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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