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Monday, March 30, 2009

The Lament of the Salespeople

If you work in media sales these days, you need to be something of an optimist. Long gone are the days when the business literally came to you without a great deal of effort. Recently, a few people have written to me regarding their frustration when calling on media buyers or planners. Given that easily more than half of the Media Realism readers are likely to be in sales, I thought it would be interesting to devote a post to the topic.

One fellow whom I know pretty well put it this way--"These days I have a hard time facing another 28 year old broadcast buyer or a 29 year old media planner." Clearly, my old pal has issues. But his complaint has some substance to it. The coin, however, definitely has two sides to it.

For the last two generations, the relationship between those in media sales and negotiators in media departments has been fairly cordial. Generally buyer and seller were able to come to an agreement that they both could live with. There were occasional incidences of buyers who became too close to sellers and situations where sellers did not meet the spirit of agreements. But, if both sides had even reasonable levels of good will, things were almost always worked out to some level of satisfaction.

Why am I getting such noise from the selling community these days? Well, think about it for a moment. We have mentioned in past posts how none of us mature types can ever recall a time when there was more nervousness out there. Everyone is afraid that they may lose their jobs--salespeople are given quotas in many instances that are absurd in today's climate. Agency media people are given more work as cutbacks are hitting virtually every shop. Everyone is starved for time and virtually no one is thinking long term.

What is going on? Here are a few suggestions.

We are not just in a downturn. The industry is going through a structural change that is PERMANENT. Salespeople may not like that people no longer do annual or quarterly deals. It is not the media staff's fault. Clients are holding back the funds until the last minute. They do not want long term deals as they worry about cash flow or are looking over their own shoulders. So, if someone calls far closer to air date than in the past, there is no malice. They were not given authority to proceed until the last minute. And, when we come out of this economic mess, the media mix will be different than it is today.

Many companies have not cut fat; they have cut bone as well. So, there are more situations where a young, low salaried person has been asked to step up in responsibility and job commitment when a more senior and better paid person has been "whacked." Many are eager but insecure about their new roles.

Some sales people refuse to shift gears. Here is a story I took part in a few weeks ago. Someone invited me to visit their agency. It was not a long trip from home and I knew a few of the players at the shop so I was glad to go and talk over the current environment. I was not trying to get a consulting gig; I was just there to say hi and have lunch.

In the middle of my visit, which was interrupted by constant breaks due to mini-crises, my host asked if I could sit in on a sales pitch from a media rep. I had not met with this organization in maybe two years, so I said certainly. My host had scheduled 20 minutes for him and his team and told me that he might have to duck out a bit early.

The rep came in, shook hands all around and announced that he would need at least an hour. There were audible groans around the conference room table. Ten minutes later, the rep was still on slide #2 of the power-point even after he was told sharply twice that his time was short. Twenty minutes later, only an unpaid intern and me, an unpaid guest, were still in the room and he kept talking. When he was done, I had a candid talk with him. He listened but countered that yes he had agreed to only 20 minutes but what he had to say was important and the agency team needed to hear it. He was not concerned about other demands on their time or how he fit into their clients needs. A world class jerk.

Here are some guidelines for sales people in 2009:

1) Be BRIEF! If someone has all the time in the world, something is wrong. The company is likely to have a big cutback soon as billing must be way off. If someone tells you that you have a limited time span, stick to it. All of us in the sales game like to talk, but these days being concise can pay unusually rich dividends.

2) Send something in advance that covers you company or service in depth. Some won't read it but many will and that means in a brief session you can get your main points across and answer any quesions that people have.

3) Be respectful and helpful to the under 30 crowd. Many are frightened but many also have significant talent. You can mentor them a bit because their manager may not have the time these days.

For agency media people, allow me to suggest the following:

1) The sales guy who seems high pressure is now often in the fight of his life. He may have a high mortgage or big college tuitions to pay. And, he has New York beating on his boss for more money when it is not to be had right now. So, you can see the pressure being put on him in many instances. Be human to him or her. You are not the only one under pressure.

2) Try to see people. Stay a bit late if you have to but make sure you see people on the outside every few days. Reps are an excellent source of information and the experienced ones who have lived through a few cycles are often quite wise. You can learn a lot by LISTENING. Don't have time or unwilling to make time? Maybe you should leave the business. It will only get harder and you do not have the right stuff to run the marathon of a advertising career if you refuse to work some nights and weekends.

3) Work to be a good will ambassador. You not only help your own career you make your shop look good. If you are seen as fair minded and accessible, your reputation will grow even in tough times.

One of my panel members, a sales pro, who is a friend but also someone whom I value and respect, wrote the following to me regarding this issue:

"I actually find the new blood exciting and even very necessary to the new digital age, as these are the ones who best understand the technologies we are all introducing. At the same time, the old guard still pines longingly for the days of mere spots and dots. Here's hoping that they retain their enthusiasm and optimism when we return to normalcy, creating leaders for tomorrow."

Isn't that a wonderful sentiment? If you are in sales make it yours and make some new friends. They can help you as we move into our brave new world of media.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may e-mail him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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