A headless chicken wearing rose tinted spectacles

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New business programmes can be destabilising for agencies.  Quite often new business programmes are put into action because a client has been lost, targets have not been hit and someone upstairs is not best pleased or perhaps it is your personal bank account that is getting upset and tired.

Agencies chose different methods to go about new business and this is where I believe many agencies make bad choices that will cost them money, time and destabilise their agency system.

A system in short is the relationship between all the parts of the agency and the written and un-written rules of the people in that culture that keep the agency working in the same way it always has done. What system thinkers would call homeostasis.

Systems often try to get back to homeostasis when they are altered, challenged or changed in some way.  In short systems and the people in them often prefer to stay dysfunctional or not behaving optimally than change the system, similar to cognitive dissonance. We are all a bit dysfunctional, don’t you know.

I believe that some unlikely aspects of new business programmes  are more destabilising than others. That doesn’t mean they shouldnt be done or they don’t work. It means that you need to go into them with your eyes open.  If you are to employ someone to start prospecting for example by phone, DM and e-mail whilst dealing with incoming RFIs you need to be aware of a few things.

You are going to have to get a few things in line first – like your website, your blog, creds and so on. So you are most likely going to need some time from the creatives for example. Not to mention meeting after meeting talking about the agency positioning, elevator pitches and the like. I’ve seen this topic drag on for 2 years.

Then you may need a data base / CRM system and data, right? So thinking you will short cut the process by just employing one person is far from the truth. The system will be affected much more than that.  And you can’t start the process until collateral etc are in place. However, many do start without it with the old ‘we’ll get you that stuff asap, just crack on’. If ever there was a set-up to failure that is it.

Then once your prospector / new business person is in place (that a few people in the agency had to take time out to find whether it was via a recruitment agency or a selection process of  lead generation agency) and of course contracts had to be checked and altered by HR and POs raised with accounts and so.  All this before we even start!  The system is pulled in all directions and people have already began to neglect their duties to clients.  Let’s hope it’s worthwhile aye!

The prospecting begins in earnest, working through the data base, sniffing out the mythical low hanging fruit and easy meeting takers.  Status meetings are held to discuss what is and what isn’t working, taking more people away from their client duties and what have you.

Eventually meetings are set. And so the agency now needs to get time from the suits be it the new business director , CSD or MD to attend them, maybe two people go.  Then when they return from said meetings they may then go into ‘we need a proposal or a presentation‘ mode,  which then takes more time from creatives and or planners etc. Perhaps there is a standard one that can be rehashed to suit the purpose? That will work , won’t it?

And who knows eventually there is brief or a pitch. How much does a pitch cost and how many people in the system will get pulled in for that – and what if you are in dreaded columns C or D rather than A or B.  Column A typically consists of the incumbent and the favoured agency – either a referral or the agency bought with the in-coming Marketing Director or the hot agency of the moment and they share a 85% win rate in my experience. So C & D share 15%, so 7.5% each – so a long shot at best.  All that time and money pulling the system hither and tither to win 1 in 12 times. Can you face doing that 12 times?

Cold leads generated by e-mail and DM close roughly 1 in 12 although you’ll soon add up those hours and distractions. And as people get pulled out of their client roles to aid new business so client servicing attention can slip and the situation can get worse rather than better. So it doesn’t take long for people to want to return to old ways and drop the programme and return to homeostasis. “We’d rather have no new business than go through that regularly.” My point is not that you shouldn’t start – it is to take a long-term commitment to changing the system and making sure the system has enough slack in it to give the new business programme a chance.

So what new business programmes can be put in place that is less stabilising and has a higher chance of winning new clients. Well referrals of course.

If everyone in the system was trained to ask for referrals which close 50 – 85% of the time no big changes need take place.  The system functions as normal just with people with more skills – i.e. knowing how to comfortably ask for referrals.  In fact if anything the system improves because your ability to ask for referrals and receive them is dependent on doing good work. What is good work? Well of course we all know that but if we client service in an organised and systematic way we get to know what is and what isn’t according to the client.

Here is the article I wrote last year for the IPA on how agencies can client service their way to referrals and easier new business wins.

Then add to those the trained skills to win business without a pitch (that are getting noticeably more common these days) the system barely shudders to win a piece of new business.  If you don’t have those skills which will help the agency deal with staying functional then you may end up losing to your competitors who do – while you are running around like a headless chicken wearing rose-tinted spectacles.

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In defence of reason.

This is brilliant – Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in conversation with her husband Stephen Pinker on the power of reason. And why moral reasoning has been so successful at moving humanity in a forward direction and I believe will continue to do so.

This is interesting to me because advertising often fails to grasp reason today. Instead it seeks to appeal solely to our emotions. Advertising commentators and the like often tell us that people are emotionally driven and without reason and seem particularly keen to suggest that this is proven by neuroscientists.

It is as if nobody was aware that people had emotions until we were able to put people’s heads in fMRI scanners. Plato way back understood that people were both emotional and rational. As did his pupil Aristotle who believed that in discourse the most persuasive argument would contain, ethos (credibility), pathos (emotions) and logos (logic) and he knew nothing of fMRI scanning.

The idea that we are moved emotionally to make decisions is as old as the hills. We didn’t need neuroscience for this. And as Rebecca remarks “I am all for empathy, who isn’t. But on its own it’s a feeble instrument for making moral progress.”

The question to be asked do we make good decisions emotionally. There is no easy answer to that. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. I am sure everyone has made a bad decision due their emotional state or ego.  I am sure everyone has made a good decision instinctively which is often cited as a kin to an emotional one.

I am sure everyone has thought through a decision and in analysis paralysis watched the terrible outcome ensue.  And we have all thought through a problem to great effect at some time or another.

My strange and maybe rather lofty question is – Would the world (yes the world) be a better place if resource allocation and policy was based on reasoning or emotional decision making? Sometimes we see how funds are allocated to causes that we feel empathetic towards where in fact the funds are ore needed elsewhere in causes that we maybe not feel so empathetic about.

I have seen article where we are more likely to give to animals than people and more likely to give to people who suffer from certain disease over others and so on.  Paul Bloom wrote an amazing article on this for the New Yorker last year and the story about  the charitable  giving of others to the resident of Sandy Hook after the massacre there is fascinating.

I think you can see this advertising and marketing where budgets are piled in to the latest trend or craze see here rather than thought through or in the agency selection process where today an over-weighting is given to chemistry say over talent or quality of working processes.

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The Relationship is king. King annoying.

What is ‘the relationship’? Why do people use the phrase so tediously often? As tediously often as those articles that tell us it is all about people, lest we forget.  “Don’t forget it is all about people at the end of the day Jim.”

“Okay I won’t. Err thanks for the great tip. I’m sure it’s gonna be a big help to me.”

I bet it is the same people, that when challenged on their ideas, say ‘it’s complicated’.  You know the ones – you have a little friendly debate and someone pipes up with “yeah but the world’s a complicated place, Jim.’ Thank heavens they were there, else I’d have never known.

I think we can do better than this.

The world of advertising seems to be convinced that the relationship is the most important thing today in business. More than creativity? More than talent? More than money?

Today it is said that ‘it’ is all about the relationship. So much so people repeat it over and over, and pluralise it – if you remember one thing Jim remember –  relationships, relationships, relationships.

Both parties (clients and agencies) are demanding that relationships get better and that both parties are committed to working harder at their relationships.

But what is it?

Let start at the beginning. Clients hire agencies, which means paying them money for their services, right?

In return the agency creates some advertising.

The reason for this is because of a long-held belief that advertising helps brands sell more stuff, get more revenues and profits. It’s business as usual right?

So the relationship at a very basic level is a business one. I need your skills and I’ll pay for ‘em. I can’t do these things myself else I would have.

Sure I’ll interfere a lot and give you the full breadth of my understanding of design, (wouldn’t that  look better in yellow etc) whilst you do the hard stuff but essentially the clients wants what the agencies have.

So when I see in trade press a call for better relationships. Be it for them to be more transparent, open, honest and so on, do they actually mean they want better business relationships?  Does the agency wants to be paid more or the client want to pay less. Or is this a call for people being nicer and more pleasant to be around?

Or is it that the client wants or expected their advertising to work better i.e. have a higher ROI.  Or does the agency feel ripped off when their advertising results in a higher ROI than their normal stuff?

My point is that relationships are really about cause and effect. If you want something to change you need to identify what is most likely to do that. Once you can work out what causes what – you then know what is what.

It is all very good asking for transparency and honest and trust. But what the relationship really needs is quality advertising that works over time. If you could change one thing in the relationship shouldn’t it be – get me ‘better advertising’?

You have to change something in the relationship ‘a cause’ – it doesn’t make sense to say lets change the relationship does it? As the relationship is a way of describing cause and effect.

Once we know what we want – better advertising – we can they start to talk about who makes better advertising and how they do.

The relationship between advertising and agencies and client is still at its heart I believe a business relationship.

And so it should be too. Too much time and effort today is put on softer skills in new business of being able to shake hands well, how to dress, how to sit, how to nod, how to fake sincerity etc.  Where as the real skill is to be challenging and understanding the business goals of brands and why they aren’t achieving those goals..

At least I thought. Until I recently realised that clients are looking for some of these softer skills too which is why agencies attempt to enhance them so much. If clients think the problem is lack of soft skills and agencies can provide them, why not? Cheaper I am sure and probably easier to train. Nod, nod, yes, yes, pass the teas and so on.

So is it any wonder that most advertising sucks. It is because the buyers and the sellers are more concerned about their personal relationships rather than business ones and so agencies and clients don’t seek to find out cause and effect and what makes better advertising but instead what makes buyers and sellers get on better – which is good manners in short. We made a shit ad but everyone got on famously.

The strange thing is people will get fired for making that shit ad but the press release will say the relationship failed, which it kind of did. But it is the business side of the relationship which really failed because it was distracted by the call to politeness.

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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 maybe 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 receiving cold calls and they bin most DM and delete prospecting e-mails. At previous TAONB events we have heard that many marketers don’t even find time to 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.

I think 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 do sneak through) because they are owned (sponsored) 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 doing 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 or chemistry and not the meat (the purpose) else purely 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 problems and now they just what the fixer.  So 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.

Posted in new business agency, Sales, sales training | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

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