Why we should still diagnose before we prescribe.

 (Clip features – Mahan Khalsa – Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship)

How do people make decisions?

Okay, how do we make business decisions ?

Okay, how do you get a marketer to choose your agency?

It’s not a one sentence answer is it?

I have noticed that more and more agencies are spending time implementing or talking about psychology. Fair enough you might think.

They seem to think that decisions can be influenced in a substantial way by mirroring body language, breathing rates, never using negative language, sitting in certain positions,  and in essence creating bonding sessions.  You’ll often hear in new business circle “it’s all about the relationship and chemistry” and yet the evidence is scant – see here. Blair Enns has them down as myths #4 and #6 in his top 10 of new business myths.

You’ll see it in new business job ads all the time – ‘we want some who can build relationships‘.

Do you know why they are looking for a person like that, when they employed someone good  at that about 18 months ago? Guess what happened? They fired them?  And they cited the reason as ‘the relationship didn’t work out”. Irony.  What they really mean is they didn’t bring in any business. I often hear MDs say ‘lovely person but…” And they go off and do the same thing again and again.

So what happened to making a business case?  What happened to the corner-stone of consultative selling.  The idea that your goal is make a good economic business case for them to give you their hard-earned cash? Is that old hat now?  Or is it just superfluous now?  Have we given up any hope that people can act rationally.

Has the business world decided that people make all decisions emotionally and so why even bother with a business case? Trying run that by your FD.

What happened to understanding a prospect by asking a series of questions that show you have encountered and understand the pain that the prospect was enduring be it in time or money? Diagnose then prescribe.

I sometimes ask agencies once they’ve won a piece of business be it for a new web site design, a DM campaign, and ad campaign or a PR account.  How much was it costing the prospect  in time or money with the ways things were?  Where do they hope to get to and over what period of time working with you? SILENCE.  Well I’m not filling the empty air time I’m not a DJ.

If both parties are unaware of the business case then what happens when it comes to fees?

So I ask them – did you get full fees? Again SILENCE.

Eventually they talk – “You just don’t get it do you Jim, we got on really well they had already decided they needed our services they loved our case study but they didn’t have much cash so we did a deal? FISH !

Is it profitable? I ask.

It’s okay? They say.

And you set out to run an okay agency? I say.

The problem is they failed to diagnose so ended up being commoditised.

Relationship selling is not just bad for an agency’s coffers it is also a down graded view of humanity.  It is supposed that people get upset very easily. They are victims who will get easily put off by the slightest comment or facial gesture that disagree with the chemistry gurus and soft skill teachers.

They can’t handle you doing your job and attempting to build an economic case and help the prospect see if they do or don’t need your services.  The assumption is that prospects are weak and easily disturbed so we best just get on with them instead, creep, creep, creep. That says more about the seller than the prospect – how’s that for folk psychology 101 ?

Consultative selling is great at helping you make a business case for creative services but there is no reason why it can’t allow you to get on well too.  By understanding the business case you should notice that as you start to walk in their shoes you stay in rapport.

Rapport often related to bonding is actually different.  Rapport is a state where both parties are comfortable talking about tricky subjects – like money and awkward business concerns.  Prospects rarely come to agencies when things are looking dandy.  How many times has a prospect come to you and said our agency is 9 out of 10 we just wanted to find Mister 10/10? Never I’d wager.

Relying on relationship building skills is a sure way to end up being a free consultancy or at the best a poorly paid one.

Behind consultative selling techniques is in essence a search for the truth. And although the truth can hurt it’s valuable.  And telling it sometime is not easy but that is a more valuable part of a new business person role that relationship building IMO –  Honesty is a very expensive gift. Do not expect it from cheap people.” William Buffett.

Do prospects make decisions solely on the economic case – No – but it has to be there.  If it isn’t you have no leverage to negotiate with – you have no understanding of their business and you have no way to write a ‘decent’ proposal either. You’ll just end up selling a solution where there is no problem.  You’ll be pricing as a commodity.

In general I believe that people make decisions in a rather idiosyncratic way – they decide based on loads of factors and there will be some things that you will never uncover even with the best consultative selling questions skills.  There are things that the prospect experiences in their particular workplace and home life that are specific to their experience that only relate to them. You won’t find it.  And they will unlikely tell it to you anyway.

People live their life surrounded by un-written rules and beliefs that affect the way they make decisions.  That is why agencies I bet employ so many extroverts – they look and behave like they are full of passion and energy – isn’t  that what clients want to see after all? Isn’t that the unwritten rule – be full of energy, smiley and full of passion at all times?

However today agencies are fired faster and faster than ever before.  The IPA reckons 2 years and 7 month is average tenure.  So much for employing people who are good at bonding and forming a relationships then?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water here folks.  There is no reason not to have manners and be able to ask a tricky or awkward questions in an understanding way.  My case is not that you need to become a robot, far from it.

In fact my case is that we need to become more human.  And within that finding out the truth about a prospect’s business situation and being brave enough to tell the truth over faux relationship building  and chemistry skills. Do it well and you stand out as someone to do business with, especially as nobody else will be doing it well.

Even as people’s decisions making abilities are so idiosyncratic even in business making a well thought out business case is still a key skill a new business person can have.  Yes the prospect will make their decision their way based on some factors we hardly ever thought about asking.  But as we are doing business, on average a very good place to start is to make the business case.

Or is it?

Today prospects seem to come to agencies so late in their decision-making process.  Often a team of people have sat down and said enough is enough we are getting a new agency.  Perhaps they have already made their own economic case?  They have probably even looked over competing websites and case studies.  So by the time they come to meet you what is the point of making the economic case.  They’ve already done that right?

Well consultative selling skills is like a test drive.  It is a free example of how you do business.  It shows you understand their situation.  You may even spot things that change the business case based on your expertise? The reason for being good at consultative selling – asking questions to fully understand the business requirements shows that you can be trusted and that is the key ingredient in my opinion the prospect is looking for, They have a selection of creative agencies but which one to trust?

Well the easiest way to trust someone is to get a referral because when  you are refered you are piggy backing on the trust that already exists between two people.  If your best client introduces you to another marketer who they know very well (4 years plus) – when you arrive you are carrying the referrers level of trust in your pocket – so don’t mess it up.  Don’t ruin it by not carrying out consultative selling that elevates you further as be trustworthy and also make the prospect understand your fees.

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