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Strategic S̶e̶l̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ Dating for Agencies

Strategic S̶e̶l̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ Dating for Agencies

“I hate selling.”

I hear that so often from agency owners and agency leaders. I especially hear it from junior agency staffers. I think the key to moving away from “I hate selling” is to move to “I love helping others succeed.”

As I think about agency success, it’s my experience that the most successful agencies have a specific mindset. They have embraced the art of being the very best at understanding their clients with a deep desire to make their lives easier and better. The agency business is a relationship business. It’s about putting the needs of your client front and center. Your success is based on their success. Their good days are your good days; and conversely, their bad days are your bad days.

So, if agency success is about building great relationships, I would pose to you that strategic selling success for agencies is like dating.

If that’s the case, then imagine thinking of the prospect the same way you think about a prospective date – that person you’ve wanted to date for oh, so long.

As you get ready to make the ask… what’s first?  

It’s all about understanding the prospect.

Understanding the Prospect

First and foremost, remember that you must  think about this from their viewpoint – the viewpoint of the prospect. What’s on her mind and how has the landscape changed since the last time she looked for agency services?

  • Budget and headcount pressures are enormous in most companies today
  • There are heightened expectations that marketing supports sales – it’s no longer enough to simply produce great creative.
  • Sales and revenue are typically the top marketing success measures
  • Data & analytics are now critical, daily challenges
  • Digital is now table stakes

The result of these changes is that today, marketers don’t want to “buy” marketing services; they have business issues they need help addressing.

To be able to address these issues, agency execs need to change their perspective from “I can show them how I can help them” to “I need to learn as much as I can about them, so I know how I can help them.”

It’s a nuanced difference, but a difference indeed.

It’s the difference between telling your prospective date where you will take her versus finding out what she likes to do and what kind of food she likes to eat – BEFORE you make a reservation.

This moment in the sales process is critical. It is a high-risk moment and the asker typically has a lot of fear of rejection. This is the part of the process that often plays to the “I hate selling” narrative. The risk feels like it may outweigh the reward.

If we can all agree that reducing the risk is a good goal here, then let’s also agree that more information reduces your risk.

How do we get people to want to hear us?  This is our job: not to get them to hear us, but to get them to WANT to hear us.

It’s About Their Business Issues, Not Your Solutions 

So, how do you get the info you need – the critical information that arms you to be able to make the prospect WANT to hear from you? Obviously, homework is important. Know everything you can before you show up to have that first conversation.

And before you show up, know what you’re going to ask. This will do a couple of things. First, this will help you stay on track to keep the conversation focused on learning about them and not slipping into your “sales pitch”; and second, it will help you design intelligent questions that go from very non-threatening questions to deeper questions as the prospect warms up to you.

Start with questions that the prospect can answer simply with one or two words and not a lot of thinking. Questions like, “I understand you’ve launched two new products in the last year, is that correct?” or “I believe you’ve opened 10 new retail locations this year, is that number accurate?”

These kinds of questions increase your credibility with the prospect (wow, she really did her homework!), are non-threatening (easy to answer), help you gather valuable information (it’s good to know if you have the right info), and most importantly, give you permission to proceed to the more intimate questions that help you bond with this prospect in a conversation.

After a handful of these Level One questions, it’s time to get in a little deeper by asking questions like: “So, with several new products in the market, how important is awareness of those new products to the success of the business overall?” or “With the significant number of new locations, have you changed or enhanced your grand opening strategies?”

Notice, that here we are using the early questions (which we were prepared to ask before showing up) to leverage the opportunity to get a little deeper. These Level Two questions will start to result in longer answers and your conversation is off and running – all about them and their business.

As you get deeper and deeper into understanding about their business and what occupies their mental energy, keep reminding yourself that this is still dating. Don’t propose marriage too early – or you’ll be perceived as pushy and creepy. Take your cues from your prospect and go at her pace. You’ll be amazed when she finally turns to you and says – “Tell me a little about you and your agency”.

Then, you’re off to the races.

You May Hate Selling – But You’ll Love Dating:

If you can change the tape playing in your head from “I need to make the sale” to focus on enjoying the process of building the relationship, you can enjoy the dating – and be more successful at the relationship building that builds sales.  

Robin Boehler is a co-founder of Mercer Island Group. Robin has managed hundreds of agency searches and relationships for businesses of all sizes and types, like Ahold Delhaize, Starbucks, American Century Investments, PEMCO Insurance, PetSmart, Seabourn, Avis Budget Group, Sargento, Ulta Beauty and dozens of other blue-chip firms. She also has consulted to a wide array of agencies including Digitas, Periscope, DaviesMoore, W&K, GS&P, Havas, Cactus, DNA and many others. Robin’s unique ability to work with teams and help improve organizational productivity is the direct result of an eclectic background including her degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Cornell University. Robin is a frequent speaker, having presented and keynoted at events sponsored by the BMA, the 4As, AMI and others.