Guest Column: The Advertising Sales Game Has Changed
For most of the past century, relationships formed the basis for the majority of large advertising sales. Success in advertising sales was predicated on the ability to initiate, form, and maintain personal relationships with buyers. In this new era, a different skill set is necessary. Transaction-oriented salespeople are surpassing those who base their approach on building relationships.
Today, the buy may be accomplished before the parties even have an opportunity to meet. Too often, trying to sell by first building relationships means wasting time on people who may not want any kind of relationship. If done poorly, buyers may perceive the attempt to create a relationship as wasting their time as well. Buyers are frazzled by the proliferation of media and demands by all the new sellers who want "just a few minutes" of their time. Concurrently, the ranks of agency buyers are thinning as their load grows, with each person responsible for evaluating and buying as much as an entire team did not long ago.
In these days of programmatic buying on the digital side and Request For Proposal (RFP) turnaround of less than a week (sometimes just a day or two) for print, many buyers would be just as happy to get the information they need from a machine as from a human. Machines don't let extraneous concerns and chatter get in the way of the job to be done. Machines do not pretend to care or take up valuable time on non-essentials. Unfortunately, machines are not very good at anticipating requirements, so a buyer may prefer dealing with a human seller so long as personality does not get in the way of the transaction. Sellers need to be able to get in, get out and move on.
What a contrast this is to the way yesterday's consultative salespeople were trained to sell! Remember when the telephone was never to be used to sell anything more than the appointment? Then, a first call may have been set up as a "fact-finding" tour, perhaps followed by a nice lunch. Sometime later, the salesperson would conduct presentations to relevant people, submit proposals to the client and/or agency, and close the business. Often, this process was followed by a celebration with spouses, including a nice dinner and a show.