

Agency: “Never a truer word said. So, apart from Steve saying nice things what else has made you consider changing agencies?”

Bob: “Well, it’s about that time.”

Agency: “I don’t follow?”

Bob: “They been with us for about 3 years and I feel it’s time for a change?”

Agency: “Sure, but why? Is it because you feel their creative output is not getting you the cut through and the sales figures you were expecting?  Or is it because you aren’t getting access to senior creatives and planners there? Or some other reason?

Bob:  ”We certainly aren’t where we hoped we’d be on sales and to some extent that is down to their marketing not being all that.”

Agency: “Where are you on sales and where did you hope you’d be? ”

Bob: “We are at £32m and we had a target of £40m.”

Agency: “So not so far off really?”

Bob: “It is when you are in my shoes.”

Agency: “Point taken.  So sales are behind by £8m or about 20% and why do you think their work didn’t help close this gap?”

Bob: “It’s just not having impact in our very competitive market place.”

Agency: “And it is tough out there no doubt about it.  What was it about the work,  do you think that made it lack impact?”

Bob: “Good question.  I am not entirely sure.  The marketing wasn’t based on the best of ideas for one and it wasn’t that well executed either.”

Agency: “So I have to ask, how did that happen?”

Bob: “I get so busy managing the department and agencies I didn’t spend enough time with them is one reason. Another is that is all that they presented?”

Agency: “Couldn’t you have told them to come back with more and better ideas?”

Bob: “Yes, maybe I should have.”

Agency: “And I guess, it wasn’t priority to spend time with the agency to make sure they really understood your brief?”

Bob: “Well, hopefully it won’t happening again?”

Agency: ‘Good point. So what will stop it happening again?”

Bob: “Well, I was hoping to include you in our pitch and maybe you can show us how?”

Agency: “I was hoping Steve may have mentioned that we never pitch for business. We think that is what caused the problem in the first place.”

Bob; “I don’t follow.”

Agency: “Well the agency you currently have were hired via a pitch right?”

Bob: “True.”

Agency: “And they have not had the impact you needed although I expect at some stage you though they were the bees knees, right? So won’t the same process select the same or similar agency again, i.e. they look good in the pitch and for a while after but turn out not to work.”

Bob: “Yes – but these things happen.”

Agency: ” They do and all to often. In fact ISBA reckon only 8% of clients see the pitch process as being effective, do you think you’re in that 8%?”

Bob: ‘Doubtful..but how do I and the team I manage make sure we get a value for money, creative, savvy, no-nonsense agency that does what needs to be done on time?”

Agency: “Sounds like you’d prefer the pitch process?”

Bob: ” I wouldn’t say that.”

Agency: “So we can talk about how to appoint without pitching?

Bob: “Yes, we can?”

Agency: “You sure, you not just saying that?”

Bob: “No, go for it.”

Agency: “What is it you would need to know from a potential agency to appoint them without putting four to five agencies through your pitch process?”

Bob: ‘Well, I’d need to know they have done good work in the past. they were of the size to handle my business, understood my sector could work to my budgets and I could imagine a good working relationship.”

Agency: “What else?”

Bob: “That’s it really.”

Agencies: “Surely hundreds of agencies out there meet that spec?”

Bob: “Probably?”

Agency: “So won’t you just pick the cheapest one?”

Bob: “I don’t know.”

Agency: “I don’t suppose that is what you did last time is it?”

Bob: “Pretty much, wouldn’t you?”

Agency: “Maybe.  But I have to ask, when did the cheapest work out best for quality and impact?”

Bob: “I get you – but I only have so much budget!”

Agency: “I agree so you should spend it wisely.”

Bob: “So where does that leave us?”

Agency: “Well, it’s easy for me to say we have all those things you requested but what would make you believe it?”

Bob: “References?”

Agency: “Well, I don’t suppose Steve counts does he?”

Bob: “Of course he does.”

Agency: “”But you’d like more?”

Bob: ‘Maybe one more.”

Agency: “You do know I am not going to give you a bad one don’t you?”

Bob: “Good point I guess not, so what is stopping me just appointing you guys?

Agency: “You are worried about being ripped off, making the same mistake as last time or your peers thinking you have finally lost it and procurement thinking you paid too much.”

Bob: “Err… that is it, exactly that.”

Agency: “But our clients manage it.  We sit down and talk about what you need how much it would cost how we’d work together, which would be way different to your last agency I expect. We’d be demanding on your time to get the knowledge we’d need, we wouldn’t want endless meetings with everyone and we’d want you’d to sign off strong ideas and not water them down where possible and we will not be the cheapest in town either.”

Bob:”What if my team doesn’t click with you?”

Agency: “What do you think they will need to know, what question do you think they will ask us that you’d haven’t?”

Bob: ” I guess they’d want to see if they get on well with you and your team.”

Agency: “And of course they might not, I can’t claim we are the easiest to get on with all of the time, but that’s not our only goal you see, we like to think we produce great work and sometimes that means we are going to create some friction.”

Bob: ‘Maybe we need a bit of that friction and less ‘yes’ men around us.”

Agency: “Then you have a choice,  press the blue button and we are out of here and nobody is any the wiser, press the red one and we go to the next level.”

Bob: “Can I give you a test project?”

Agency: “As long as you think it will solve you real problem and you pay for it.”

Bob: “Maybe I should just get on with it?”

Agency: “Maybe, but we don’t have to run you know. We have done this a few time before and it hasn’t always worked, sometime people pull out and go back to pitching.”

Bob: “So what’s next, shall I get you lot to come and talk to my lot and see if they get the same vibe as I do?”

Agency: “If you want to Bob, we’d be happy to see if we are for you or not, if we aren’t fine you can go run your pitch, fair enough?”

Bob: “Yep.”

Note – the agency never bitched and moaned about how unfair the pitch was to them i.e. how much money and time it costs them.

This is mainly because Bob won’t give a toss.  Bob cares about where he is and where he wants to be.  And how to get an agency that does what he wants them to do.  If the agency had pitched the idea of not pitching because of how it affects them Bob would have been less receptive.

No showing work or presentation at this stage either.  No methodology of what makes the agency so creative.  No clichés about being marketing’s hidden secret agency or boasts about awards or being the best.  All un-required and surplus to the conversation of moving the prospect off the pitch process.

See how the agency really understands Bob’s issues nearly as well as he does, the agency knows it isn’t easy to not do pitches, They have an good idea about his worries regarding what other may think and how he fears being ripped off.

Bob is comforted about the referral from Steve and that you told him other clients have managed it too.

The agency is not afraid to confront Bob about how he bought cheap via the pitch process and he neglected to give the agency time they need with him.  In reality there would be loads more of this issues to confront.  Simply confront the things that clients do to sabotage work and talk about them in the same way.

The interesting thing to me is the more and more I look at the pitch process the less and less it appears the pitch suits either party. Although it will never go away in my opinion.  It will endure through laziness, myths around what a relationship is, the rise of procurement departments and fear on both parts.

And yes Bob was very receptive in this instance and I will publish conversations when he is less so or not at all.

I have condensed an hour or and hour and a half conversation into a few hundred words.  They’d be plenty of tangents to go off on and pouring and spilling of coffee and small talk within that time too.

If you’d like to learn this and other sales conversations you could do a lot worse that contacting me. By the end of it you’ll wonder how you did it any other way.

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How do we learn new business skills?

pyramidI stumbled on this diagram whilst watching a youtube clip on how to get better at poker.

It really resonated with me as a trainer. How are the best ways to digest information and learn?  What methods end up with the student retaining the most information and improving?

The interesting bit for me is that the most powerful ways are the ones that people in agencies don’t want to do.

Teaching others - you really have to know your stuff to do this and someone is listening to the way you see an idea or a situation.  And guess what, they might not agree, God forbid they might even come back at you, gulp, it’s risky, but this is where real learning is.  If you can explain something, you know it.  Trainers often say they learn more by teaching than their students do.

As you know, I like the metaphor of poker to new business. In poker your tutor will ask you to explain your choices i.e. teach me – Why are you folding or why aren’t you? Why are you raising? Why are you betting so much or little? Why are you checking and so on.

Embarrassingly you find you do things with lack of reasoning or hoping to get lucky against the odds and that’s where our old friend Mister Fuck Up is hanging out.  Similarly in new business, why are you meeting, why are you doing a proposal, why are you presenting, what are you going to ask and why? What is your mind-set and why? Explain to me the fit?  Embarrassingly we get caught up in “We just always do it that way” or “Dunno?”

Practice by doing – risky business again.  You have to go and put into action something you learned.  Could all go horribly wrong. In fact in all likely hood probably will,  especially the first few times.  Can you handle it? As my 8-year-old daughter told my teary 6-year-old daughter this very morning, “A man who makes no mistakes doesn’t learn.”  Of course she got corrected with, “Well I am not a man.” Why are there so many smart arses in my house?

Discussion groups – still carry some risks. You may be asked by the person in charge of the group, what do you think? And you may be wrong. You may have not been listening. You may get corrected or even get into an adult to adult debate, scary stuff for some. Or you may get it right or learn something new or find that you enjoy debating an issue that nobody really knows the answer to. You may have to role-play scenarios to show your thinking, double gulp. My thoughts on the effectiveness of role-playing here.

Demonstrations – well we can all sit and listen to demonstrations can’t we. Like the stewardess on the plane explaining how to inflate your buoyancy aid post impact. Imagine if she asked you to come up and teach it?  You’d look at it differently then I bet.  Who hasn’t sat through a cookery demonstration these days and yet…

In terms of new business, it is a great way of learning to go with someone more experienced than you to new business meetings.  I quite like demonstrations as a learning tool but they don’t touch the previous two in effectiveness. But could be combined with the other two for sure.

The remaining three, audio video, reading and lectures – the main way used in the education system. Makes you wonder doesn’t it? In new business training too many trainers have a simply lecture style (Didactic methods) over  participation and discussions (Socratic methods).  To be fair quite often the two are used lecture followed by seminar style.

There has  been a huge growth in lectures in today’s world for marketing perhaps based on the success of TED maybe.  And I enjoy them as much as you.  But how much do they change me? How much do I go and implement? How much do I remember? Not much I venture.

Please, please don’t get me wrong, reading books and blogs are helpful, I read a lot and encourage other too, but you’ll only retain 10% according to the NTL and that seems very low, too low perhaps.. And who hasn’t watched an awe-inspiring lecture before?  But when did you last teach someone something or practice doing something differently or take part in a discussion group? Nothing ventured nothing retained?

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Agencies constantly at 2 minutes to midnight

2 minutes

If a prospect walked into you agency tomorrow, how long would it take you to agree the deal, if you had your way that is? Instantly probably. Yeah, me too.  Impatient aren’t we?

Okay we’d want some details and so would they. Although they must have had some sense of what we do for a living to walk in the first place, it wasn’t a mishap, oops I thought this was Burger King, can I get fries with that?  The time it would take us to say yes, once we agreed fees, wouldn’t be long, right?

So why do deals take so long to put bed?  Why can’t buyers decisions be made as quickly as we can sell?

Imagine a clock at two minutes to midnight and deals are made at midnight. The minute hand represents the agency (sellers).  The second-hand represents the prospective client (buyers).   So the seller feels that they are nearly there.  They are only two ticks away after all.

Where as the buyer (and we have all been one) has still to go two full revolutions i.e. 120 ticks. What is the buyer playing at?  What takes them so long? Why can’t they be like us just two ticks away?

Let’s suppose and it’s a big suppose that the buyer has decided that they are going to buy some creative services as the previous agency is no longer needed. They aren’t tyre kickers is my point.

The buyer needs to navigate more hurdles than us.  Such as, will other people who end up having contact with the new agency be okay with them too?  Will other people at corp HQ favour another agency to the one I favour?  Am I currently known for making good choices back at base? How will I know before the new agency starts that they will be better than the last one? And other things we as sellers will NEVER know about. Issues that are social and political. The CEO’s brother in-law runs an agency maybe, sell against that if you can.

So what is to be done? We are always ready to sell, locked and loaded. And yet the buyer has a longer journey to go on…much longer.

One solution I believe is to go on (or at least attempt) the same journey as the second-hand.  The seller should be asking the exact same questions that the buyer is asking, whether the questions are still in their head or audible.

What would happen if an agency at meeting one with a prospect asked, “How will you know before you agree to work with a new agency, that they will be better than the last one?” It’s a neutral question and is on the second-hand’s journey not the minute hand’s journey.

The prospect will give some answer, vague or specific. E.g.. Done good work in the past, have experience in the sector, chemistry, size, access to senior people etc.  In effect all the things we’d probably try to prove about ourselves, right? And probably the reason they walked in the door in the first place, especially if referred.

What if we replied to this list with, “And how will you know if an agency has those things, will you take them on their word or is that where you take references?”…”Surely your last agency said they had those things too?” Once again neutral questions.  Most agencies have by now launched into proving that they have those things in bags. And the old why we’re different speech.

However, what if we stayed on the second-hand’s journey.   So in effect you are on the same journey. Both parties are looking at the same problem, asking the same questions, you are helping them do their job, you might as well you have 120 ticks to go anyway. You’re showing them that you understand some of the hurdles they need to overcome before they can sign an agency.  Yes an agency. Not your agency. An agency.

The traditional method of selling is very different. Different journeys and different problems.  The sellers problem is how to get the deal, how do I hit target , how do I persuade them we are the best, how do I differentiate, what do I tell the CEO in the post meeting brief, how do I find out all about their problems regarding sales, brand issues etc, how do I make sure we bond.  The buyers are asking different questions, see above. And that is conflict – you want to at some level persuade and they want to make a good choice.

Buyers rarely ask complex questions when you think about it.  Have you done this before style questions and who for?  RFI style questions.  Cost questions. Question about your employees, all very easy. But interestingly how helpful are they to buyers, really?  The same questions they asked the incumbent I expect. And look how that ended. On average fired 2 years and 4 months later.

I believe if an agency spent more time being neutral in the process, life for them and the prospect would be a lot easier, all that time spent persuading and presenting could be spent helping the buyer on their ‘real’ journey.  Which may even shorten the length of the real-time a deal takes because less time has been spent doing inconsequential activities, namely selling. Perhaps we could even get the buyer to 2 ticks to midnight like us, hope springs eternal.

When agencies go into sales mode before the buyer has worked out how to get over all their buying hurdles, they sound me, me, me-ish. They sound needy and worse of all you sound like all the others…we’re amazing / different because of….see diagram, case study, processes like disruption, love, elevated thinking etc.

You may even end up having to jump through loads of un-necessary hurdles while the second-hand continues on its journey without you. Or you end up dropping prices hoping the buyer will catch up with where you are, 2 ticks away.

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